Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Abortion


Since I'm sounding off on the hot topics of the day I figured I'd lay out my opinion on this issue as well.

I don't think abortion is a Christian issue as it's been presented by both sides in the American debate. It's a philosophical one. It involves determining when a human life counts as a human life and deserves the rights afforded to every human. If you think an embryo qualifies as a human life, that is not necessarily based on religion, though your religion may teach that. It's a judgement call. If you think a fetus is not human enough to have rights one second before it's out of the birth canal, but then becomes human one second later, that's not religious. It's a judgement call. The reason I'm 'pro-life' has nothing to do with religion. It's because I don't think we have a right to arbitrarily decide what a human life is. 


I think it's clear that what we VALUE in human life slowly builds as an embryo develops, and indeed, even after birth. It's a spectrum, not a binary state: where it's a clump of cells one moment, and full human life the next. That makes no sense to me. Nor does it make sense to have the will of the mother change the status of an embryo from non-human to human. You get that bizarre contradiction where someone can get charged with double homicide for killing a pregnant woman, yet if that same woman had an abortion there are no legal ramifications. The only difference being the will of one human determining the status of 'human' for another. 

My personal opinion is that embryos, fetuses, and even new born infants are not really human in the way that most humans require to be worthy of individual freedom and rights. 'Humanity' is a spectrum, with comatose people on machines keeping them alive, profoundly retarded people and babies on one end, and beautiful, intelligent celebrities and doctors on the other. The older a child gets the closer they get to the side of the spectrum where we value their humanity and afford them the rights assigned with that humanity. (I do not share this valuation, I'm speaking of society in the aggregate.)

That's all very logical, in a Peter Singer sort of way. It also follows that chimps have more 'humanity' than infants. I can't really argue against that from a purely 'scientific' (using this in a colloquial definition) perspective. My problem with this view is not religious or spiritual or moral. It is utilitarian. A society that accepts and embraces this view of value attached to brain-capacity and usefulness-to-society will necessarily cannibalize itself of the foundation of values, including the ones that determine utility. So while I don't think a human baby is really "as human" as an adult doctor, I think we as a society HAVE to assign it that status or else we face a collapse of values in favor of utility. Which is ultimately self-defeating because 'utility' is not a value-free concept. (What is 'useful' is predicated on a purpose imbued by values.) 

This is very similar to my take on free will. I don't believe that it exists. But I understand that in order for our social structure to stand, and in order for us to understand what we value, such as love, justice, etc. we must act as though free will does exist.

My philosophical problem with abortion is that it creates a precedent that says that the desire of one life DETERMINES the validity and imbued rights upon another life (or life-form, if you will). That precedent has implications in all sorts of areas. But mostly it breaks the UNIVERSAL (not Christian) Golden Rule of empathy that is the foundation of virtually every moral system in the world. 

I also know that most people don't think this way, and are also told lots of things that obscure this philosophical side to the issue, so I don't blame women who get abortions. I don't think they are murderers. But I do think it is wrong and ought to be opposed for the sake of keeping the values that make society possible.  I think that the more abortion, euthanasia and the like are accepted by a society, the less they are moored to the foundation of what we all agree is morality.  But the decision that a woman makes to have an abortion is not an abstract intellectual or philosophical exercise, but an excruciating and stressful time with a constellation of pressures from many angles. So I can hardly stand in judgement over them and tell them they are being immoral or terrible people.  I think abortion is a mistake, and it undermines the Golden Rule.  But we all make mistakes, especially when we are undergoing 
excruciating and stressful times.  And I could be totally wrong.  And I've never been in anything like that position.  This is why I'm not a crusader against abortion, but I still think it is harmful to society.

Here's a parallel to help illustrate my point.  The natives on Easter Island cut down all their trees, and this led to the destruction of their society.  Were I to travel back in time to before all the trees were cut down, and approach a wood-cutter, I would not be coming at them with righteous indignation  making a moral judgement about the act of cutting down the tree.  They felt it was necessary to cut down those trees in order to erect those giant stone heads to display the power of their tribe, to keep them safe, etc.  Within the context of their culture and in their minds, they were doing what was best.  My argument to them would be that while those things may be true, there is a truer truth, which is that every tree they cut is bringing them closer to losing what it is they hoped to save.  

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Crazy Stress



Part 1: Home

I haven’t had this amount of stress since my divorce.  It’s pretty intense.  But the difference is I have a woman of godly character and grace and strength standing with me through it, and as a result it’s nowhere near as bad as the child custody trials I had to keep my kids safe.  So over the past couple years my oldest son has been getting more and more outrageous in his disrespect and disobedience.  It’s really funny when you talk to him and get the impression that we are tyrannical control freaks.  But we are so easy going, and all we ask of him is to be kind.  Seriously.  That’s it.  But because we follow through with restrictions for disrespect, he has lost every privilege he has ever had.  Though he could get them all back in a matter of months if he would just… be nice. 

Complicating the issue are some scary psychological phenomena he has experienced.  He says he hears voices telling him negative things.  For a while there he was researching schizophrenia hardcore, learning everything about it, writing fictional stories and screenplays about it.  He seemed to really WANT to have it.  He inherited my flair for the dramatic, and took it to a whole new level.  His doctor and regular councilor both looked into it, gave him preliminary tests and agreed that he does not have it.  He stormed out of the GP’s office yelling that the doctor didn't know what he was talking about.  Both professionals say that when they tried to get specifics from him that all they got were text-book answers.  Which is not a surprise considering all the text books he was researching.  Furthering our skepticism is the fact that all his claims revolve around getting his privileges back.  And whenever he loses privileges for being disrespectful, suddenly it becomes a big issue
 
Now when I talk about disrespect, I’m not talking typical teenage stuff like rolling of the eyes or staying out too late.  I mean yelling “Fuck you asshole!” in our faces.  Throwing things, looming over Heather while making demands.  Telling his brother that he will kill him.  Telling us that he will be respectful of any other authority but ours.  He has truly become a righteous warrior of justice in his own mind, taking a stand for what is right against all odds.  He has embraced the persecution as he defies the tyrannical system he is under.  A real martyr. 

I heard someone say that the single biggest justification for evil is the idea that one is oppressed.  Because once you’ve built the narrative that you are suffering unjustly, almost any action on your part is justified.  This is truly the case here.  And he has spread this narrative to anyone who will listen.  Friends at school, their parents, his school councilor, etc.  He did such a good job of this that someone called Child Protective Services, and we underwent an investigation for abuse.  Once the agent got the full picture she knew instantly what was going on, and we are all clear.  When that failed him, he got really desperate and had to take it to a new level.  He started lightly scratching his wrists, and called it suicide attempts.  Of course no one can truly know the mind of another, but I would bet my own life that he would never commit suicide.  He truly, deeply loves himself.  He loves being with others, he loves doing things, being creative, and has not shown ANY signs of depression.  Only anger.  But he knew the magic words, and walked to our local mental hospital and told them he had a plan to commit suicide.  This was right after we had to call the police because he was trashing his bedroom and refusing to leave, so I physically removed him from the home.  So we got a call from the ER saying he had been checked in.  We went and got evaluated yet again by an agent at the hospital.  That agent, and our son’s doctor at the ER, and the police officer who was present and hearing all the facts, all agreed that this was a stunt, a power play.  So he’s discharged, and now he’s no better off than before, so he tried again, this time there was room for him at the mental hospital, so he got to spend a week there, getting lots of attention and time away from his horrible abusive parents.  He made some friends, got a ‘girlfriend’ and had lots of therapy.  We attended a parents workshop there, and two additional counseling sessions with the head doctor.  Which means I had to take a lot of time off work at the worst possible time.  (more on that later.)  The staff and doctor all agreed with every other adult who has looked into the situation.  He’s a kid using the system in an attempt to gain control.  But clearly, there is something deeply wrong with any kid who will go that far to do it.  So there is clearly need for more therapy.  After that he was stepped down to a day program, and eventually discharged.  Heather had to go pick him up, and when she did she wanted to clarify that when he got home he was not to continue to harass our younger son by shoving his scratched up wrist in his face and going on and on about how desperate he is and how terrible we are.  Well that was enough to set him off and right there at the hospital, in front of everyone, he threw his notebook at her.

And nothing has got better.  We didn’t give him his notebook full of really disgusting things back, and that set him off again.  He is holding our home hostage to his outbursts and threats, and we have no legal rights to do anything.  The one good thing about the CPS investigation, is the agent was truly sympathetic to our plight and has been helping us contact other agencies that might be able help us.  We really believe that he needs to get out of the house and into a different system.  A new context, so that he can learn that he’s bringing his own problems with him.  So he can’t continue to blame us for everything, and spend all his energy attempting to wrest control from us.  He seems to be really attracted to the losers of society.  I don’t mean that in a judgmental way.  I literally mean, ‘those who lose’ in life.  I think he’s going to need to run with the losers long enough to realize that they are that way because most of them really can’t do better for themselves.  But he CAN do better.  He’s very intelligent and resourceful and creative.  All qualities that most losers lack.  The only thing that will keep a loser is his unwillingness to drop the martyrdom act.  But that’s something that we simply can’t do for him.
 
Like the baby bird jabbing at mamma bird harder and harder, he is begging to get bumped out of the nest.  He’s hurt everyone around him so deeply I fear that relationships are permanently dead.  Certainly with Heather, probably with his brother.  As his father I will never give up on him.  I will always hope for the best for him, and try my best to provide what I can to help him in hopefully the best way.  I’m always praying for wisdom.

Part 2: Health

Heather has been declining in health since I've known her.  If you look at a chart of the human body and point at any location I can tell you what has been wrong, or is wrong with it.  I’m not being hyperbolic.  I am totally serious.  I literally cannot think of any body part that hasn't had some mundane or bizarre problem, from chronic migraines to fibromyalgia to tear duct stones requiring two separate surgeries that pulled her face apart.  Some crazy inner ear thing that required tubes.  Ingrown toenails that required 5 or 6 surgical procedures before the damn things would stop stabbing her.  Heart problem.  Gall stones, so she had surgery to remove it.  Then she STILL got gall stones in the little duct that is left over!  Screwed up back.  Loss of bone density in her spine.  And I could seriously keep going, but that’s not the point.  I just wanted to prove that I’m not being hyperbolic this one time in my life.  Oh, and here’s a really amazing fact.  My brother/roommate has this rare degenerative disease called ankylosing spondylitis, where your immune system attacks the joints in the spine and pelvis.  Mostly men get it.  It’s very rare.  Heather has it.  That’s two cases in one house.  Amazing, you say?  Wait, there’s more!  Over the past couple of years I've been experiencing pain when I sit in any position for longer than five minutes or so.  I have to shift around all the time because it feels like my tail bone is getting crushed.  And when I get up it hurts even more, like it’s decompressing.  So I finally go to a rheumatologist, get my blood and x-rays, and a couple days later get a nonchalant call from the nurse who leaves a message telling me, ‘oh yeah, looks like you have ankylosing spondylitis, better come in and get drugs for it.’.

I suppose hearing you have a degenerative disease with no cure would normally bum a person out.  But honestly, living with two people in chronic pain, and being married to a woman who is so far on the bell curve of unlucky physical problems they need to make a bigger graph… well, I guess that puts it in perspective.  That, or my brain just isn't in a place to process the news due to my son blowing up the family, my wife in constant pain, and…

Part 3: Work

Ok, so this part is a lot more of a mixed bag than the last two parts.  I had this idea back in October, that I wanted to make an entire level in Guild Wars 2 that is one giant jumping puzzle game.  I started making little jumping challenges in GW2 as soon as we had jumping in the engine.  Guild Wars 1 did not have jumping so I was always frustrated at how hard it was to hide secrets, which is one of the greatest joys of my career.  So I had this idea to make a level that was an homage to classic 8 and 16 bit platform and adventure games.  Well enough people in positions of power liked my idea to give me a chance to experiment with it for a bit, and I even got a little team to help me.  Well, it started looking really, really good and really, really fun.  During the first couple weeks we were trying to nail down the art style with the environment art lead and the art director.  This was tricky, because trying to evoke the look of old low resolution two dimensional art in a three dimensional engine is no easy task.  In a way, we were TRYING to make things look crude and unsophisticated.  A lot of art in those old games was made by programmers after all!

<<>> I had a long in-depth description of some internal company politics that would be inappropriate to have as 'public' information, so suffice it to say that a couple days ago my dream project came within a hairs-breadth of being canceled at the last moment, then un-canceled, then maybe canceled again within a couple hours, and it is currently unknown.

Yesterday I gave a presentation of my project to the whole company.  I half expected to have a cane snatch me from offstage at any moment.  But the presentation went really well and I got more applause than any other presentation we've had with the exception of the profit sharing meeting. 

So now we are locking down, and still unsure about our fate.  I’m so exhausted and… I guess stressed. 
On the plus side we got a very generous bonus because Guild Wars 2 has been doing very well.  So we can pay off one of our student loans, and maybe go on a modest vacation… after we figure out what’s going to happen with our teen tyrant. 

My Coming Out Speech


When I was 14 I was sent to a special evangelical camp that was run by Focus on the Family.  It's purpose was to ensure that once the next generation of Christians entered college, they would have the intellectual and spiritual tools to maintain their faith in a hostile, anti-Christian environment.  They were there to shape our world-views and teach us Christian apologetics.  Besides a healthy dose of anti-Communist lectures, (I was there just as the USSR was starting to crumble.) we were taught about how terrible homosexuality was.  I'm sure at some point they told to hate the sin, not the sinner.  But all I remember was the vivid pictures one speaker was painting for us.  I don't remember where he got his information, but what he said surely impacted my perception powerfully.  He talked about gay bath houses, where people would roll around in each others feces.  And while I don't doubt such places exist, I'm very confident that it's a tiny minority, and that there are heterosexuals who do the same thing.  Sadly, this was presented as the norm for homosexuals.

In the past several years I've been working through the issue of homosexuality and Christianity and how it relates to my worldview because, well, it's kind of hard to ignore lately.  I don't know why I'm so fascinated by this issue. I don't really have a horse in this race. I'm not super into church,  (says the guy who tithes, goes to church every Sunday  and helps his pastor with sermons and creates art for them) or into homosexuality.   But I suppose it's really the historical nature of the issue.  This truly is a defining moment in history for Christianity.  Well, for society as a whole, really.  This is all very unprecedented   There are examples in small pockets of time and place where homosexuality was openly practiced, and sometimes even praised.  But those are small blips on the historical radar.  Never has such a large percentage of the global population come to a conclusion about homosexuality other than 'it's bad'.  Mass media, global communications, and a relentless PR campaign through the culture-making institutions such as universities and Hollywood have really pulled off a massive feat.

And I'm not immune to it.  My perspective on the issue has gradually shifted as I've partaken in probably hundreds of conversations and debates on the topic.  Coming from a conservative evangelical background, my perception of homosexuality was pretty far to an extreme.  Not all the to Westboro's or Hollywood caricatures of Christians, but still very much adamant that God really, really hates homosexuality and that it's a very icky sin, and that people have to be really screwed up to be gay.  Now I'm more like... meh.  I've thrown every argument I can muster against the tide, and found them all lacking.  Do I now think that homosexuality is healthy and wonderful?  I don't know.  I know plenty of very nice homosexuals, who seem to be grounded and healthy.  I also know a couple who clearly aren't.  But isn't that true of any demographic?  (Except the Grounded-and-Healthy demographic I suppose.)  It seems to me that from an evolutionary perspective, homosexuality is disorder.  As in: there is an order by which organisms reproduce and keep their genes going, and being sexually attracted to the same gender is outside of that order.  I don't think the evolutionary perspective should be ignored, or one ought to pretend it doesn't exist.  But as with all disorders, the thing that keeps our species from being like the rest of the animals is the modifier of cultural accommodation.  We don't feed our weak and sick to the jackals like the water buffalo do.  We don't accept the larger males beating the smaller ones up and mating with all the females like pretty much every animal species does.  We came up with the concept of individual rights, empathy, charity, and the like.  These things balance out the Darwinian survival of the fittest.

Now the vast, vast, vast majority of cultures that have existed on this planet throughout history have demonized homosexuality.  Some smaller percent have allowed it in sub-cultural ghettos, or among the elite.  And a tiny, tiny percentage have openly embraced it, including ours today.  I'm interested in WHY the proportions are this way.  The easy, modern liberal answer is that all people in history were backward, ignorant, evil pinheads.  But I've read too much history to buy that.  The easy conservative answer is that it is clearly a gross perversion of nature and God wrote this on our hearts.  But I think that one of the biggest reasons had to do with family structure, which was not only the foundation of a social order, but also health and life insurance, before those things existed.  If you didn't have kids, and lots of them, chances were you were going to die much sooner, with no one to care for you and house you.  So everything outside of that social order was suspect.  Old widows were witches, homosexuals were dirty perverts.

Fast forward to today.  Our technological innovations have buffered us from nature.  Sex no longer equals babies.  New social welfare programs mean the family is no longer seen as the first stop when emergencies hit, or when you get old and sick.  These technological and governmental innovations have lowered the NEED for cohesive family structures.  At least enough that the threshold is such that it is no longer sacred.  We are in a post-family culture.  Well, as long as our technological infrastructure holds.  And in this culture, old widows and homosexuals are no longer outcasts, because they are not standing in sharp contrast to the lifeline of stability and safety.

The point I'm trying to make about society providing a counterweight to Nature Red in Tooth and Claw, is that culture is a manifestation of our human compassion instantiated in tradition and institutions.  If you take the goal of nature to be the propagation of itself, (and I'm not sure how you can get more basic than that, whatever else the point is, cannot exist without propagation at it's root.) then homosexuality is certainly a 'flaw' from a natural perspective.  Yet our cultures are there specifically to assist flawed people.  People with disease, mental handicaps, social abnormalities, etc. Part of the assistance is a codified moral order.  A way to protect the innocent from those who would take advantage of them.  So things like lying, false witness, murder, theft, etc. are all there for really obvious reasons.  A society can't function without those foundational moral precepts.  Justice couldn't exist.  And when you start composing lists of evils, these things all naturally fall on them.  The Bible has a couple lists like this.  Some of the things on these lists are universal, some are culture-specific.

Depending on your approach to the Bible you will take the cultural ones as universal for all times and places, or you will see them as coming from a perspective that is rooted in the time and place it was uttered.  One way you can separate the two is by simply investigating the reasoning behind them.  Like I said, lying and murder are obvious.  Wearing mixed fabric is not.  Men with long hair is not.  Homosexuality is harder to call because of all the cultural and historical baggage it has.  When anything is shoved into the margins of sub-cultures, it's going to get mixed in with the other sub-cultures, many of which are illicit.  Substance abuse, promiscuity, etc. are all waiting to mingle with the stigmatized.  And the real question I have is this: would that mingling still exist if a sub-culture is no longer stigmatized?  If homosexuality is NATURALLY destructive, and corrosive to a society then no amount of welcoming it into the larger culture will make it healthy.  But if it is simply a benign quirk of physiology, like Tourette's syndrome or OCD, then stigmatizing it is a truly hateful thing.  It's not like stigmatizing things on the universal list, such as abuse, lying and murder, where pressure is applied that counters damaging natural instincts. Most people can agree that if we stoped stigmatizing lying, our culture would quickly descend into chaos.  I'm just not comfortable making the same argument about homosexuality. There simply is not enough data.  There are too many variables.  And in cases such as these, I'd like to err on the side of empathy and charity.

So let's get back to the Bible.  If you believe that every word in the Bible was carefully arranged by the Creator of the Universe, the idea of inerrancy is really your only natural conclusion, and accepting that anything on those Naughty Lists is not actually a horrible sin is not an option.  And this is where the issue of homosexuality and Christianity gets really interesting to me.  It hinges completely on your philosophy of the Bible.  Christianity will be defined in the future by how it answers this.  What the dominant philosophy of Bible will be.

I've studied the history of how the Bible came about, and also how it was interpreted over the 2,000 years these documents have been around.  And I was surprised by what a wide range of philosophies there have been.  Coming from my evangelical strain of Christianity, I assumed there was really only one approach to the Bible, and that was the inerrancy model.  The "God said it, I believe, that settles it." model.  Every word HAD to be precisely placed by God or NONE of it was valid or worthwhile.  This philosophy of Bible was so pervasive in my branch that we eisegeteically read it onto all of history.  How surprised I was that one of the greatest heroes of my family and intellectual evangelicalism, C.S. Lewis, did not share this philosophy!  And the very men who brought about our reformation had no problem cutting out books from the established cannon.  The catholic tradition does not view the Bible with the philosophy of inerrancy.  And most of the non-evangelical branches of modern Christianity don't either.  It turns out inerrancy is a niche philosophy of Bible that is fairly new on the scene, and it's put Christianity in an interesting position, forcing it into a counter-cultural ghetto.  I'm not saying going against the flow necessarily bad.  In general, there are always going to be trends within a culture that are damaging, and so resisting those is great.  The Church should always stand up for righteousness, health, discipline  and mostly love, and however it clashes with the culture at large should never sway that position.

But what I see happening within the more conservative denominations of Christianity is a position taken based on a minority (historically speaking) position on the philosophy of Bible, that is forcing them to sacrifice one set of standards, (the universal ones like love and charity) for a culturally specific set. (a culture from thousands of years ago)  I want to be clear, that no evangelical I know is actually hateful towards homosexuals in their FEELINGS.  The political and philosophical ramifications of their political power might be, but it is NOT motivated by hate, as the left likes to proclaim.  If you truly believe that a person's sex life is going to result in eternal torment it would be supremely unloving to be apathetic about their sex life.

So evangelicalism will go one of two directions that I can guess at.  First, they can stick to their conviction that for Christianity to survive and be real, it needs inerrancy, and therefore homosexuality must be a sin condemned by God.  Therefore a real Christian needs to condemn homosexuality, and naturally act politically to fight it.  I think the cultural tide is so great that if the evangelical Church goes this way, it will continue to wane, become less and less relevant in culture, and eventually be lumped in with the Westboro Baptists as fringe kooks full of hate.  (I know Hollywood already does that lumping, but I'm talking about the vast majority of the culture at large.)

The second option is that they return to one of the historical philosophies of Bible, separate the universal sins from the culturally conditioned ones, and learn to live with Christian homosexuals.

Of course there is the third option.  The one that most Evangelicals are faithfully expecting.  And that is a revival of their brand of Christianity that will sweep the nation and the cultural tide will start moving with them rather than against them.  This idea has some credence in that our current cultural state is an anomaly   And the pendulum is always swinging.  But we have a massive wild card here: technology.  As long as that is a factor it's such a game changer that I'm not sure the pendulum is still on the same trajectory.

In the latest debate I've been involved in, someone had this to say about the issue.


"My problem with that is that this cultural paradigm did NOT rise from within the church but actually from within political and atheistic realms."

My response as follows:

The church has constantly evolved with the society around it.  Look at all the cultural forms that existed before Christianity that were used as building blocks: baptism, speaking in tongues, shared meals, god sacrificing himself, resurrection, etc.  And then the conformity to the pre-existing pagan holy days like Saturnalia and Ishtar, re-skinning them to fit.  Then there's the enlightenment, which I understand, (because I used to do it) that Christian apologists say started as a result of the reformation.  But a little deeper historical study will show you that the roots of both the enlightenment and the reformation started long before either, and they are siblings, not a parent/child structure.  One of the greatest shifts in societal evolution -the rejection of historically validated authority structures- rocked the Catholic church so hard it broke apart, spawning the thousands of denominations we have today.  We are 500 years past that, so we feel like this fragmented state is just the way things ought to be, but a little historical perspective, and damn... that is a HUGE change the church went through from outside societal influence.  Shattered from two (Eastern and Western) branches to tens of thousands of pieces because the people of the church agreed with the enlightenment concept of individual liberties and rationality (or revelation in the case of reformation heroes) over established power structures.

So when it comes to the gay thing... that ship has sailed.  The Church EXISTS today BECAUSE it evolves with the cultures it inhabits.  From a biblical interpretation perspective, you can go one of two routs that I can perceive.  (If you want to be consistent.)  First, you can say it's a terrible perverse sin that will send folks to hell.  That's fine.  But to be consistent you better stick with the lists that homosexuality is on.  Such as liars.  So as long as you're ready to admit that every single human, (with the exception of infants perhaps) is going to hell, then you'll be consistent.  And let's not forget that Paul thinks long hair on a man is "unnatural' as well.  Then back to the OT and everyone who eats shellfish or wears mixed fabrics is going to hell as well.

The other rout is to acknowledge the cultural perspective of the writers.  That the cultures they spoke into were in a different stage of development than ours.  Women were property, slaves were property, homosexuals were evil.  That is the world all these writers lived in.  and if you want to embrace just one of those culturally contextual items, you ought to embrace them all.  If you want to be consistent.