Sunday, September 20, 2020

Prosperity from Apologetics

1Now listen, you rich people, weep and wail because of the misery that is coming on you. 2Your wealth has rotted, and moths have eaten your clothes. 3Your gold and silver are corroded. Their corrosion will testify against you and eat your flesh like fire. You have hoarded wealth in the last days. 4Look! The wages you failed to pay the workers who mowed your fields are crying out against you. The cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord Almighty. 5You have lived on earth in luxury and self-indulgence. You have fattened yourselves in the day of slaughter. 
James 5:1-5 (NIV)

 7For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. 8But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. 9Those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. 10For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. 

1 Timothy 6:7-10 (NIV)

One who oppresses the poor to increase his wealth and one who gives gifts to the rich--both come to poverty.

Proverbs 22:16 (NIV)

I love apologetics and always will. It's what led me to Christianity and it's the avenue through which God gives me the greatest fulfillment. My faith is not in apologetics or apologists, but it was still extremely disheartening to see in the public IRS records what some apologetics ministries are paying to their apologists (and to some extent, their other leaders, but that's a somewhat separate issue since teacher are held to a higher standard; James 3:1). Christian organizations should pay their people enough for them to make a decent living, but shouldn't be paying them so much that they're getting rich and living in excess.

What is too much?

It’s difficult to define what is too much money. The Bible doesn’t give us an exact metric, but it does give us some pretty good ones. The James and Timothy passages above put us in the ballpark for knowing what is too much. From a biblical perspective, what matters seems to be what is needed to live (while considering the amount of time worked). Credentials or comparisons with godless organizations to determine what is "deserved" seems much more like the type of godless or worldly thinking that the Bible constantly warns us about.

We need certain things to live and flourish, but we don’t necessarily need the best or most expensive forms of those things. We need food, but we don’t need a steak (or two) every night. We need a home, but we don’t need to live in wealthy neighborhood with expensive add-ons and extra bedrooms that rarely get used. Once a person has what is needed to live with a fair level of leeway for what is “needed,” then everything else is extra. Keeping, spending, and in some cases, even accepting money above and beyond what is needed seems like a highly suggestive, but not definitive sign of greed and a love of money.

Most other people seem to agree with me. In a poll on Facebook (in an apologetics group) and Twitter, without knowing the background, most people didn't think it's appropriate for ministries to pay six-figure salaries to anyone (let alone apologists and theologians, who are teachers of the Word). I'm sure moer and more people would have said it's wrong if I couldn't have specified higher values ($150k, $200k, etc.) I think $100,000 is a decent guideline based on average U.S. incomes ($60k median), but it certainly shouldn't be used as a hard cutoff for what is and isn't an appropriate use of funds, especially when considering the cost of living in some areas.

You can use this calculator by Pew Research to see what constitutes lower, middle, and upper class to get an idea of what is "needed." Cost of living in a specific area, hours worked, what an individual person needs based on their circumstances (e.g. single mom vs. dual-income spouses with no children), percent of overall ministry funds allocated to a person's income, comparable salaries in related disciplines, and experience also need to be considered, although the last two factors are largely tainted by secular standards. Should Christians really be paying apologists and theologians comparable (or higher) salaries as speakers for the Freedom from Religion Foundation and Planned Parenthood...people who have no hope in God and who worship money and power?

Apologist Earnings

Below are the IRS records of what some ministries are paying their apologists, but we also need to consider additional sources of income such as speaking fees, book sales, investments, retirements, and others that do not come from the ministry they work for. Some of these funds might be routed through the ministry (particularly speaking fees), but others aren't so it adds a layer of complication which we likely cannot find out through public means so it's best the be gracious to the ministries while also not putting our heads in the sand. In some cases, the funds legally have to go to the apologist, but in other cases, they belong to the ministry and do not necessarily need to go to the apologist. In cases where the additional funds do not go through the ministry, the person is probably making a fair bit more money than the IRS documents show (this isn't a case of fraud but a limitation of the public records which only show what a ministry pays a person, not all the income a person makes).

With that said, here are the apologetics ministries whose pay scales are somewhere between concerning and appalling (mostly around or above $200k): RZIM, Cross Examined, Colson Center, Summit Ministries, Christian Research Institute, Answers in Genesis, Institute for Creation Research, and Discovery Institute. To check them and others, here's the IRS non-profit search page. Churches are exempt from 990 forms and don't have to report salaries, and sadly, some ministries are classifying themselves as churches so they don't have to report these figures anymore. On a side note, with the recent RZIM scandal, we should reflect on the ways in which wealth might contribute to such abuse and the ability to cover it up.

While we don't know what people are doing with their salaries, some of the people are living in 4,000+ sq ft., million-dollar homes so I'm skeptical that they're donating huge sums of money rather than living lavishly. Additionally, how many apologists have preached against the prosperity gospel, yet they're living similar lifestyles while hiding their riches. For the record, I looked up comparable Christian writers and speakers outside of apologetics (e.g. John Piper) and all the ones I looked up seemed to be living much more modestly.

If these salaries are not something to be ashamed of, why not publicly display them and make them known when unapologetically pleading for money from donors? If there is some sense of pride about what is "deserved" based on non-Christian standards, then why not stop taking donations for all ministry operations and build all this wealth through selling a product like a good capitalist?

How to Respond

I'm going to write to these ministries and ask them to donate the money I've given them to more responsible ministries and/or suggest they drastically change their pay scales. Additionally, I will be hesitant to promote the work of these ministries in the future without very clear qualifications about how they spend their money. They may produce good content, but I don't feel comfortable knowing that I have friends who are struggling to get by but still make sacrifices to buy resources from and/or donate money to these ministries all while their leaders are getting rich. 

On a more positive note, some apologetics ministries do seem to be paying their leaders reasonable salaries (although their figures are debatable, especially if just consider raw numbers) while some apologists don't even accept donations (but may or may not still be getting very wealthy from the gospel). Other apologetics ministries didn't have data on the IRS site or were in more of a gray area. I want to hold people accountable but also be fair. I also want to share a FB comment on this article by Corey Miller, the President of Ratio Christi, (who is not making an excessive wage) for some additional insights about what goes into the 990 forms.

I hope this challenges some apologetics ministries to use their money more responsibly and encourages people to spend and donate money wisely. While saddening, it has also been an eye-opening and helpful experience to learn this information. I suspect most others will view this information in a similar way. I also want to make it clear that I think ministries should pay people a decent living wage and I would be just as critical of ministries that underpay. There needs to be a balance with a fair amount of grace given. I only pointed out the above ministries because their pay scales seem to be way out of proportion for what seems reasonable to me (and probably to many of their donors).

Put most bluntly, affluent clergy are never a match for the lay preachers and impoverished ascetics in head-to-head credibility contests.

Rodney Stark in The Rise of Christianity (p. 174)

Other Resources

You can also find financial information about non-profits from CauseIQCharity Navigator, Non-Profit Light, or GuideStar. The Washington Post Income Calculator and U.S. Income Percentiles will be helpful for determining what makes a person "rich" and how a person's salary compares to others in the U.S. and throughout the rest of the world.

More scripture

 2Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.

Romans 12:2 (NIV)

1Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. 2Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. 3For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. 4When Christ, who is your a life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. 5Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry.

Colossians 3:1-5 (NIV)

17Join together in following my example, brothers and sisters, and just as you have us as a model, keep your eyes on those who live as we do. 18For, as I have often told you before and now tell you again even with tears, many live as enemies of the cross of Christ. 19Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is set on earthly things. 20But our citizenship is in heaven.

Philippians 3:17-20 (NIV)

 2Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.

Romans 12:2 (NIV)

 7For who makes you different from anyone else? What do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as though you did not?

1 Corinthians 4:7 (NIV)

30"Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ 31The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”

Mark 12:31 (NIV)

 14Even so the body is not made up of one part but of many.15Now if the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. 16And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. 17If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? 18But in fact God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. 19If they were all one part, where would the body be? 20As it is, there are many parts, but one body. 21The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!” 22On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, 23and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty, 24while our presentable parts need no special treatment. But God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the parts that lacked it, 25so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. 26If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.

1 Corinthians 12:14-26 (NIV)

24No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.

Matthew 6:24 (NIV)

Sunday, September 13, 2020

Why I am (and am NOT) a Christian

It's been a while since I've written a classical apologetics article that gives evidence for Christianity so I thought I'd get back into it, but with a little twist. Rather than just present arguments and explain the reasons why I believe Christianity is true, I'll also explain the reasons that don't convince me that Christianity is true or don't bias me in that direction. In other words, I think there are good reasons to believe Christianity is true, but there are also a lot of popular reasons and arguments for Christianity that fail to show Christianity is true.

Please note that while this is a somewhat lengthy article, it is a very short explanation of each point. Entire books could be or have been written on each topic, sometimes even parts of each topic. Hopefully, the formatting allows you to scan for interesting parts and the content challenges you to think more robustly about the reasons for belief and unbelief.

Rejected Arguments

Let me start by explaining the reasons that did not factor into my conversion to Christianity and are not reasons that I remain a Christian. Even though they didn't/don't influence me, I still think some of these are good arguments, but for some, I don't think they are good arguments at all.

  1. Upbringing: I am not a Christian because I grew up as a Christian. For most my life I would have been best described as an anti-theist, atheist, agnostic, or apathetic deist. I had times where I didn't believe and times when I thought some sort of God existed, but I knew organized religion was stupid and false.
  2. Family & Friends: I am not a Christian because my family and friends were Christians and effectively evangelized me or made me feel loved. My immediate family did not believe and I had some relatives who were pretty self-righteous and I caused me to want nothing to do with Christianity. I never really had any Christian friends growing up, at least not committed ones. At the time of my conversion, the only real Christian I knew was my girlfriend and she didn't put any pressure on me to convert. My teammates and closest friends were similar to me in that they didn't really care about religion and if any of them believed, they didn't act like it.
  3. Comfort: I am not a Christian because it is psychologically or existentially comforting to me. When I converted, I wasn't afraid of death or in need of an ever-present friend. I was perfectly content with my life and the way it was headed.
  4. Spiritual Experience: I am not a Christian because I had a religious or spiritual experience. Since becoming a Christian, I have not had a religious experience, at least not in the way many people describe theirs, and so this is not something that keeps me in the faith either.
  5. Moral Boundaries: I did not become a Christian because I wanted moral boundaries. I was perfectly content with my moral values which allowed me to pretty much do whatever I wanted as long as it wasn't illegal, or more precisely, wasn't a major crime. In fact, I was always a bit rebellious so an external set of moral rules was a barrier to faith for me and something that I didn't initially accept fully when I did convert.
  6. Ease: I am not a Christian because it makes my life easy. Being a Christian has caused me to give up a lot of comforts in my life so and do a lot of things that create additional work for me with little to no earthly benefit, but I do them because it's a way to love God and others.
  7. Moral Argument: I am not a Christian because I was persuaded by the moral argument. I do think it's a valid argument, but I don't think that the premise "objective moral exist" can be supported without just blindly accepting it. Moreover, I was perfectly comfortable accepting that there is no objective morality so I felt no need to accept this argument.
  8. Ontological Argument: I am not a Christian because of the ontological argument and to this day, I still do not think it's a sound argument.
  9. Arguments from Consciousness: I don't remember if this argument played a role in my conversion or not, but I no longer think it's a sound argument so it is not a factor that keeps me in the faith.
  10. Arguments from Free Will: Same as the argument from consciousness.
  11. Transcendental Arguments: I've never been convinced of these arguments and am still not convinced.
  12. Meaning: I am not a Christian because I needed meaning in my life. I had plenty of meaning in my life before I converted. Now that I am a Christian, I have shaped my meaning around Christianity, but I would have no problem changing the meaning of my life if I left the faith.
  13. Purpose: Same as meaning.
  14. Near-Death Experiences: There are some amazing near-death experiences of people seeing and hearing things they shouldn't have been able to see or hear while they were dead. However, I think there are plausible naturalistic explanations for these, at least the ones I've read about. I'm not convinced the near-death experiences are naturalistic or supernatural events. I lean toward natural explanations as a default, but I'm fairly agnostic on them and admittedly haven't studied them in great depth.
  15. Modern Miracles: Like near-death experiences, there are some amazing stories of modern miracles. When I converted, I don't remember being aware of any convincing miracles that couldn't be easily explained naturalistically. I am very skeptical of most miracles claims and think they're just people being ignorant. Even so, there are a few I've come across that I think are actual miracles; however, I don't really feel the force of them as arguments that keep me in the faith.
  16. Ignorance & Confirmation Bias: Most people just adopt their beliefs about God from their parents and friends with little or no attempts to learn about different religious beliefs, gain knowledge, critically evaluate their beliefs, or avoid confirmation bias. I explicitly tried to do avoid these errors before I converted. I admit that I was still rather ignorant compared to where I am now and what I still don't know, but I have consistently tried to make sure I am equally critical of Christianity (which is why I reject so many arguments that others accept) and that I take the time to truly understand opposing views before rejecting them (which is why I speak more favorably about their views).
  17. Benefits of Religion: The science of religious belief overwhelmingly shows that religious belief is beneficial. There are some exceptions, as there are with just about everything, but that doesn't negate all the positives. When I converted, I wasn't aware of all this research so it didn't influence me. Now that I'm aware of it and actually study it scientifically, I expect this result if Christianity is true, but at the same time, I think it can be explained naturalistically so it's not an argument that keeps me in the faith. The one caveat I would add though is that religion does seem uniquely able to satisfy some human needs in ways that politics, sports, and other social clubs cannot. Therefore, I'd argue that even if a person doesn't believe in God, they should participate in religion (ideally some form of Christianity because it meets a greater range of human needs but I can only support that theoretically at this time, not empirically) and even explicitly try to believe to avoid cognitive dissonance (see below for more on this).
  18. Pascal's Wager: This argument, if we could even call it that, gets a bad wrap and is often misunderstood. It didn't influence my conversion and doesn't keep me in the faith because there is enough to convince me that Christianity is true without it. However, it's still a valid statistical analysis of the consequences of unbelief, at least if the other arguments put Christianity anywhere in the ballpark of being true. In response to Pascal's Wager, people often say they can't make themselves believe, but this sentiment seems inconsistent with the psychological science on self-deception, confirmation bias, cognitive dissonance, motivated reasoning, and in extreme cases, Stockholm syndrome. Don't misunderstand what I'm saying here. People shouldn't intentionally try to induce some sort of Stockholm syndrome to induce religious belief because they fear hell. What I'm saying is that if you look at the evidence and arguments, yet still remain undecided, then the rational choice is to decide to belief and structure your actions in accordance with belief.
  19. Being a Christian: Obviously, being a Christian did not impact my conversion, but I don't think it keeps me in the faith either. Seminary was paid for, and even if it wasn't, it would be a sunk cost, I don't make much money as an apologist, and I think the Bible calls us to give generously so there are no financial reasons for me to stay committed to Christianity. Going to church, meeting with other believers, studying the Bible and apologetics, prayer, and doing ministry all stake up a lot of time which I could use in more self-serving ways so that doesn't keep me in the faith. I enjoy my friendships with other believers, but those friendships are no more fulfilling than relationships I've had with non-believers. On the other hand, considering my education and experiences, I could probably make more money as an atheist apologist and receive more accolades from a greater number of people if I left the faith. Perhaps there would be some strain on my marriage and other inconveniences, but overall, I think there are more worldly advantages for me if I were to leave the faith, which means the fact that I am a Christian likely doesn't bias me to remain one.
It may seem odd that I listed and explained all these reasons why I don't believe, but this is important for a couple reasons. First, this process is an important way to avoid bias, particularly confirmation bias and in-group bias. If a person is unable to show critical thought toward their own group, it's likely they are ignorant of alternatives or have been blinded by bias. Specifically for me, I have a unique ministry and background. There are only a handful of other apologists with graduate-level training in psychology and as far as I know, none who do research related to the psychology of religion or bias. Because of my research emphasis, other people will likely be more critical of my ministry work and more likely to point out any hints of bias in what I write or say.

Good Arguments
Despite all the arguments for Christianity that I reject, I am a Christian because there are still good arguments for Christianity. I'm not going to throw the baby out with the bathwater just because bad arguments exist (or because bad Christians exist, but that's a separate topic). These are the arguments or pieces of evidence that I think successfully show that God exists or Christianity is true.
  1. The universe & its beginning: The universe doesn't have to exist. There could be nothing instead of something. Obviously, it has to exist for us to be here to think about its existence, but that doesn't mean it doesn't require an explanation. Moreover, the universe could have started to exist and then ceased, but I'll get into that in the next point. Not only does the universe exist, but it is finite and came into existence. The Kalam cosmological argument says that 1.) everything that begins has a cause, 2.) the universe began to exist, 3) therefore, the universe had a cause. I will admit that I don't think this is the perfect, irrefutable argument that it's often presented to be by many apologists, but it's much better than alternative explanations which typically require the acceptance of an infinite regress of time or causes or they require magic. The Kalam has problems, but an immaterial, uncaused, (relatively) timeless, spaceless cause to the universe seems to be the best explanation, which means atheism, Buddhism, Hinduism, Latter-Day Saints, Pagan religions, Confucianism, Shintoism, and any other view that requires an actual infinite is almost certainly not true.
  2. Teleological Arguments: These arguments appeal to the design of the universe. I initially accepted them when I converted, became unconvinced, and after I gained a better understanding of the argument and the incredibly improbable odds, then I became convinced again. The conditions of the universe, our galaxy, our solar system, and our planet all had to be precisely finely tuned and occur at the right time in the history of the universe to support life. Essentially, we won the cosmic lottery, which I doubt anyone would deny, but the probability of all these factors is so small that it might as well be impossible. Imagine every atom in the universe was black and one single atom was white. It would be like randomly choose the one white atom several times in a row. Moreover. the beginning of life and each stage in evolution requires us to win another cosmic lottery that is just as improbable. You would never believe I didn't cheat if I won the lottery three times in a row by buying a single ticket each time, yet the comic lottery would be liking winning 100 times in a row. An intelligent, powerful Creator seems like a better a much better explanation than luck. Is this God of the gaps? Yes and no. No in the sense that this conclusion is based on inference to the best option in the same way that I can infer my computer was made by a mind even though I didn't see it get made and it could theoretically have come into existence through natural processes. Moreover, as we learn more about the universe, the more improbable our universe becomes (i.e. the "gap" keeps growing). However, it is God of the gaps in the sense there are gaps in our knowledge regarding the laws of nature and the complexities of life. I don't see this as a problem because we use the same reasoning process to fill gaps in our knowledge to convict criminals of crimes and posit other scientific theories.
  3. Moral Superiority: This argument is a bit of a different twist than the typical moral argument. If I were to develop a moral system apart from God, I would create a system that gives humans intrinsic values and respects individual rights while also expecting people to sacrifice for others and live virtuously. Atheists have proposed similar moral systems, and they are right for doing so; however, it is only a Judeo/Christian worldview that can give a rational justification for such a system. At some point, atheists are required to stand their moral system on a blind assertion that cannot be supported with reason or evidence but just has to be assumed. On the other hand, other religions can ground morality in theory, but the set of beliefs within these systems are inconsistent and/or conflict with science and reason. Additionally, Christian ethics seem to correspond amazingly well with innate biological and social human tendencies. Just one example is the secular science of sex seems to show that the biblical guidelines on sex lead to the best outcomes for marriage and mental health (not to mention the effects on the spread of diseases and parenting). To be fair, some of this type of research may be due to cultural norms so that the effects could go away if sexual norms change; however, we can't draw conclusions on what might happen and the effects make sense of our biology, which likely wouldn't be as flexible to change due to social norms.
  4. OT Prophecy: The OT makes some accurate predictions about the future, specifically about the Messiah, which has led some critics to suggest the texts were added to after the events occurred, but the Dead Sea Scrolls have made many of those objections obsolete. Still, the prophecies are not very specific and are shrouded in symbolic texts, suggesting maybe they weren't really prophecies, but at the same time, it does seem that the first century Jews were expecting the Messiah to come during their time. These prophecies played a small role in my conversion, but after my increased skepticism over the last 15 years, I'm fairly agnostic about these. Maybe OT prophecies about the Messiah are legitimate interpretations and maybe they aren't, but I just don't know enough about this topic to have a firm conclusion. I do know that the text itself was not changed after the fact so it's only a matter of interpretation that I am uncertain about.
  5. NT Reliability: Biblical reliability is a huge topic, so my emphasis here is on NT reliability (which is still a pretty big topic). Commons objections that the Bible has been corrupted, added to, has had stuff removed, and has been translated through multiple languages are easily refuted with just a little bit of basic research. The Bibles we have today, especially the NT, almost certainly match what was originally written. There are thousands of ancient manuscripts to compare to each other to see if there have been changes plus hundreds if not thousands of times where early church writers quote the NT as another comparison. Moreover, what was originally written has an excellent record of reliably recording actual historical events and was written within a historically short period after the resurrection. While it's possible that some exaggerations crept in or some facts were misreported, the alternate explanations for the resurrection all seem much more implausible, especially when considering the above arguments.
I know that was a lot so thanks for reading or browsing. If you have any thoughts, I'd be happy to hear them in the comments or on social media. I'd be particularly interested to hear thoughts about the factors that don't influence me to believe. Thanks again.

Tuesday, September 1, 2020

Politics for Christians

Well, it's the time of year where the political posts are starting to ramp up and people on all sides are starting to remember how stupid, biased, and downright evil some of their family and friends are. 😅

Because I recently moved, I have a mostly new social group, so I figured I need to get in on the fun and show my new friends how much they should hate me. Ok, not really...and that's the point.

Politics has huge potential to make a positive impact for millions of people while at the same time it can deeply satisfy our fundamental need to belong. I understand the strong draw to politics, but despite all that, I'm going to argue that for most people and most issues, political engagement isn't a wise use of your time, money, reputation, emotional energy, or other resources (click here for part 2 of this article showing the complexity of the issues). What I mean by political engagement is researching issues or candidates (to include watching political shows and debates), debating issues or candidates, promoting positions or candidates (to include protesting), donating money to candidates or parties, and voting.

While that is my general view and argument, there are good reasons for exceptions that the reasons below don't necessarily apply to. Some exceptions would be if you run for office or work in the field of politics, participate in local politics, discuss (but not argue) politics in person with family or friends, take a stand on a very important and obvious moral issue (but not the political aspects of it), and perhaps a few others that I haven't named.

Underlying my whole argument is the view that Christians should be good stewards of their resources. I don't know many Christians who would disagree with that in principle, but it's still good to mention for understanding why the following points are important. Whether you agree or disagree with what I say, hopefully, I can convince you to move beyond the dogmatic talking points that radiate from all sides of the political spectrum and think more broadly and realistically about politics. The following seven reasons are why I think Christians should almost completely stop using their time, money, and energy for politics. This means 

Reason #1: Statistical Irrelevance
At best, each individual vote is nearly worthless. It's one in a million, give or take a bit depending on your state, and if your candidate loses, your vote was worthless (although this article makes a pretty good case that voting for a third-party candidate isn't a wasted vote). On top of that, most states are nearly guaranteed to vote for a certain party, which means if you vote for the winning candidate, your vote probably wasn't needed and if you voted for the losing candidate, your vote certainly wasn't needed. Swing states are different, but even then, they are typically pretty decisive and your individual vote won't really matter a whole lot (especially if you voted for the loser).

I've heard people on both sides tell me that not voting is like giving a vote to the other side (they all seemed to assume I would have voted for their candidate if I did vote), but there's no reason to suspect that only people on one side will suddenly decide not to vote. This means that your non-vote will likely be canceled out by a non-vote on the other side.

Reason #2: Dunning-Kruger Effect
The Dunning-Kruger effect is when people with a small amount of knowledge in an area have a very high degree of confidence, but as they gain genuine expertise, their confidence drops until they reach a very high level of knowledge before their confidence starts to go back up.

Politics is perhaps the broadest and most complex topic there is. Some issues are more complex than others, but in general, to have a responsibly informed view on many issues requires a high level of critical thinking skills (which most people don't have), the ability to evaluate evidence without bias (which most people can't even come close to doing, especially in political issues), and graduate-level knowledge and understanding in several subjects (including, but not limited to theology, ethics, public policy, anthropology, sociology, various disciplines of psychology [moral, social, developmental, health, and more], political science, statistics, various types of law [torts, tax law, civil law, criminal law, international law, corporate law, constitutional law, family law, etc.], education, science, U.S. and world history, biology, medicine, epidemiology [especially in our current situation], healthcare, environmental science, micro and macroeconomics, insurance, military operations, world religions, and foreign relations).

If you disagree that there's such a high level of complexity, it's very likely you might be afflicted with a case of the Dunning-Krugers and need a steady dosage of James 4:6 (and maybe a library card, too) 😉. Seriously though, unless you read and understand peer-reviewed articles across several disciplines for each issue, then you aren't well informed, and if you're not well-informed, then your views are no more likely to benefit society than the people who completely disagree with you.

If it takes so much effort and knowledge to understand many individual issues, how much more time and effort does it take to understand the several issues that are pertinent for selecting a candidate or a party? Let’s face it, with such complexities, even the "experts" aren’t even experts (political scientists are the closest things to experts, yet they aren't the main voices we hear. Pundits, politicians, and some snarky guy you follow on social media aren't even close to being experts). Maybe this is why there are genuinely well-meaning and smart Christians on all sides of the political spectrum.

Being a single-issue voter doesn't solve the problem either, it just ignores it. Someone might say abortions are wrong, end of story, so it's that simple; however, this ignores how other issues affect the life and well-being of people and the potential long-term effects that certain policies might have on abortion and mortality rates. For much more depth of how complex politics can be, even surrounding abortion, check out my follow-up article here.

Reason #3: Christian Witness
It's no secret that talking politics in our culture, especially on social media, usually leads to strife. People take it very seriously and they are very certain of their views. Psychological science research shows that people are really poor at thinking straight when it comes to politics. If you disagree with someone politically, it usually doesn't end in hugs and increased mutual respect, although close relationships are probably exceptions to this. Instead, political discussions usually end with people thinking the other person stupid, biased, evil, or some combination of those three.

If someone thinks you are stupid and/or evil, it's nearly certain they will not respect what you say when it comes to religion. Would you rather win a convert to your political views or to Christ? It's not necessarily an either/or situation, but it often is. Also, consider who you might want to influence. I'm guessing a large majority of the people you know who you would want to become Christians disagree with you politically. You may gain friends and followers from other Christians through your politics, but in doing so, you're likely losing the people who need Jesus the most. 

A final point regarding your witness is that there may be times where not participating in politics might compromise your witness. The main take away with this point is to be aware of the effects that political engagement or disengage might have on your ability to influence others and who you may want to influence.

Reason #4: Regression to the Mean
Chances are that you hated one of the last two presidents, but guess what? Our country is still just fine. No, it's not perfect, and yes certain situations could have been handled better, but there doesn't seem to be good evidence that Democrat or Republican policies have been consistently better in the long-term. We've gone back and forth with our presidents, Senate, and House of Representatives. Both parties have had control of Washington and neither has delivered the utopia they've promised. We have a fairly stable and self-correcting system so that no single election cycle will likely ruin our country, and even if it did, it couldn't be predicted by armchair pundits.

Reason #5: Psychological Freedom
It's been 6-8 years since I've almost completely withdrawn from the news and politics and it's been wonderful! It's incredibly freeing and removed a lot of stress from my life...and I wasn't all that into politics in the first place. The question I get when I tell people this is, don't you miss important information? No, I don't. There are so many ways that news spreads in our culture that it's almost impossible to avoid. I hear things from my wife, friends, on social media, commercials, and other places. I ignore most of it, but if something seems interesting or important, I can and do look into it in more depth.

Reason #6: Moral Licensing
Moral licensing is an observed psychological effect in which doing or being good licenses you to do wrong...and it usually happens unconsciously so we're not aware that we do it. The simple act of voting makes us feel as though we've done a moral good, but then we often feel as though we have done all we need to and are no longer responsible for helping others. One study found that white people who endorsed Obama were subsequently more likely to favor white people (discriminate against black people). While not tested, it seems quite reasonable that for a large number of people, voting for a pro-life candidate or policy gives a license not to lift a finger for the thousands of kids in foster care waiting to be adopted. Likewise, voting for entitlements gives the license not to donate time and money. In may sound counterintuitive, but the act of voting or engaging in politics may actually make you a worse person, even if you have good intentions.

Reason #7: Opportunity Costs
We are limited beings who cannot do everything. Just like it's important to budget our money so that we don't waste it, we also need to budget our time and other resources. Every hour you spend watching the news, studying political issues, or debating politics could be used studying the Bible, reading peer-reviewed journal articles, having edifying conversations, hanging out with your kids, serving the poor, or any number things that would be more beneficial for you, your family, and your community. When deciding whether or how to engage in politics, consider what you are giving up in order to do so.

Reason #8: No vote = vote
It doesn't seem like people agree on much in politics today, but one thing that seems pretty widespread is the discontent with the current situation. A lot of people vote for a candidate begrudgingly. They strongly disagree with the candidate or disrespect them, but vote anyway because their candidate isn't quite as bad as the other candidate. Unfortunately, voting for someone under such a circumstance is positive reinforcement of their methods and/or policies that both sides learn from and take advantage of in future elections. Not voting sends the message that you are not willing to support someone who is divisive, morally bankrupt, or not qualified for the position. Sure, it's not a strong message, but it's not really any weaker than the power of your vote either.

Reason #9: Psychological Harm
After discussing the trolley problem in class, my professor said thankfully we don't have to make these difficult decisions about life and death, otherwise, it would be psychologically damaging. But we do make life and death decisions for others when we vote. You may vote to save babies' from abortion, but that likely comes at the cost of someone else in our country or in the world not getting life-saving food or healthcare. Maybe it's a hundred to one ratio, but that doesn't change the fact that it's a trade-off. Political policies affect groups of people differently, often in life and death ways, and our political actions affect that. If you want to claim a single vote isn't that big of a deal, then why vote at all (see point #1 above). If you think your vote does matter, then you should take it very seriously to come to the right conclusion (see point #2 above and my follow-up article on the complexity of politics).

Is it wrong to engage in politics? No, probably not, but it's not a good use of time either. This is perhaps a quintessential modern example of something that is permissible but not beneficial (1 Corinthians 10:23). Realistically, all of us have ill-informed views on politics (even the "experts") and a single vote is virtually meaningless. In what other domain would you ever consider using your time and energy so frivolously? Why not choose more fruitful options for your life.

Alternative Activities
Rather than just encourage people to disengage from politics, here are a few alternatives that will be more fruitful:

1. Go and serve people, especially where you are passionate. Donating blood (including platelets or plasma) is a super-easy way to save lives. If you are strongly against abortion, serve at an abortion clinic or with a ministry on the frontlines so you can be a light in that environment so you can actually make a difference in someone’s life and change their mind. If you’re passionate about education, become a teacher or tutor, volunteer at a school or with the PTO, or find other ways to help people learn.

2. Foster and/or adopt children. You can make a huge impact in the life of a person who lives in your home or becomes a permanent part of your family. Doing so will also afford you the opportunity to make a big impact in other people’s lives as they become aware of what you’ve done.

3. Talk about more edifying topics. Ask people about themselves. Talk about truth. Encourage others. Share your experiences with others. Collaborate on how to better serve in your church or reach unbelievers.

4. Read, study, and learn about more important matters like the Bible, theology and apologetics books, peer-reviewed science and philosophy articles, marriage and parenting books, or other important and valuable topics that will help you be a better person and/or know God better.

5. Become a missionary. Extreme? Yes, it is, but if you really want to make a difference in people’s live, go to a place where you can help meet physical needs (food, water, shelter, clothing), educational and vocational needs, and spiritual needs.

6. Use people’s passion about political issues as a way to get to know them and share the gospel. Ask people why they hold certain positions, how their views developed, how they fit with their religion or worldview, how do they know their views are right or best, and so on. The point isn't to trap anyone or convince them to change, but to learn about the other person and build a friendship with them.

7. Run for office. If you truly want to make a difference via politics, go and do it. Don’t just elect others to do it for you and then complain about their failures. Go get the education and experience required to make you an excellent politician, and then go make a difference. Be honest, transparent, incorruptible, and stand out as being different than all the others.

8. Get involved and talk about issues that (nearly) everyone is against such as human trafficking or child abuse.

9. If you just feel as though you must vote, hold yourself to a higher standard than others in our society. Don't just view issues through a single lens. Look at issues and candidates from multiple perspectives, including the likely impact it will have on the future of politics (e.g. voting for a candidate on the far end of either party is likely to encourage more extremism in the future), and try the best you can not to let your political engagement compromise your influence for Christ.