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).

Conclusion
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.

Monday, August 3, 2020

Five Views on Psychology and Christianity

Psychology and Christianity: Five Views Psychology and Christianity: Five Views

When I tell people that I work in the field of psychology, they almost always ask how I can still be a Christian in that field or they wonder whether I really am a Christian. Many psychologists are opposed to religion, especially Christianity; however, there are many committed Christians in the field of psychology and they have differing views on the relationship between Christianity and psychology.

The book Psychology and Christianity: Five Views gives a broad overview of the different views. Unfortunately, this book was a major disappointment so rather than just reviewing the book, I'm going to explain the views a little bit more than I would in just a straight book review. I have a BS and MA in psychology and am working on a PhD. This is a fairly introductory book so I read it with that expectation, but still, I was expecting to learn more than I did and to get a clear outline of the different views.

The book is roughly organized by the most scientific to least scientific views. The levels-of-explanation view approaches science (psychology) and religion (Christianity) as mostly separate and non-overlapping disciplines that explain things in separate but complementary ways just like physics and biology can both explain the same thing in different ways. The integration view is largely the same but places additional emphasis on integrating scientific findings into Christian theology.

The Christian psychology view is the view that, well, I don't know really. The writers of this view basically just criticize psychology and call for more theology and philosophy in the field, but they're not really clear on what that looks like in a practical way. The transformational view isn't really a separate view, but argues that in order to do good science (in this case, psychology), the scientist must be increasingly transformed into a godly person. Finally, the biblical counseling view argues that everything we need to know for psychology, at least for counseling, is in the Bible and so science isn't very important for counseling.

The problem with this book is that the final three views were so watered down and abstract that I honestly have no idea how these views differ from each other or the first two views in any meaningful way. It seemed like the authors were trying to present their views in the most sanitized, least controversial way possible as if the authors didn't want to offend anti-science fundamentalists while not trying to sound anti-science.

On top of that, there was very little discussion of specific, concrete comparisons between the views. The explanations of the views were so broad and abstract that any reasonable person could probably claim to hold to all five views, at least how they are presented in this book. If you are not well-educated in psychology, the explanations in this book will just confirm what you already believe because here isn't enough clear discussion about the practical differences between the views.

From what I know about these views from outside this book, proponents of the latter three views do not seem very well-versed in the science of psychology and also seem to be viewing psychology very narrowly without considering all multitude of sub-disciplines and how they're all interconnected. Biblical counseling explicitly states they reject secular psychology and virtually nobody in the movement has a Ph.D. in psychology so it makes sense that they would be largely unaware of what psychology actually is and how it informs us. The Christian psychology movement is largely promoted by philosophers and seems to suffer from similar problems except they do have more support from psychologists.

Personally, I gravitate more towards the levels-of-explanation or the integration views because they best recognize psychology as a science and that the observations made by scientists require interpretation which will relate to a person's worldview. Ultimately though, my view is that people need to test and support their views empirically. Regardless of what view a person is coming from, if they think a therapy technique will be effective, they need to test it instead of just claiming it works based on their untested interpretation of the Bible.

I'm not sure I would recommend this book to anyone. If you are not familiar with psychology, this book will not give you enough information about psychology in order to make an informed decision about how it does or doesn't fit with Christianity. If you are well-versed in psychology, this book will be a frustrating waste of time because everything is presented in an overly simplistic, narrow, and abstract fashion. I'm not sure what other resources are out there to get a better understanding of the subject other than my article here. It uses different language than this book so it won't exactly map onto a specific view, but I still think it will be helpful

View all my reviews

Monday, February 3, 2020

Engineering Psychology for Apologetics

Apologists tend to think like engineers in the sense that we're very analytical and logical, which also means that we often misunderstand people who don't think this way. Nearly every apologist goes through a phase where we think, if I just show people the evidence, then they'll believe. Some give up when they realize it's not that simple, some get wise and change their methods, and some never figure this out.

Since so many of us think like engineers, why not embrace this thinking style and view ourselves as conversation engineers. The field of engineering psychology, or human factors psychology, attempts to improve the design of machines or systems so that people can use them better. The better the design, the more likely people will seek out the product, use it, and recommend it to others. As conversation engineers, we can design spiritual conversations that lead to a better experience for the people we talk to.

The success of Apple has largely been attributed to the superior design of their products. Apple engineers and designers have made products that are easy to use, making it an enjoyable experience for customers, which leads to increased sales and brand loyalty. As apologists, we can use these same engineering principles to improve our outcomes. Our product is the evidence for Christianity, which the users (non-apologists and non-Christians) will be more likely to use and trust if we can give them a positive experience.

Basic Concepts
For now, there are three basic concepts to understand. These are affordances, signifiers, and feedback. Affordances are what the product can be used for and to some extent, is dependent on the person. A chair affords sitting, but if it's a really big or heavy chair, it only affords moving for strong people or groups of people. Signifiers are signals about what a product can do (what is affords). An arrow on a dial signifies which way the dial can turn.

Feedback is a little more than people might initially think. It is a signal regarding whether the operation has been activated or a signal about whether to product is working as intended. Your phone may beep to let you know you've pressed a button or it may provide different types of beeps to tell you something went wrong. Feedback can be thought of as a type of signifier that comes after a function rather than before it and gives information about the product, not the user.

Application to Apologetics
In apologetics dialogues, our product is evidence and our goal with it is to bring people closer to Jesus, strengthen religious belief, grow the church, give Christian confidence, inspire awe, and so on. In human factors terms, these are the affordances. However, it can also have bad affordances just like a phone can have bad affordances like porn, distractions, being used for target practice, and so on. Apologetics, when done wrong, can push people away from Jesus, drive people to anti-intellectualism, or make Christianity seem narrow and self-righteous.

If we use signifiers and feedback in the right ways, we can help prevent the negative affordances of apologetics. Signifiers can be obvious or subtle. Wearing Christian or apologetics clothing and posting Bible verses on social media are obvious, but doing so may provide feedback to people with unintended negative consequences. I'm not saying don't do this, but be aware that there could be negative consequences to it. To overcome potential negative effects, use positive rather than negative signifiers (e.g. more positive Bible verses than critical ones).

Subtle signifiers can also be useful. Wearing colors like blue, white, or green can make you seem more approachable and open so people are more likely to engage in conversation with you and be more open to listening when doing so. Colors like black and red may work against you in this way. Likewise, the same goes for your website, ministry branding, and so on.

The language we use can be a powerful signifier. If we talk about people in a condescending or critical way, this tells people we aren't open to understanding and don't really care about others so they will avoid us or if they do engage, the conversation will be fruitless. Likewise, when we talk about how busy we are, we send the signal that we're not open to taking an interest in others, which creates a barrier to relationships.

Feedback is perhaps the most dangerous area for apologists. When our feedback is limited to variations of "that's wrong and here's why," we are not going to win people over. Again, this signals a lack of concern for others, even if we are correct. Instead, our forms of feedback should send the message we care about others and we're open to considering their point-of-view (even if we've already considered it 100 times and know it's false).

How can we do that? Rather than engaging people in a back-and-forth, point-counterpoint type of conversation, we need to take a greater interest in others. Ask people about their lives and what motivates them. When they do say something factually or logically incorrect, try paraphrasing so you can ensure you've understood them or thank them for sharing their views with you. Ask follow-up questions to find out more about their beliefs or their lives, not just questions aimed at trapping them.

You may be thinking that this doesn't sound like typical feedback and you're right. This is feedback about yourself, not about them. You are sending the other person the message that you can listen to them without arguing, that you care about them, and that you're a rational, kind, and considerate person. By sending them this type of feedback, they will be much more open to listening when you do present evidence.

Conclusion
This is just the tip of the iceberg on this topic. I want to encourage you to check the resources below to go deeper or check back here as I will almost certainly write more on this topic. The big take-away is that we want the people we engage with to have a positive experience so that they want more of it. We need to consider the other person's experience over our own desire to present evidence. If they have a positive experience, they will be much more likely to listen to the evidence and come back to you in the future or search for more evidence on their own.

References
I highly recommend the book The Design of Everyday Things to help understand design concepts. Even though it's not an apologetics or religious book, if you think through it and do the work of applying it to apologetics yourself, it can be very helpful.

I also recommend the Great Courses class How Colors Affect You: What Science Reveals. This can help you be more effective at apologetics through the clothes you wear, how you design your website, your ministry logo, and so on.

Saturday, January 18, 2020

The Coddling of the Righteous Mind

I've been meaning to read Jonathan Haidt's books, The Righteous Mind and The Coddling of the American Mind for quite a while. In fact, I considered applying to work with him for my PhD because his research is so relevant for apologetics. Alas, I finally got around to reading both of these books and they were great. I wish I would have read them much sooner.

The Righteous Mind discusses the science of moral decision making, which relates to our political and religious views. This is extremely useful for apologetics because if we better understand how people have come to their decision on different issues, we approach the topic with arguments that the other person will value. Haidt shows that there are five different domains that are used for moral decisions. They are Care/Harm, Fairness/Cheating, Loyalty/Betrayal, Authority/Subversion, and Sanctity/Degradation. He also proposes the possibility of a sixth domain, Liberty/Oppression, which seems to be accepted now (the book was published in 2013).

The Coddling of the American Mind is a response to the political climate on many college campuses today. Haidt and Lukianoff (who's actually the first author, but is lesser known) discuss the various cultural shifts that have led to a generation that is unable to cope with diversity of thought or the challenges of life. The book discusses changes in parenting practices, the effects of social media, and the negative effects of cultural maxim's such as "trust your feelings." This book is helpful for apologetics specifically for anyone who wants to reach Gen Z and also extremely helpful for parents.

Both books discuss interesting scientific research mixed with real-life events that often make the headlines. For this reason, they were enjoyable to listen to and easy to comprehend on an audiobook. My guess is that anyone who reads or listens to them will learn quite a lot about why people are the way they are and it won't feel like a chore either. I highly recommend these books to all apologists, especially anyone who does college ministry (e.g. Ratio Christi chapter directors). Additionally, parents should read The Coddling of the American Mind. Even though it's not a parenting book, per se, it will be as helpful, if not more, than most parenting books.

Both books have websites with additional resources and information for people who want to go further. TheCoddling.com and RighteousMind.com

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

The giraffe's neck: evidence for evolution or design?


If you've done any investigation into the debate between evolution and intelligent design (or creation), you've probably heard about the giraffe's neck. Not only do both sides claim it in favor of their position, but they often tout it as irrefutable proof that they are correct. How could this be and which side is right?


Let me start by explaining why both sides of the debate claim it for their side. The evolutionists look at the recurrent laryngeal nerve, which travels from the head all the way down the neck, under the aortic arch, and back up to the larynx. It's a 15 ft nerve that only needs to be about a foot, if that. Evolutionists say if this was designed, it was done poorly and not what is expected, but if it evolved from a shorter-necked species, it's exactly what is expected.

On the other hand, those in the intelligent design camp look at the features in the neck that protect the giraffe's brain. Because giraffes are so large and their heads are so high, their hearts have to pump blood very powerfully to get the blood up there, but when they bend down to drink, gravity will pull the blood down rapidly and flood the brain. To prevent death every time they drink, they have an advanced pressure control system which is far too complex to have evolved all at once (irreducible complexity), therefore, the best inference is that it was designed by an intelligent being.

I have no idea if this is
real of Photoshopped.
The arguments from both sides are more complex than I presented them and both sides have counter-arguments to the opposing claims so don't think my caricature settled the matter. My point isn't to argue for either side, but to help people see or present the argument with less bias.

It's easy to poke holes in any claim. That's why we have the flat earth society, Holocaust deniers, and so many other off-the-wall beliefs that are semi-normal in our society. We have to look at both sides of an argument in comparison to one another in order to avoid our own biases.

In this case, what is really being compared is whether God created something that appears poorly designed or that random mutations were able to produce an incredibly complex system all at a single time. In other words, based on our current knowledge, the choice is between something that seems odd or unlikely, but not impossible (God's design seems poor) to something that seems statistically impossible (irreducible complexity).

I admit that this seems to handicap evolution from the get-go, but there are two points to consider. First is that we should avoid making decisions based on a single instance if we can avoid it. So maybe you agree that the design argument is better in the case of the giraffe, but for the rest of biology, evolution makes more sense. The second point is that there are other domains that are equally biased against God or Christianity (historical claims of the Bible, the cosmological argument, etc.).

If we know both sides of the evolution debate and approach the topic with an open and honest mindset, we have to admit that it's a hard choice. Both sides make a pretty good case and both sides have issues. The case of the giraffe is a fun illustration because we see the trade-offs in a single species, but this method of comparison should not limited in this way. We should apply it to the evidence and limitations for each argument in the whole debate. Hopefully, by framing the debate in this way, we can make a more rational choice or present the topic in a way that helps others make a more rational choice.


Romans 1:4

I learned a valuable lesson from this verse, completely unrelated to what the verse actually says! It's also a lesson I already knew and should have been more careful to pay attention to.

When I first set out to memorize this verse, I read several translations and the Greek, which is good and what I should have done; however, none of them seemed to make much sense so I gravitated toward the one that made the most sense to me on the surface (NLT) before studying the verse in depth. As a result, I got it wrong.

My initial translation was:
"Jesus Christ, our Lord, was declared the Son of God when He was resurrected from the dead by the power of the Holy Spirit." 
There are three subtle errors here. I mistranslated declared (ὁρισθέντος), "by the power of" (ἐν δυνάμει), and "Holy Spirit" (πνεῦμα ἁγιωσύνης). What what is a better translation? After studying it all last week, I think the best wat to translate this verse is:
"Jesus Christ, our Lord, was appointed the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by resurrection from the dead."
The problem with the correct translation is that the meaning makes little sense. It's filled with vague or ambiguous terms that don't make sense without further study. I'm going to walk through these specific translation issues to explain what each phrase means.

Was appointed
Jesus was always the Son of God. There's no question about that. So then what does it mean that He was appointed by the resurrection? Before the resurrection, Jesus was fully human, meaning He had human constraints, at least to some degree. The resurrection formally appointed Jesus as Son of God in a unique way. In other words, the resurrection was the official beginning of a new age, which is nothing new to Christians.

In power
The debate on this verse is what power modifies. In other words, is it best translated:
  1. Appointed with power
  2. Son of God in power (or powerful Son of God)
  3. Power of the Holy Spirit
Due to word order and parallelism with verse 3 (in contrast to "descendant of David"), I chose "Son of God in power." The resurrection was the event that ushered in Jesus' full power, above and beyond the power He had prior to the resurrection.

Spirit of holiness
Most translations say Spirit of holiness while some say Holy Spirit, but they are essentially the same thing because the capital S on spirit means it is referring to the Holy Spirit. The other option is the translate it as "spirit of holiness" which would refer to Jesus' spirit in contrast to His flesh, which is the state He lived in from birth to crucifixion.

Many of the commentaries point to the parallelism with v. 3 (in contrast to "according to the flesh") and the fact the πνεῦμα ἁγιωσύνης is never used in the rest of the NT to refer to the Holy Spirit as arguments against this being a reference to the Holy Spirit, but then they go on to say it is a reference to the Holy Spirit without giving strong arguments for it. The best case seems to be parallels in the OT Septuagint for Holy Spirit (Ps 51:11, Isa 63:10-11) which seem best translated that way, but it's not exactly the same in the Greek (πνεῦμα τὸ ἅγιον vs. πνεῦμα ἁγιωσύνης) and that also seems to be an anachronistic translation or understanding of the OT.

It seems best not to be a reference to the Holy Spirit, but I don't think I understand the nuances enough to be rationally justified in disagreeing with the majority of NT (and OT) scholars on this. For this reason, I hesitantly accept this as a reference to the Holy Spirit rather than a reference to Jesus' spirit, but either way, the translation stays the same except for the capitalization.

If this were a more theologically important verse, I would spend more time studying it, but since it's not, I think it's best to hold this one loosely and move on to the next passage.

Monday, January 13, 2020

Review: Awkward: The Science of Why We're Socially Awkward and Why That's Awesome

Awkward: The Science of Why We're Socially Awkward and Why That's Awesome Awkward: The Science of Why We're Socially Awkward and Why That's Awesome by Ty Tashiro
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I stumbled on this book on Amazon and thought it might be interesting and it certainly was, although I'm not sure everyone will think so.

The book is well written and uses a good combination of personal anecdotes and scientific discoveries to inform the reader about why people are awkward and how they can be less awkward. The author seems like the perfect guy to have written this book because he was an awkward kid, seemed to admit he is still awkward, and has a PhD in psychology.

The reason I thought this book was so interesting is because I am one of the awkward people this book talks about. I could relate very well to the descriptions of awkward people and the things they do. I laughed when he mentioned about awkward people putting cognitive effort into setting the microwave in the most efficient way because that's exactly what I do.

I think many people, particularly awkward people, will find helpful are the chapters that offer advice about hot to overcome some social awkwardness. I think awkward people will like this book because it will likely give them a sense that there are people who understand them and it can give them hope for being understood by those close to them. For non-awkward people, this book may seem strange and you might find it odd that people are really like what he describes. Still, the book is written in a way that you should still enjoy it, especially if you can think of a co-worker, child of yours, or another family member who is awkward because it will help you understand them better.

This book wasn't life-changing, but I can imagine that it might be for some people. Even if it's not life-changing, it was enjoyable to listen to and offered insight to better help understand other people. For that reason, I recommend it to anyone interested in understanding others.

View all my reviews

Thursday, January 9, 2020

The apologist's super-secret weapon

You have to meet people where they are
or they'll never get to where you are.

Part I of this article discussed paraphrasing as a secret weapon that anyone can use in apologetics or evangelism. All you have to do is repeat what the other person said in your own words. When done correctly, this method is so effective that often times the other person will reveal some personal details about their thoughts, beliefs, or actions, which can lead to some awkward moments.

Knowing this will happen is helpful to prepare you, but you also need to respond the correct way so that you don't shut down the conversation and damage the relationship. To help you be prepared, some possible confessions that come to mind are past or current affairs, murder, abortion or paying for someone to have one, having an intersex condition, homosexuality or same-sex attraction, being transgender, past sexual abuse, being in an open marriage, rape, war crimes, time in prison, drug use, and many many more.

Whatever you think is the worst possible thing a person could do, imagine someone confessed that to you and keep it in mind as you read the rest of this article (this is assuming they've served their time or are no longer a threat in potentially dangerous or criminal situations).

Super-Secret Tip
This "bonus" tool is always a good thing to practice, but it's mostly necessary because paraphrasing is so effective. If and when someone shares something with you that's very private, you have to prevent yourself from reacting with a negative tone of voice, look, or otherwise critical manner. If you show any trace of disapproval, you will shut down the conversation immediately and probably damage the relationship.

Psychologists call this unconditional positive regard. No matter what the person says, you need to respond positively or at the very least, neutrally. You don't have to agree with the person or condone their actions, which is going to be very tough for some of you to understand, but you still need to react in a non-negative fashion.

The hardest thing to control for most people in these situations will be your facial expressions, but you'll also have to watch your body language and keep yourself from blurting something out, including a laugh or audible gasp. An easy way to respond verbally is by paraphrasing, thanking the person for trusting you enough to share such personal details, or by asking how they feel about whatever they just revealed.

Conclusion
When someone share's an embarrassing or controversial detail about their life, they almost always already know you disapprove or might think they're abnormal so you don't need to respond with critical comments. This is true even when every bone in your body might be telling you to point out what you think their errors are (and it's probably your reaction telling you to do this, not the Holy Spirit's). Instead of correcting or debating, focus on making sure you understand their story and they feel safe. Once you've done this, you will begin to earn the right to respond, which is necessary if you actually want your words to make a positive impact on the other person.

We all have issues, some more severe than others and some just more taboo in our culture. Expecting someone to have their issues worked out before you will accept them is hypocritical and the exact opposite of what Jesus did. It's also a highly ineffective strategy, which also damages the reputation of all Christians.

Check out my articles on persuasive apologetics for more tips on increasing your effectiveness.