Inmates Running the Asylum

Tweets are pretty ephemeral little things, but this one from a few weeks ago has stayed with me. What a perfect illustration of the ridiculous insanity today. Three screen shots will demonstrate some highlights (or lowlights), though the whole thread has many more of both. Go read the whole thing if you want to be sad.

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“There’s No Such Thing As Normal!”

In my years of teaching, perhaps no pop-culture cliché has annoyed me as much as this.  I’ve heard dozens of earnest, zealous teens announce this one with a look of holy glee on their faces, ecstatic at the chance to show off how well they’ve internalized this bit of media indoctrination.

Whenever this line gets repeated, I, in my role as a teacher of the English language, feel compelled to address the error:

Me: “Yes, there is.  It’s in the dictionary.  Look under ‘N.'”

Teen: “But it doesn’t mean anything.  There’s no such thing as normal!”

Me: “Since you won’t look it up, or consider my point, I’ll walk you through this.   Continue reading

Why Atheists Should Respect the Idea of “One True Church”

I read something recently where someone railed against the idea of any church claiming to be “true,” because it could only lead to pride and persecution.  I’m sure such has been the case at times, where some person or group has let their claims to truth give them license to alienate or oppress those on the outside of their vision, and this is awfully unfortunate.  But that’s hardly evidence that such always leads to violence, or that the claim is always untrue.  Actually, this is one religious claim that the most stridently secular among us should genuinely respect. 

A few years ago, I posted a message on a bulletin board for atheists that, if they were so inclined, they could consider the Book of Mormon as something they’d been missing but should be interested in–a physical artifact whose very nature could substantiate the existence of God.  That started a decent dialogue, but when some readers got the point that I was implying that religious claims were even capable of being literally, empirically accurate, they reacted with mockery.  That claim sounded like a fresh bit of arrogance, I suppose, but, once again, they should have seized upon it.

First of all, every religion’s depiction of reality can’t be accurate, because so many of them are contradictory.  So either none of them are, or one of them is.  Some combination of aspects of various faiths could conceivably be true, but unless multiple religions are exactly the same, only one could be purely, fully true.  The fact that any church makes such a claim–and there are few today which do–shouldn’t be an invitation to ridicule, but a recognition that even in religion, reason rules. 

If the popular conception of religion is that it’s merely a cultural tradition, or a product of wishful thinking, etc., I’d think that those who don’t find it valid (and who hold those critical assumptions about the origin of belief) would welcome a claim that not only is such not so, but that the seemingly supernatural claims of religion can be investigated, tested, and either authenticated or disproved. 

Finally! an atheist might shout.  A chance to definitively debunk this nonsense.  Which is exactly the opportunity the Book of Mormon offers the would-be skeptic.  At the same time, it provides the hard-headed devotee of reason an approach to religion that is as far from mystical as possible: a long, dense, sober text that begs to be scrutinized, studied, compared, researched, and analyzed until a verdict can be reached.  The text itself explains a method of experimenting on its truth claims that will yield consistent, reproducible results. 

The intellectually honest atheist should respect the exclusive truth claims of the LDS church because they are logically consistent, and because this is one religion that is ready to put up or shut up.

The Single Purpose of All Education

Something we read in my English 101 class on Tuesday brought up the question of why we go to school.  You would think that after these poor kids had been through 12 or 13 years of it already, someone would have explained it, but no.  Actually, you’d really wonder why students themselves had never demanded an explanation, but apparently not.

School is not for giving you vocational skills or to develop character or to keep you out of trouble.  We all go to school for one reason.  Think about it: all the major aspects of each discipline do the same thing; they have one general goal in common.

English: outlining writing; defending a thesis with evidence in an organized composition; grammar and diagramming sentences

Math: applying formulas; solving equations

Science: using the scientific method

History: creating timelines; finding causes, effects, and connections between events

Art: using perspective, proportions, and other techniques

See the pattern? 

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An Observation On The Liberal Mindset

Winston Churchill is supposed to have said, “A man who is not a liberal at 20 has no heart, but a man who is not a conservative by 40 has no brain.”  It may be apocryphal, but it certainly sounds like something he would say…and it’s true.

Case in point: several years ago, I taught a speech and debate class.  Once, to demonstrate skills such as playing devil’s advocate and spontaneously organizing an argument, I told the class that I would debate each of them in turn on any subject they chose.  They were free to pick any position they wanted on any topic, and (within the bounds of good taste), I would automatically be assigned the contrary view, which I would defend extemporaneously. 

Some kids wanted to argue that cats make better pets than dogs, or that a certain TV show was the best, but the majority of them chose social and political topics, and the vast majority of them chose to stump for liberal positions: raising the minimum wage, reparations for slavery, universal health care, protecting abortion, unlimited immigration, going to war is always bad, etc.  Continue reading