Sunday, June 2, 2013

Christianity IS a Religion

Recently I read this article, vilifying religion as some sort of insidious harbinger of division and legalism into the church. There was a great many things I found irritating, offensive, or wrong about that article, but I simply cannot touch on all of them in one blog post. Instead, I will touch on the main point of contention I have with the article (and many others just like it), and that is the claim that Christianity is not a religion.

Fact: Christianity IS a religion.

But what do I mean by that, and why does it matter if Christianity is a religion or not?  I will answer those questions post haste. I will divide this post into two sections. The first explaining what religion is and why Christianity is a religion, and the second explaining why it matters that Christians try to say Christianity is not a religion. 

So, what is religion? It is a rather general word that was created to help define the overall tendency of people to search out a spiritual meaning to life. A few definitions to help you understand:
(1) the service and worship of God or the supernatural (2): commitment or devotion to religious faith or observance … a personal set or institutionalized system of religious attitudes, beliefs, and practices… archaic: scrupulous conformity: CONSCIENTIOUSNESS… a cause, principle, or system of beliefs held to with ardor and faith. merriam-webster online 
 Religion is an organized collection of beliefs, cultural systems, and world views that relate humanity to the supernatural, to spirituality and, sometimes, to moral values. wikipedia
Belief in something sacred (for example, gods or other supernatural beings). … a distinction between sacred and profane objects. … Ritual acts focused on sacred objects. … A moral code believed to have a sacred or supernatural basis. … Characteristically religious feelings (awe, sense of mystery, sense of guilt, adoration), which tend to be aroused in the presence of sacred objects and during the practice of ritual. … Prayers and other forms of communication with the supernatural. … A world view, or a general picture of the world as a whole and the place of the individual therein. This picture contains some specification of an over-all purpose or point of the world and an indication of how the individual fits into it. … A more or less total organization of one’s life based on the world view. …A social group bound together by the above. atheism.about
A site with a long list of definitions by people and dictionaries (the definitions by people being mainly personal opinions):
“But enough of those secular definitions,” the Christian who hates religion might say now; “Tell me what the Bible says of religion, for surely the Bible condemns it.”

Au contraire, my ignorant bible-fellow. We are told in James 1:26-27 “If anyone among you thinks he is religious, and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his own heart, this one’s religion is useless. Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their trouble, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world.” (emphasis added)

Also in Acts 25:19, Acts 26:5, and Colossians 2:23.  Really, it is only Colossians 2:23 and James 1:26 that show how religion can turn into something bad. However, those verses are not condemning religion, but condemning the wrong sort of religious behavior as pertains to Judaism/Christianity. 

Of course, the Greek-loving Christian will now say, “Oh but surely those uses of the word ‘religion’ in the Bible were mistranslations.” To which I would sarcastically respond, “You’re really smart. I can tell.”  
To be honest, I am not a Greek scholar. I no more know how to read an original ancient Greek text than an illiterate 5 year old does. However, I’m pretty good at Googling things, and so I put my faith in the veracity of sites that can translate these things for me.

As such, we get deisidaimonia for Acts 25:19, which tells me can be translated as, in a good sense, “reverencing god or the gods, pious, religious,” or, in a bad sense, “superstitious, religious.” Note how religious is in both the bad and good list. So, religious behavior from a Christian can be good or bad.

For Acts 26:5, we get qreskeia, which tells me can be translated as “religious worship, esp. external, that which consists of ceremonies; religious disciple, religion.”

For Colossians 2:23, eqeloqreskeia, which tells me translates as “voluntary, arbitrary worship; worship which one prescribes and devises for himself, contrary to the contents and nature of faith which out to be directed to Christ; said of the misdirected zeal and the practices of ascetics.”

For James 1:26, qreskoƟ, which tells me translates as, “fearing or worshipping God; to tremble; trembling, fearing.”

And finally, for James 1:27, “qreskeia,” which is the same word used in Acts 26:5.

So, my dearest of dear naysayers, religion is in the Bible and it isn’t vilified. We could even say, in James 1:27, it is rather promoted quite sincerely.

This is the end of the definitions of religion. We see that religion is rather a very broad term that basically refers to worship as it pertains to each individual religions' belief systems. We see religion is referenced in the New Testament, and not in a disparaging manner. Christianity falls under the banner of religion, and there is nothing shameful for a Christian to admit this. To look even at the merriam-webster definition, it is fine for a Christian to admit to the "service or worship of God." That is, after all, what Christians should be doing.

Moving now from establishing Christianity as a religion, I will address why I find it troublesome to try to say Christianity is not a religion. The problem is that when a person says Christianity is not a religion, I find they are making the word “religion” synonymous with a few concepts that are not a religion and never claimed to be. Specifically, when they say Christianity is not a religion and that religion is bad, what they seem to be saying is that Christianity is not about legalism, hypocrisy, works-based salvation, laws, self-righteousness. This is evidenced in the article I linked to at the beginning of this post. This is not a good thing, making religion synonymous with those words. The reason being that, by attacking the word “religion,” Christians are actually inaccurately naming the things that really bother them about Christianity. When a person says “religion is bad. Christianity is not a religion,” what do they mean by that? Do they mean legalism is bad? Do they mean works-based salvation is bad? Do they mean self-righteous attention to a false holiness in an attempt to seem better than that person sitting next to you on the church pew is bad?

Certainly, all of these things are bad, but they have actual names, and those names are not religion. If a pastor, or teacher, or blogger, et al, wants to attack a way of acting or thinking or doctrine in the church that is not in line with the word of God, then they should do so specifically and accurately. It helps no one to vilify religion.

In the article I linked at the top, the author conveniently provided a definition of what religion apparently is: 
Religion is a system of beliefs of a code of moral conduct that judges (qualifies or disqualifies) a person based on their adherence and obedience to certain codes, rules, laws, traditions, or the performance of required acts. 

Let’s take a moment, readers, and journey back up to those definitions and ancient Greek words I provided. Let’s read back over them, and let’s journey back down to this definition. It seems about right. Yes, religion is a system of beliefs of a code of moral conduct. Yes a person is qualified or disqualified from specific religions depending on whether they achieve what is necessary to be named part of that religious denomination. Yes a person needs to adhere to and/or obey certain codes, rules, laws, traditions, etc in order for people to be able to classify them as following this, that, or the other religion. So far, I don’t see the issue with religion.

And therein lies the first problem with vilifying the word religion. Christians water down the Gospel of God by trying to imply that we aren’t qualified or disqualified based on whether we adhere to certain doctrinal truths outlined in the Bible. Namely, what is the most important “performance of [a] required act” that Christians must do in order to be Christians? I must confess with my mouth and believe in my heart that Jesus Christ is Lord. I must accept Him as my savior. I am told that the only way to heaven is through Jesus Christ. By believing and adhering to this, am I not “qualifying” myself for Christianity? Why vilify this act of judgement by God? Why vilify God judging whether a person will or will not enter heaven at all? Why vilify the fact that Christians are, in fact, expected to obey certain codes, rules, and laws in order to be deemed holy and obedient by God? What purpose does that serve Christianity to make it seem like God does not expect certain things from us, to make Christians think we aren’t required to live a works-filled life? That harms Christianity. It doesn’t help it. So there we have the first reason vilifying the word “religion” is bad.

Next, we have the incorrect attempt to make synonyms of words that are not synonyms with religion.

Legalism: the adding on to laws ordained by a supernatural being in order to clarify the laws (in an attempt at holiness) or in a self-righteous effort to make yourself seem better than others.

The author of the article we continually refer to commented on legalism, saying:
When Jesus was on the earth, [legalism] was very rampant, as it is today. There was a group of corrupt [legalistic] leaders called the Pharisees who had taken the word of God, passed down from Moses and the prophets (the Torah), and written a commentary on it interpreting what the scriptures said (called the Talmud). Then they wrote another commentary on that commentary called the ‘Mishnah.’ The Mishnah was a list of hundreds of rules to meet in order to insure that you were obeying the word of God. These were created by man and had little basis in the actual scripture.
I’ll avoid an exposition on the intricacies of the importance of the Talmud and Mishnah in Jewish faith, and instead let you focus on the two bracketed words I put in that passage: "legalism" and "legalistic." If you go to the article, you will see the words he actually has there are "religion" and "religious." You see, though, that legalism and legalistic are much more fitting. That is what the Jewish leaders were. They were legalistic. Sure they were religious, but most Jews were. Jesus was religious as well (in the actual, literal sense of the word). Jesus doesn’t condemn religion. He condemns legalism that binds up people and forces them to focus on laws not ordained by God instead of focusing on God.

The thing is, legalism is bad whenever it occurs, but it is not always evil. Sometimes people legalistically add their own laws to God’s laws because they are genuinely trying to be a good Christian. This is sad that they would bind themselves with laws God would not have them bound with, but it is not to be castigated. Instead, when we see a brother or sister in Christ do this, we should gently correct the error of their beliefs and lead them to freedom in Christ. The other sort of legalism, though, is bad. This is the legalism that Jesus often encountered with many of the Pharisees of his time. That legalism where they would force Jews to follow all their man-made laws, and then look down on the Jews would they could not keep the laws, and they would say "I am better than those lowly Jews that can't uphold all these laws we created."

One thing we need to acknowledge, though, is that the legalism in Judaism probably started out as an attempt at remaining holy and adhering to the strictures of God’s law. It was an effort to please God by making laws that would absolutely keep them from accidentally breaking one of the 613 laws passed down from God, through Moses, and to them.

What made it evil and deplorable (instead of a simple misguided effort to please God) was hypocrisy and self-righteousness.

Hypocrite: a person who says one thing and does another. Hypocrisy is condemned by Jesus in passages such as Matthew 6:1-4, Matthew 7:5, Matthew 23:27, and more. I hope we can all agree that Jesus does not approve of hypocrisy. However, Jesus never said religion is hypocrisy and hypocrisy is religion.

Self-righteousness: hypocritically pious or religious.

As the author of the article says,
Jesus hated this! He hated the way the Pharisees used the people’s love for God (or fear of God) to control them, limit their freedom, and empty them of the relationship with God that was intended.
Yes, Jesus hated self-righteousness and hypocrisy. He did not hate religion though. Religion is not self-righteousness and hypocrisy unless you make self-righteousness and hypocrisy your religion. If that is what you worship and revere, then that’s a sad religion indeed. So once again, we have the author making the word Religion synonymous with two things it is not. Why do this? Why not just say self-righteousness and hypocrisy is bad? It is much more beneficial to Christians if you actually name what action is bad, so that the Christian can accurately research it and figure out how to avoid it.

It is not helpful if I say, “religion is bad. Christians should not be religious.” There are so many articles online talking about how Christianity is a religion, how religion is neither bad nor good. And there are so many articles falsely vilifying religion. With these contradicting articles (the latter of such being incorrect), what will happen when a pastor or teacher tells a Christian that religion is bad is that they will become confused when they go to research the issue themselves.

On the other hand, if I tell a Christian “Legalism is not good, hypocrisy is bad, self-righteousness is bad,” then the Christian can research those terms and find ways to avoid this things, how to do the opposite. They will find scriptures talking about these issues, and will be able to improve their walk with Christ.

Next, we have the author talking about how Christianity is not about works-based salvation. I agree that works and being a “good” person cannot save me. We are told in scripture that “there is none good. No not one.” So being good isn’t going to get me into heaven. 

However, religion does not say “being good gets a person into heaven.” False doctrine within the Christian church says “being good gets a person into heaven.” Religion is not a doctrine. Religion is just a word created to help explain all the different spiritual, supernatural, humanitarian beliefs out there, to categorize them. Religion cannot tell me what to do, because religion does not create Christianity. Christianity creates religion, as does Buddhism, Judaism, Taoism, Wiccans, Candomble, etc. All of these different worldviews influenced by spirituality create religion. They dictate what the definition of religion is by saying “here is what we believe in this denomination. Now stick that in your definition of religion.” Buddhism, relatively devoid of gods, makes the definition of religion have to expand to include “spiritual beliefs about life and the afterlife.” Judaism combined with Hinduism make it have to expand to include both “a belief in a god or gods.”

When a person says “What is your religion?” all they are asking is what denomination or brand of faith you adhere to. They aren’t asking if you think religion is about “man reaching up to God” or “God reaching down to man.” Religion can encompass both of those. Some religions can be about man trying to reach God. Some religions can be about God (or gods) reaching down to man.

So, it is not helpful to Christians to confuse false doctrine with religion. Once again, it would be better to use the correct term so that Christians can actually research what false doctrine is, and so they can be warned against it and taught how to avoid it. Namely, be like the Bereans and study what you're taught, and follow 2 Timothy 2:15.

Last we have the excessive focus on relationships, and by relationships I assume it is mainly focusing on that Evangelical TBN love for “I have a one-on-one personal best friend relationship with God” sort of relationship.
When you practice religion, your relationship with God is degraded to a mathematical formula. Do this, then do this, don’t do that, and presto… you are right in the eyes of God. This is TOTALLY missing the point! God wants so much more. He wants to have a real relationship with you. He wants to show his love to you and He wants you to love Him.
First of all, there is nothing wrong with formulas. If a person functions best in relationships by relying on formulas and rules and regulations, then don’t knock it. Every person is made differently.

Second of all, the author misses the point that there is more than one sort of relationship in the world, and most sorts are not equal. While a husband-wife relationship or a friend-friend or  a coworker-coworker relationship is equal, most others are not. Most of our relationships with God are with Him on top and us below: Master-servant, King-subject, Father-child, Owner-slave, Creator-created.

When a person says “God wants us to have a relationship with him and not follow religion,” of what relationship are they referring to? Would it be religious if I focused on the Creator-created relationship, or the Owner-slave? If I were to say “I am going to obey God and show my love for Him through obedience and following this, that, and the other code of behavior?” Is that religion, as per the “religion is bad” definition? If so, sign me up for religion, because my Bible tells me obedience is a good thing. It tells me I am a slave to Christ. It tells me He is my king. It tells me I am His child.

The authors says, 

This is the difference between religion and true Christianity. There is no checklist of rules that you must follow. It is ALL about your relationships, vertical and horizontal. There is no rhetoric or rituals that have to be practiced.
Well, LIES and DOUBLE LIES to begin with. There is a checklist of rules to follow. It’s called the Bible. The New Testament tells me things to do to show the world I am a disciple of Christ. It tells me to clothe the naked, feed the hungry, shelter the homeless. It tells me to take care of widows and the fatherless. Is this religious in the negative sense? Is this following a mathematical equation in order to please God? If you think so, then I ask you if you think children obeying their parents are following a mathematical equation in order to please their parents? Certainly, immature children obey out of fear and to please their parents, but when children get older and more mature they start obeying their parents out of love. Such is the way with Christians. As we mature, we grow in our father-child relationship to such a point where we obey out of love, and not out of a desire to avoid punishment or to win brownie points for doing good. This is how the Christian religion works. There is no difference here "between religion and true Christianity." Mainly because there is no "true Christianity" that is devoid of rules we must follow. All religions that I am aware of have rules that are to be followed. Saying otherwise is false.

Returning to relationships, religion does not determine if there are relationships or not in a specific religious doctrine. Christianity determines that, based on a prudent and accurate interpretation of the Bible. There is no “difference between religion and true Christianity.” Christianity, true and false, falls under the umbrella of religion.

So, ending here, Christianty is a religion. Religion is not evil. Christianity as a relationship with God is more than simply sitting around singing “I love God. I love God. Angels and unicorns. I love God.” Christians should be careful to use the correct words when trying to teach against unholy or detrimental Christian behavior; specifically, instead of saying “religion is bad,” say “hypocrisy, legalism, self-righteous, and false doctrines are bad.”

And that, comrades, is all. I would apologize for the long post, but I’m not particularly sorry. I did try to make it shorter, though. 

Thursday, November 15, 2012

The failed brain-to-mouth filter

I have this folder on my computer of finished blog posts just sitting around to be published. I don't publish these posts for different reasons. This post is one of those posts. It's been sitting on my computer doing nothing for a while now, and I finally decided I'd publish it. I had my reservations, because I think this post is a bit personal, but it deserves to see the light of day, so I'll get over it.

So here it is, my erstwhile rejected post:

So, I have in the past labeled myself as a Torah-Observant Christian. Whether I still am now is neither here nor there for the purposes of this post. It is necessary to acknowledge that “Torah-observant Christian” is something I have called myself, because this post involves a dialogue surrounding this belief system.

I do enjoy frequenting forums, though I have not frequented them as often as I used to. During my more active forum days, I noticed that when debating with Christians online (as opposed to in-person. People seem to actually have a brain-to-mouth filter in real life), once people discovered I follow Torah, their default argument against anything I said would be, “Well, do you follow such-and-such law in such-in-such scripture?” I do believe that the suppressed premise in such a question is that if I do not follow such-and-such law, then my entire argument is bunk. Because it makes complete sense to base an argument’s validity off of the failings of a simple human being (that was sarcasm).

While I did learn to tolerate such asinine questions (that is not to say I appreciated them), there are still specific questions that I find completely inappropriate, and I am not sure why any person would think it is okay to ask such questions. In order to explain what I am talking about, I will present you with a common scenario.

Thread Title: Are Tattoos sinful?
My answer: Yes, because Leviticus 19:28 tells us not to tattoo ourselves.
Response to my answer: Well, do you follow all of the Torah, or are you just picking and choosing verses in order to form an argument?
My answer: I follow all of Torah that applies to me as a woman.
Response to my answer: Oh yeah? Well do you put sticky notes on chairs during your period to let people know not to sit there?
My answer: [no reply]

Other questions include: “Do you immerse yourself in a Mikvah after your period”, “do you not hug people while on your period”, and then a question about my sexual practices during my cycle that I think was the rudest and most invasive of them all. Do keep in mind, these were questions asked by Christians.

Basically, people seem to think that it is suddenly okay to ask me personal questions about my life just so they can prove a point in an argument. At first, I would answer such questions, because I was stupid. But then I realized I was not obligated to answer such invasive questions, and I no longer do. It is not the business of some random person online what sort of personal habits I have during certain times of the month. The only person whose business that is, besides mine, is any doctor I visit that needs to know such things for medical reasons.

I am not certain what is going on inside a person’s head when they ask such a question, because it is not like people just generally go around asking women “What personal practices do you have during your menstrual cycle?” That’s obscene and rude. No one has ever asked me such a question in real life, and, odd note of fact, the only people that ask me online are men. No woman has felt compelled to ask me that in order to try to prove a point in an argument. So… why on earth do men think it would be okay to ask me that?

So, the point of all of this is to discuss how tactless and rude people can be. Maybe in some circles it isn’t rude to ask women private questions about things that happen behind closed doors, but in my world it’s not acceptable. It seems to be a very pervasive problem, even beyond my little sphere of men online asking about my private practices. I read a blog recently where a woman was complaining about some stranger asking about her alleged tattoos she had underneath her clothes. The blogger said it was such a rude question, because people should not be asking strangers about private tattoos. It’s like asking about their underclothes.

In today’s society perhaps such interaction is acceptable. I do not know. I may be behind the times, but I would like to think there are still private subjects in this world that people simply are not entitled to know about and have no business asking about.

I really do think it is partially because people lack a brain-to-mouth filter. They were most probably never fully taught how to filter what is prudent or imprudent to say. And so they will say what comes to their mind without thinking it through first.

Whether we want to acknowledge it or not in this anything-goes society, there is certain social etiquette by which you need to adhere. Just as it is rude to say to a fat stranger with a look of disgust “You’re morbidly obese,” it is also wrong to ask someone personal questions about what goes on behind closed doors, what they have tattooed to themselves underneath their clothes, what they are wearing underneath their clothes, and anything relating to their private members.

Which reminds me… I should make a rant about men and PMS comments

Monday, November 12, 2012

Using "Opinion" in Arguments

Warning: long post ahead (2,329 words according to Word)

Before I start, it is necessary for people to know what sort of “argument” I am referring to.  An argument is a conversation between two or more people where something is either trying to be proved or rebutted. This can either be a civilized discussion where people are simply debating a point, or it can be an angry exchange of words that ends in a shouting match. Either way, arguments require opinions to be exchanged. Rarely does any conversation between two humans consists entirely of fact.

Now, I have noticed a horrible tendency in arguments for people to throw around the word “opinion” as the ultimate kill-all for arguments, as if inserting that word in the conversation wins them the argument.

It doesn’t.

It only frustrates people, and causes them to avoid arguing with you in the future, because you’re perceived as being unreasonable.

There is a correct way and wrong way to use the word “opinion,” and like salt, it is best used sparingly (also, the bigger the pot of stew, the more salt that can be used –the longer the argument, the more the word “opinion” can be thrown around).  Also like salt, there are some times it simply is not good to use it. Sometimes it is also best to use it in secret (no one wants to know salt is used in cake. That sounds gross).

So, what does all of this mean in real-non-food-related terms? Well, I am about to explain that to you, obviously (after you have gone to find a dish to eat with some salt, since we’re all wanting a little salty food now. Salt and vinegar chips, if you please)

Proper Use of the term "Opinion:"
(1.1) In conversation, it is helpful to sometimes preface statements with “In my opinion.” This helps a conversant to know you are not trying to pass your opinions off as fact. This is helpful if the person is not already familiar with you, and thus does not already have a basic grasp of what you do and do not believe, and how you argue. It is also helpful in writing at times, such as online or for papers, where the reader does not know you at all.

Two caveats:
(a.) It is not necessary to say “In my opinion” before every statement of opinion. It is not necessary for me to say “In my opinion, Salt and Vinegar chips taste better than Sour Cream and Onion chips.” It is quite obvious that is an opinion, and it would be just as well if I said “Salt and Vinegar chips taste better than Sour Cream and Onion chips.”
(b.) When trying to present a strong argument for a school paper or public debate, it is best not to salt your argument with “In my opinion." It makes it seem like you are unsure of yourself, and weakens your argument. This is something I have had to amend over the years in college, as my secondary school teachers instilled the horrible habit of prefacing every opinion with “In my opinion.” As it turns out, my high school and middle school teachers helped me to get good grades on FCAT papers but not college essays, because it is not helpful to tell people it is my opinion. As one professor wrote on my paper, “I know it is your opinion. You do not need to tell me that.”
 This is also dependent on what sort of speech or paper you’re presenting. I was a political science major. We try to avoid using “in my opinion" too much, because political science is pretty much all opinion. It would be excessively unnecessary to point out every opinion.  In other subjects, it may be more necessary to point out opinions. You wouldn’t want a doctor saying “Take this medicine. It is the best” if it was just his opinion.
(1.2) In conversation, it is sometimes necessary to say something along the lines of, “It’s just my opinion, calm down.” This can also be used in defense of someone else “It’s just a/his/her/their opinion…”

This can be used when talking about something trivial that can lead to rather asinine debates over inconsequential things (we can all get caught up in these type of arguments at times, though some of us are more guilty of such arguments than others). In which case it is helpful to calmly assert that it is just an opinion being expressed, and the offended party needs to calm down.

For example:
“The ninth doctor is better than the tenth doctor”
“No way! David Tennant is a million times better than Christopher Eccleston, you half-breed donkey mutant!”
“Dude, calm down. It’s just my opinion, and Doctor Who is not even that serious.”
For an explanation of when it is not okay to use “It’s just my opinion, calm down,” scroll down to 2.3 (a)

Improper Use of the Term "Opinion:" 
(2.1) Any phrase along the lines of “That is just your opinion.” Yes, the person stating their opinion is well aware of the fact that it is “just their opinion.” Stating that does not negate the fact that they have put forth an opinion and would like a legitimate response. If you do not have a legitimate response, it’d be best if you said nothing (yes, I am all for people keeping their mouths shut if they have no intention of adding anything beneficial to an argument).

Aside from which, when someone says “that is just your opinion,” they are generally trying to win the argument by devaluing the legitimacy of someone having an opinion. If anyone has ever taken a Logic 101 course, they know that most arguments are not deductive, but inductive. Most arguments are formed based on opinion. To try to end an argument by saying “that is just your opinion” is ridiculous. The whole reason people tend to argue so much is because there are so many opinions, and people that argue feel their opinion is the right one, and are trying to convince others to share that "right" opinion with them.

If you realize something someone is saying is an opinion(no great realization in that), and you wish to argue the point, then you do not do so by saying “that is just your opinion.” You do so by rebutting their opinion with your own opinion, or even with facts.

A caveat:
It is okay to point out something is just an opinion when facts are needed to back up the opinion. However, it is necessary to tell the person facts are needed. Otherwise it will sound dismissive to simply say “It’s just your opinion.”
For example:
"9-11 was an inside job, and the government could have prevented it.”
“Mkay Sherlock. That’s just your opinion until you’re able to show me some concrete evidence to back up what you’re saying.”

(2.2) Any phrase along the lines of, “Everyone has an opinion, and I was just sharing mine.” This phrase is usually used by a person who wishes to withdraw from an argument for whatever reason.

The issue I take with this statement is that it comes off as a serious cop-out. It usually follows a strong, controversial opinion that someone responded to, and it makes it seem like the original conversant realizes they don’t actually want to defend themselves so they say the phrase above to avoid having to defend their position.

For example:
“Homosexual marriage is wrong,” John said.
“I think everyone has a right to marry the person they love,” Adie responded.
“Yeah, well everyone has an opinion, and I was just sharing mine.”
There really is no way for Adie to respond to that without coming across as combative. The general urge is to say “Why exactly did you share the opinion if you don’t feel like defending it?” Everyone has an opinion. Usually you should not share an opinion you know is controversial if you are unwilling to defend that opinion.

For example,
If you're in a room full of people who voted for President Obama, don't say "Obama sucks" if you aren't willing to deal with the repercussions of saying such a thing. 
(2.3) “It’s just my opinion.” Aside from people sometimes using this phrase when they do not feel like defending their positions, such as in (2.2), I find two major ways this can be used that are very obnoxious.
(a) They use it to try to defuse an argument: “It’s just my opinion, so calm down.” If your opinion is beyond the pale idiotic and insulting, saying it is just your opinion isn’t going to calm a person down.
For example,
Yancy looked at the black man standing down the hall, turned to her friend and said, “All black men are pigs and idiots. I can’t stand that guy.”
“Why would you say that? That’s really racist, Yancy. There are plenty of black men who are neither pigs nor idiots.” Maria said in horror.
“Dude! It’s just my opinion. Calm down.”
          A caveat:
          It is sometimes necessary to say “It is just my opinion, calm
          down.” See (1.2) above. 
(b) It is used by people in a joking manner to get them out of being perceived as the ignorant imbecile they are for just spending an inordinate amount of time defending a position that only heartless humans would. A flippant tone is usual used in this one.
For example,
John Doe just spent thirty minutes arguing for the mandatory infanticide of all babies born with Down Syndrome, claiming they won't ever lead a productive life anyways and will be a drain on society. Upon realizing he has be an ignorant imbecile, he says "It's just my opinion" to try to end the argument.  
(2.4) (This point is for Americans specifically, and the term "opinion" is not actually used in this one, but I felt it should be thrown in because it addresses the same issue.) Any phrase along the lines of (a) “I’m just exercising my first amendment right to freedom of speech” or (b) “It’s sad that so many people don’t understand what freedom of speech means.”

These are two similar yet different phrases.
(a) This is a phrase usually used after an American has to deal with people disliking an opinion said American just expressed. 
For example,
If  person says he doesn't like Obamacare, he might say "I'm just exercising my first amendment right to freedom of speech" when someone responds by explaining why Obamacare is good thing, and saying the man is ignorant if he doesn't realize this.
This phrase is basically the same as saying "It's just my opinion," but it adds a patriotic flair to it that makes the person responding to the American seem like an unreasonable fellow that doesn't respect a person's first amendment right to freedom of speech. This is, of course, a fallacious tactic, as one's view on the Bill of Rights has little-to-nothing to do with arguing against a person's opinion on a matter. 
Further, it is a pointless comment, as it proves nothing you have said. Saying you have the freedom to express your opinions does not make your opinions right. You can express your opinions as much as you want, but everyone else also has the Constitutional right to argue against your opinion. 
(b) This phrase is used in much the same way at the above phrase is used. It is obnoxious because it gives the impression that you can share your opinion, but when someone argues against it, then  that someone is hindering your freedom of speech. What people who use this phrase do not seem to realize is that all Americans have just as much of a right to rebut an opinion as Obnoxious Americans have to say it.  It is not infringing on one’s freedom of speech for me or anyone else to respond negatively to that expression of freedom of speech. 
For example,
There was the huge Chick-fil-A snafu where Dan Cathy expressed his personal opinion on the matter of homosexual marriage, and then the LGBT community and those who support them decided they'd boycott Chick-fil-A as a result.  As a result of the boycott, people were saying "It's sad that so many people don't understand what freedom of speech means." This was not so much an obnoxious thing to say, as it was ignorant. Dan Cathy can give his personal opinion on things, and people can give their personal opinion on what Dan Cathy has to say. There is no misunderstanding of freedom of speech here. The only misunderstanding is in thinking people are wrong to boycott Chick-fil-A because they don't agree with the CEO's personal beliefs. Boycotting is a form of freedom of speech. Individuals responding to individuals: no infringement of freedom of speech there. Boycotting a business because you don't agree with the owner's personal opinion doesn't mean you want to take away that owner's right to freely express his opinion. It simply means you don't agree with the opinion. 
Now one can say the politicians who made official comments on the matter were infringing on freedom of speech by attacking a business for a personal comment an owner made outside of his business's policies, but that is a different discussion entirely, and one that has been discussed to death already when this all unfolded months ago.

In conclusion, when tempted to throw the word “opinion” into an argument, take a moment to consider how you’ll come across if you use the word. Will your use of the word “opinion” make you seem like a reasonable human being, or will it make people want to avoid future arguments with you, because you are seen as unreasonable and unwilling to legitimately discuss different points of view?

As a finishing caveat:
In the right context and tone of voice, all of these phrases can become either proper or improper to use. This is just a generalized guide for people. 
# of caveats: 4
# of examples: 8

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Can't See the Forest for the Trees

I was led to a blog post recently by someone on Facebook, and the blog post was supposed to be inspirational. I do believe, based on the title of the blog post, that it was about learning to trust in God's timing instead of my own. However, I really could not get anything of import out of the blog post, because I was too busy nitpicking all that was wrong with the post. The paragraphs were bulky. Many of the sentences seemed to be missing important words from them, such as "the" and "then." The post seemed to be all over the place. The post seemed to have sentences in there that had nothing to do with anything.

As I sat there analyzing that blog post that was meant to serve as an inspiration to women who stumbled across it, I realized something. I "can't see the forest for the trees." I often get caught up in nitpicking the details of things written online if I think they are poorly written, which causes me to miss the bigger picture. In this case, the bigger picture is that this lady took her time to write an inspirational message online for others to read.

This got me wondering; is my nitpicking a good thing, a bad thing, or somewhere in between? Should I stop nitpicking and simply try to glean from articles what the author is trying to convey? Should I continue nitpicking and miss the messages, because people who write poorly don't deserve to have their message accepted anyways? Or, should I continue to nitpick, but also try to glean from articles what the author is trying to convey?

I came to the conclusion the latter is the best option. I am by no means a brilliant writer, and I make grammar mistakes, and can be quite the rambler at times. However, I do make an effort to write well enough that people can understand what I am trying to say. I believe that if a person is going to make an effort to put a message out on the internet for others to benefit from, then they should also make an effort to make that message as understandable as possible through decent grammar and organization. Also, if a person who learned English as a second language can write articulate, nearly impeccable articles online, then by golly, we native English speakers should be able to write decent articles as well. It's kind of embarrassing to read his articles actually, because he seems to have better grammar than me.

So, internet people, please proofread and edit your articles before posting them online. I'm not asking for perfection. I'm simply asking for articles that make sense. Add in paragraph breaks. Create decent sentences that aren't missing important words. Organize your thoughts into a clear message (unless you're ranting. Rants are usually rather rambly). Research tense agreement. I'm not asking for a grade-school essay with an Introduction containing a thesis statement, Body Paragraphs with transitions, and a Conclusion that restates your thesis. A general road map without potholes throughout would be nice, though.

All that being said, I will leave you with this lovely article: The Difference Between Good Writers and Bad Writers. While this article seems to be aimed at professional writers, I do believe it can be beneficial to anyone who uses writing as a regular means of conveying thoughts to the outside world.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Insanity Defense and James Holmes

Following the Aurora shooting this past week, I have noticed a good many people talking about the insanity defense. Many are worried Holmes will use it and basically be given a “Get out of Jail Free” card. Others are saying “this act was premeditated, so obviously McCrazy won’t be able to use the insanity plea now! HAHA!”

With all these jewels of intelligence spewing forth their intricate knowledge of the law around, I thought I might add my two cents on the matter. More specifically, I’ll address these questions:
1) What is the Insanity Defense?
2) Can the insanity defense be used if the act was premeditated?
3) How easy is it to use the Insanity Defense?
4) How does mental illness play into the insanity defense?
5) Is the insanity defense a get-out-of-jail-free card?
6) Yes, yes, Hollie. But what about Holmes and the Aurora shooting?

Truth be told, I was not very literate on the insanity defense before doing research for this blog post. All I knew was that people’s ideas about the insanity defense were wrong, and that it was neither a “Get out of Jail Free" card nor as easy to use as people think. So, this blog post was rather enlightening for me as well.

1) What is the Insanity Defense?
The insanity defense is a plea that the defendant is not guilty because he was unable to realize his actions were wrong or was unable to appreciate the wrongness of his actions. There are two major insanity defenses: cognitive insanity and volitional insanity.

Cognitive insanity is more commonly used than volitional insanity. As defined by the, “Under the test for cognitive insanity, a defendant must have been so impaired by a mental disease or defect at the time of the act that he or she did not know the nature or quality of the act, or, if the defendant did know the nature or quality of the act, he or she did not know that the act was wrong.

Volitional insanity, referred to as “irresistible impulse,” is where a person acknowledges he knows in general his actions were wrong, but at the time he committed the crime, he was unable to stop himself from committing the crime. The example provided by legal-definition is that of a mother who shoots and kills the suspected molester of her child. She knows her action was wrong, but in a fit of vengeance, she was unable to stop herself from killing the molester. The Irresistible Impulse defense is not admissible in most States.

For more in-depth definitions of the two, visit Insanity Defense and Irresistible Impulse 

 2) Can the insanity defense be used if the act was premeditated?
The simple answer is yes. I do believe the confusion arises from the way the term “temporary insanity” has become so popular in our society’s language. Certainly, if a person is claiming “temporary insanity” then the insanity defense can’t be used if the act was premeditated (unless by “temporary insanity” a person means they were temporarily insane long enough to premeditate and then commit the criminal act. Yes, you can envision my raised eyebrow of disbelief at a person trying to pull that in a court of law). However, a person need not plead temporary insanity in order to use the insanity defense.

As explained above, the cognitive insanity defense is about committing criminal acts without being able to comprehend your actions were wrong, or being unable to appreciate the wrongness of your acts. A person can think about committing a crime without being able to understand what they are planning to do is wrong.

3) How easy is it to use the Insanity Defense?
A common misconception I have noticed during this Aurora shooting tragedy is that people think using an insanity defense is not only easy to achieve, but easy to win in court.

To start, I would suggest The Insanity Defense: Bad or Mad or Both as further reading for anyone who wants to find their way through the truths and myths about the ease of using (and winning) an insanity defense.

As William Reid points out in his article listed above, it is difficult to even bring an insanity defense into court. Getting a defendant to accept an insanity defense is the first major step in even bringing the defense into court. If a defense attorney can get their client to accept an insanity defense as their way of battling in court, the next step is convincing the judge and jury. Nowadays, the standard for an insanity defense are higher than they were even as little as 30 years ago. The reason for this is John Hinckley.

John Hinckley tried to kill President Reagan in order to impress Jodie Foster. He entered a plea of not guilty by reason of insanity, and won. This resulted in widespread public outcry and backlash against the current insanity defense laws. Idaho, Utah, and Montana removed the insanity defense from their law books completely, and many other states, as well as the US Congress, reformed their insanity defense laws to make it more difficult to use. While the insanity defense was not easy to win before Hinckley’s trial, it is even more difficult to win now, after his trial.

Unrelated to Hinckley, I’ll give you the example of Jeffrey Dahmer to put your mind further at rest. Dahmer was a serial killer who was insane enough to believe he could turn his victims into zombie lover-slaves. He also ate pieces of his victims, dismembered them, and other such disturbing things. This guy was suffering from some sort of mental illness, no doubt about it.

However, his attempt at an insanity defense failed, he was found guilty, and sent to prison. If Dahmer could not win an insanity defense, then we should be reassured it is not as easy to win as people think. This also leads to the next question about how mental illness plays into the insanity defense.

4) How does mental illness play into the insanity defense?
The most important thing to realize is that legal insanity and medical insanity are not the same thing. Using the insanity defense in court does not mean a person has been diagnosed with a mental illness, though it is the case that a person who uses the insanity defense does have something mentally wrong with them.

On the flip side, being mentally ill does not automatically mean you have to use the insanity defense, or even that you automatically can use the insanity defense, in court. For example, as I pointed out above, Dahmer was one crazy, crazy cat, but that didn’t win him a not guilty by reason of insanity.

So, just because a person is mentally ill does not mean they can use that as an excuse. Mentally ill people can be cognizant of their actions and commit crimes willingly and knowingly just like people who are not mentally ill.

Refer to the article below, "Drawing a line between criminals and the criminally insane," for further reading.

5) Is the insanity defense a get-out-of-jail-free card?
Yes and no.

Yes, you won’t go to prison if you win with an insanity defense, so in that respect you just received a “Get out of Jail Free” card, of sorts. However, you still are institutionalized. The institution just happens to be a mental institution instead of a prison institution. More specifically, a locked psychiatric hospital.

The major hang-up seems to be that people think psychiatric hospitals are cushy little resort get-aways that “criminals” get to go to if they win an insanity defense. To people who believe that to be the case, I will respond to that with a big, fat: Shut-up, you freaking moron!

Spending time in a mental institution is no cake walk. You’re in a locked psychiatric hospital, for cripes sake. They have rules, schedules, people telling them what they can and cannot do. It’s like a prison, except perhaps less violent and the boarding may be better.

Also, as Phillip Lally points out, “Among those who are found not guilty by reason of insanity, virtually none are "let off" -- in the sense that they remain free. Indeed, some of those found not guilty by reason of insanity spend more time confined in a locked mental hospital than those sane criminals who are convicted of similar acts and imprisoned for them.Drawing a clear line between criminals and the criminally insane.  

That could mean John Smith, the sane criminal who killed a woman, only gets 15 years in prison, whereas John Black, the man who got "not guilty by reason of insanity" could end up spending the rest of his life in an institution, because his doctors and judge never view him as healthy enough to return to normal society. 

6) Yes, yes, Hollie. But what about McCrazy and the Aurora shooting?
First, Holmes will be handed no “get out of jail free” card if he is able to win an insanity defense (assuming he will even enter one). He will be in a psychiatric hospital, with rules, regulations, and doctors evaluating him all the time.

Second, just because he premeditated the crime does not mean he cannot enter an insanity defense. He could have planned this for 20 years and still enter an insanity defense, though it is likely he wouldn’t get far with an insanity defense if there is evidence he planned this for 20 years. The longer an act is premeditated, the less likely an insanity defense is going to work.

I’m not going to speculate whether he would be successful with an insanity defense or not for two reasons. 1) I am not informed enough about the insanity defense to intelligently speculate (oxymoron!) one way or the other on the success of an insanity defense for him. 2) It seems too early on in his trial to even think about it. We don’t know anything about his mental state or why he did what he did to say if an insanity defense would be possible.

Here’s a video if you care to look into it at this early stage: Could James Holmes use an insanity Defense 

Further reading on the insanity defense:

For most of the research I did, the links are included in the posts. For information on Dahmer and Hinckley, I simply looked on Wikipedia.

This information is also specific to the US. The only thing remotely related to a foreign country is the further reading links about the M’Naghten Rule, dealing with the Scotsman Daniel M’Naghten. 

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Well hello, Oops

So that idea I had a little over a year ago to write at least one new blog post a month hasn't really held up this year. I'd like to claim it was because I have simply been too busy to come on here. Truth be told, I simply haven't been inspired. This past (and final!) semester of Uni, I took a creative writing class, and I found that my focus shifted from blogging to trying to squeeze out decent short stories for that class. I think I did quite well on that front. As a result, however, in the writing arena, I've become consumed with searching for magazines to get my stories published in, and consequently becoming drawn into the short fiction world online, reading more than I write. There is quite a bevy of fantasy fiction to be read online, and the creativity of people's minds astounds me!

In any case, hello Oopsblog. Hello people that stumble across this blog in search of something else, something perhaps more educational (if I am to understand that most people stumble across this blog in search of a definition of biocentric equality. What exactly is the obsession?). I have not abandoned this blog. I have simply been busy doing...nothing of consequence really. One can only hope that I'll have something of interest to post in the near future. Maybe a rant about Law school/annoying comments people make when the realize you intend to go to Law School (No, I will not represent you in court if you get in trouble with the law. Your comment is not witty, and everyone before you has said the exact same thing).

Have a good summer (winter for those below the belt). Enjoy the rain, my fellow Floridians.

Monday, January 16, 2012

"It's just a work of fiction"

A phrase that I find entirely frustrating is "it's just a work of fiction" or anything along those lines. This is usually said when a person criticizes a work of fiction, and then someone else (usually someone who enjoyed said word of fiction) will rebut with "It's just a work of fiction."

The problem with this mindset is that fiction is never just a work of fiction, especially fiction that is written with a purpose of touching people in a certain way. This comes to mind because I was just reading a blog post about the problems with The Shack (some popular novel amongst Christians that I probably won't be reading any time soon). Quite a few times in the comments, people were saying "It's just fiction." As if saying The Shack is only fiction negates the fact that there are apparently quite a few Biblical issues in the book.

Humans are such ignorant and amusing creatures. We think we can watch shows, read books, basically inundate our entire being with fiction, and yet still not be influenced by it. For example, we women watch silly Hollywood romance movies and we think, "Oh, I know this isn't realistic, so obviously I'm not going to expect this in my real life romance," but there is a part of us that really does want a Hollywood romance. There is a part of us that is influenced by all those romcoms and tear-jerkers. It is not "just fiction." What goes into the mind does not simply fall back out if you stuff it in there over and over and over again. 

Such is also the case with a fiction novel you may read only once. So many people have read The Shack and said it completely changed their lives (ironically it is those very same people who will attack someone who criticizes the book by saying "It's just fiction"). Now tell me, if a book is just fiction, and by implication shouldn't be taken seriously at all, how can it change your life? 

Then there are people that use the phrase when a work of fiction is offensive. A particular favorite of mine is Hit Man: A Technical Manual for Independent Contractors. Personally, I've never read the book, but I'm sure many people were saying "It's just fiction" when the book was published. Yeah, it's just a fiction book that gave step-by-step instructions in how to carry out a successful murder. James Perry says he used the book as a manual on how to carry out a triple homicide. Obviously not just fiction to him (obviously not just fiction to the 4th circuit US Court of Appeals either). Fiction is powerful stuff.

Words have power. Fiction has power. It's a cop-out response to say "It's just a work of fiction." It is never just a work of fiction. People take the words of fiction to heart. I might not agree with everyone Plato taught, but his cave analogy is quite relevant here. We are so heavily influenced by the artists of society, and we don't even realize it.  We like to imagine we aren't influenced by fiction, but that's just silly.