What John Chau Should Teach Us About Religion

This morning, I listened to a podcast that talked about John Chau, and then I did some reading. Basically, Chau was a Christian missionary who repeatedly traveled to an island that is not only secluded from the modern world, but there are laws prohibiting travel there, in order to help them learn about Jesus and save their souls. He was met with hostility, and repeatedly went back, until eventually he was killed. (There is some speculation that he wasn’t killed and is still alive, but the speculation seems uncredible.)

Chau knew what he was doing was illegal, and he repeatedly went back. Because he thought it was a moral imperative. He feared for these people’s salvation, and felt he had to do what he could.

Now, I’m not happy that he died, it’s sad for him, and it’s sad for his family, and so I really don’t want to be a dick about that, and honestly, he was probably a good-hearted person, and it is genuinely sad. What I want to talk about instead, is the ridiculous structure that creates these types of problems.

Now, if you have faith in Jesus (or Buddha or any other religious prophet/figurehead/messiah), and it makes you a better person, and it makes you feel good, that’s fine. I don’t want to strip anyone of that. But these religions have become corrupted, and while they were likely started as a way of guiding a tribe, or larger group of people, they’ve grown out of control like a tumor.

The idea that we tell people these stories when they’re children, when they’re super impressionable, and able to be brainwashed, and then add in those little bits about “and that’s the only way to get into heaven” or whatever other religions tell their people, is life altering. Sure, kids stop believing in Santa at a certain age, but largely that’s because the adults stop playing along and older kids ruin it. The authority whom has perpetuated the lie admits “there is no Santa,” and the kid eventually accepts that. Now imagine if you were able to raise your kids in a society in which no one spoiled the truth for them, they would then likely become parents who never admit to their children that it’s untrue, because they still believe it. And when they aren’t buying the presents from Santa, and no presents come from Santa, they start assuming “oh shit, you must be bad kids.” This is what religion does.

So you get a guy, who’s been taught by his parents, who were taught by their parents, that if someone doesn’t know about Jesus, and dies, they won’t get to go to heaven. They’ll be damned (which if you think about it from any logical perspective is a super fucked up message, to punish them for something they knew nothing about) then you get a person who thinks risking his life, to disturb people who’ve been living alone by themselves for however many thousands of years, in order to introduce a concept that may have little to no effect on their lives, in order to save their afterlifes.

Is learning about Jesus worth the tremendous amount of germs he could have introduced them to, without any antibodies?

I think his actions were selfish, even though I think his intentions were not. Giving someone generations of moral imperatives based on religious teachings that were likely written in part to keep tribes together, is setting them up to have little concept of the realities of what their actions are in fact doing.

The thing about John Chau, is that he wasn’t a priest molesting children, or grifting people for their money with the false promise of salvation, he was likely honest, and well intentioned. There would be nothing to gain for him personally in this situation if he didn’t actually believe it, unlike so many other religious corruptions and misdeeds. He was taught something which flipped a switch in his brain, and if anything he took what he was being taught more purely than most, the problem is what he was being taught.

Like I said at the beginning, if your religious beliefs make you a better person, and give you peace or happiness, that’s great. But try to recognize the pieces that are beneficial and pass those on, and discern the harmful, and teach your kids about those. “Treat others how you would like to be treated,” is really only harmful if you’re a masochist. “The only way to Heaven is through me,” is potentially really harmful, and unnecessary. Also, if you’re unable to do this, try to choose a partner with a somewhat different perspective. My parents are a devout Catholic and a non-religious person, and I have a decent perspective for when an element of religion doesn’t serve any real purpose and is harmful. I cannot recommend that enough. Religion is currently the most harmful social force in the world, but it doesn’t have to be. I’ll leave you with one last thought, it’s not mine, but I love it, “religion is like your penis, if you enjoy it in the privacy of your own home that’s great, but don’t whip it out in public or on children.”

Megyn Kelly and NBC

Alright, so I don’t really like Megyn Kelly, but I’m gonna at least half defend her.  Last Thursday, Megyn was fired from her show after saying “Truly, you do get in trouble if you are a white person who puts on blackface for Halloween, or a black person who put on whiteface for Halloween? When I was a kid, it was OK as long as you were dressing up as, like, a character.”

What she said stirred up a ton of controversy, and was probably not the smartest thing to say, but did she deserve to be fired over it?  So there is some speculation that her ratings were low, and that NBC was looking for an excuse.  I’m going to assume for this blog, that she was let go solely based on the statement above.

I don’t think she should have been fired for it.  Let me explain.  Blackface, initially wasn’t just the act of painting your face black and pretending to be black, it was specifically that with the intention of mocking/stereotyping the race.  CBS did a great piece about the history of blackface, but unfortunately they did drop the ball when mentioning Megyn Kelly’s case.  You see, they bring up their piece in regards to her remarks, and say so explicitly, however there is a bit of a gap that isn’t bridged.

Megyn, said “As long as you’re dressing up as, like, a character,” and that’s something that is missing from this conversation.  Now, I would personally say, it’s in bad form to do so, even with this caveat, and I think it stems from that initial history of blackface, but to conflate the two, which it seems her words did accidentally, while her intention was pretty clear doesn’t do, is dishonest.  The case that Megyn Kelly was talking about was a Real Housewife, who had dressed up and darkened her skin in order to play Diana Ross, and an example that’s been given a lot of attention over the last several years is Juliana Hough dressing up like the character of Suzanne ‘Crazy Eyes’ Warren.  In both of these Halloween costumes, white women seemed to admire the people they were dressing as, and it didn’t seem an attempt to mock, or stereotype, but were going for some form of authenticity in their costume.  So their intention is about as far as possible from say, when a sorority or frat have a ‘blackface’ party.

Intention isn’t everything, and so we can definitely make the argument, that these are still bad ideas for costumes, and should be discouraged, but intention should bare some weight in how we as a society handle the situations.  Now, perhaps Megyn Kelly would argue that intention should make or break whether or not it is an acceptable costume, and I don’t agree with that, but I do think it’s an discussion worth having.

People are acting like Megyn Kelly was endorsing or ok with Blackface in it’s traditional sense, but now that the term has come to encompass much more, it’s important to realize that, and weigh that.  Should she have apologized?  Yeah, because it seems like she genuinely misspoke, but the intention of what she mean is there, this isn’t a case of her saying “um… that’s not what I meant” when it clearly was, if you look at the words that she said, she meant something different.

The last thing that I want to mention, is that on Thursday night, NBC aired their Halloween episode of Superstore.  Now, I love Superstore, so I’m not trying to throw them under the bus, but if you go watch Superstore from Thursday, you’ll hopefully see that NBC clearly screwed up with Megyn Kelly.  You see that episode, is about cultural appropriation, and PC culture, and deals with the nuance of whether or not something is intended to be celebratory or derogatory.  Now, they don’t have anyone in makeup to appear to be other cultures, but they show a white man dressed as a ‘rasta guy’ and when he learns where the line is, he becomes ‘Bob Marley’ so that everything is ok.

If you were completely unaware of the Megyn Kelly situation watching Superstore, you’d see no issue, but I watched it fully aware it was the same network, and fully aware of what she’d been fired for, and it didn’t take away from the episode, but it did show a huge amount of hypocrisy, on the network’s behalf.

Did she deserve to get canceled, or fired, or whatever word they’re using for this?  If her ratings weren’t good enough, absolutely.  Did she deserve to have this used as the reason, and painted as a racist?  I don’t think so.

It’s been About Half of my Life

I turned 17, on August 29th 2001, and as I’m sure you’re aware two weeks later, was September 11th.  So, me and those people of my graduating class, are now arriving at the part of our lives where half of our lives have been in the “pre-9/11 world” and half have been in the “post-9/11 world.”

Every single year, for the past 16, I’ve seen this day used as a day for people to tell their stories about where they were, and to remember those who were lost, and those are important things, but I really felt like this year, instead of me writing some more of the same, I would write something a little more focused on what this particular amount of time having passed means to me personally.

As I mentioned, I turned 17 about 2 weeks before September 11th, and whether or not I realistically thought about enlisting when the time came is something I honestly cannot remember.  But the world changed in the largest way imaginable, and I was smart enough to know that it would mean some kind of military response, and I was also smart enough to know that it would mean people about a year older than me, and likely people my age, who would be involved.

September 11th came, at a time when I was starting to consider life after high school, and when things like Selective Service registration were looming.  Ultimately the impact on me was pretty minimal, I didn’t end up serving, and there was no draft, of the people I know who did serve in Iraq or Afghanistan, none of them were killed or physically disabled, and so it ended up being a looming dread that lead to nothing for me.  I’m thankful for that, and I’m really thankful for the people whom I know who fought coming back (admittedly, I think I met most of them after their service) and so I’m grateful that they came home because I was able to meet them.

Every generation seems to have their ‘Earth shattering,’ defining moment.  The generation before us had “AIDS,” before that was either Rosa Parks arrest, or Martin Luther King Jr’s assassination, before that was Pearl Harbor.  We have 9/11.  It’s not melodramatic to say that this is on par with the importance, of those other historical events, or with the shift in society that they brought on.

This brings me to my second big point that I want to mention.  I was born in 1984, so I grew up with the ‘newness’ of the AIDS crisis, where adults were still very much dealing with it regularly, but kids were joking and not understanding because they’d been born after, or had been too young when it had began, to know life before it.  I remember thinking how weird it was that my parents, and everyone older than me basically had been living in this “pre-AIDS” world, and how strange it must have been for them to all of a sudden be thrust into a world where this was a real concern, almost overnight.  I imagine, these things are, and have been going through the minds of kids for the last ten years at least.  It seems crazy to me that in about a year we’ll have adults eligible and likely fighting in Afghanistan, who were not born yet when the war started less than a month after 9/11.

I know, that I probably haven’t said anything particularly coherent, or made any real points, but it’s stuff that goes through my mind, and I thought today might be a good day to share it.

“But It’s Such a Small Percentage…”

I grew up Catholic, and when I was about 18, the Boston Archdiocese (which was the diocese I grew up in) was being ‘rocked’ by one of the most infamous child sexual abuse scandals in church history.  I will start off by saying, that my interest in this is as an observer, and not that of a victim.

When the scandal was happening, it seemed to affect many of the aspects of my life.  I was graduating from a catholic high school, my mother worked for the church, and because a majority of my family, and the people I interacted with were catholic, it was a consistent topic.

One of the things that I learned during that time was the level of denial associated with it.  There was a big sense of detachment, and even though many people I know disliked/disapproved/or even hated Cardinal Bernard Law, there was a lack of correlation between ‘my church’ and ‘the church.’

It’s natural, and to some extent I get it. If you’re raised exclusively with the idea that the church is right, and the church is good, it becomes very hard to break out of that.  Now, my father is not catholic, and while he was always pretty good about not directly contradicting the things I was being ‘taught’ growing up, there was just enough dissent and questioning that I wasn’t “dead behind the eyes” when it came to following that stuff.

One of the things I used to hear during that time, was “it’s only 7% of priests, the majority are good.”  Now just for clarity sake, 7% was the number I used to hear, and I looked today while writing this to find what percentage, and the best information I could find was also 7% but that was from The Huffington Post, which I don’t really trust as a news source.  So for the sake of this argument, just assume whatever percentage number you’d like, because that’s not the main point that I want to make.  The point that I want to make applies even if it’s 1%.

So here’s the problem I have whenever I hear about the “it’s only (enter small number here) of priests.”  That only applies to rapists and molesters, and assumes that all others are innocent, and good.  However, Cardinal Bernard Law, whom I will probably reference a few times throughout this as he is one of the more visible names, and he’s the one who was in charge of my particular area, wasn’t ever accused (that I’m aware of) of raping or molesting kids, so he doesn’t count toward that %, and I would imagine that if we had a definitive list of all the people who shuffled priests around, and were otherwise complicit, that there would be other names that had never been directly accused and therefore aren’t brought into that ‘statistic’, but they’re certainly not innocent or good.  In fact even after all of the scandal blew up in Boston, Cardinal Law managed to live out his life in Rome, in the church in a high and ‘respected’ position in the church.

So, I get that people want their religion, and ‘their churches’ to be defended against these accusations.  As much as I dislike the guy, I even get why Bill Donahue of The Catholic League, feels the need to write an op-ed about every slight against the church, I always consider this: there is The Church, and there is The Faith (or the Faithful).  My mom, and my sister, and many other people in my family are part of “the faith,” and they’re good people, and I get that I’m one of the few people who makes a distinction so when the Church is attacked, they feel attacked too, but they shouldn’t be.  They shouldn’t be put in the position to have to defend something that they feel makes them and their lives better, against attacks of child molestation, or admit that everything is a corrupt sham.  It’s not either/or.  Believe in Jesus, try to follow his works, even believe in transsubstantiation and all of the other Catholic specific things you believe in, but don’t give this organization a pass. Don’t write off that organizationally they’re not a good organization.  That doesn’t mean that they can’t be, in fact, the good people of “the faith” deserve them to be a good organization, but they’re not right now.

One last thing, on the rare occasions that I go to church (I don’t believe in catholicism either as “the Faith” or as “The Church”, but occasionally there are weddings, or baptisms) their are certain types of priests who talk about “Easter and Christmas Catholics” and how the churches aren’t as full as they once were.  I would imagine it’s a lot of people like me, who are only going on those days to support people they love, and not because they believe in your organization.  If you want to attract more people, don’t use guilt and fear (they used to work wonders but the world is changing) try actually making your church desirable to new people.  Make your ‘brand’ something that people don’t have to either defend, or be ashamed to admit they once were part of.  BE BETTER.  It’s a long process, but there has been very little (to those of us on the outside) effort to really improve.

Good Humor on the Right

A couple of years ago, a family member sent me a video of a ‘millenial’ talking about how she graduated from Harvard earlier in the week, got a job, showed up late the first day due to partying, and was fired, and proceeded to tell the ‘white man’ boss that she was to be respected.  It was portrayed as a first hand account, and clearly supposed to be taken seriously, and when I responded with “um… this seems fake, she’s at least my age” (technically a millenial, but I’m in my thirties so the graduating from Harvard and going out partying the night before a job didn’t ring true in the slightest) “I think this is just to spark outrage,” the response I got was “no shit Sherlock, it’s called satire.  That’s why it’s funny.”

But here’s the thing, it wasn’t funny, and I don’t mean “I didn’t like the angle” so it wasn’t funny, it was just objectively poorly executed and not funny.  There is a real political satire/humor deficit between the two sides.  The left has so many funny people that the unfunny are washed out, and so it seems to further intensify the ‘quality’ of the humor, and refines the tastes of those in agreement, but the right really has so little.  Dennis Miller, I’m told is pretty funny, I’ve enjoyed the little that I’ve seen of his stuff, but I’m not aware of where to find more (contemporary) stuff from him.  So when you get someone who you agree with, and they’re making fun of the other guys, you tend to find that funny if you have nothing else.

So where am I going with this?  Steven Crowder.  Now, I’ve talked about how I think Milo Yiannopoulos is entertaining, and occasionally he’s funny, but Steven Crowder is the first person, that I’m aware of, who is definitely on the right (Joe Rogan is in a kind of nebulous non-affiliated place, that’s why I’m not including him) who is pretty consistently funny.

Crowder’s impression of Young Turks’ creator Cenk Uygur is hilarious, and let me just say, I mostly like what I see from Cenk, but Crowder’s impersonation is spot on, and he finds the naturally exaggerated parts and mimics them perfectly.  “OF COURSE!”

What’s really impressive about Crowder, in addition to his ability to be funny, is that he is coherent while being funny, and he’s researched.  The first time I watched a “Change My Mind” segment, I was amazed at how deep he’d dove into the subject matter ahead of time.

The “Change My Mind” segment is also a good example of something that he’s doing, that I’m not aware of anyone else, left or right doing, and that is consistently airing unedited these pieces.  That’s not to say that there is an inherent fairness, ultimately whether it’s him, or Sasha Baron Cohen, or The Daily Show, the ‘house’ has the advantage, by going in prepared, but by not editing them, he shows his own confidence in his points, and he does tend to come out looking pretty good.

Now, I disagree on at least 50% of everything I’ve ever heard him say, but I do think he’s a really interesting voice in our political satire/commentary culture, and importantly he’s funny.  So, here’s the thing, that is both a good thing for conservatives, because humor can definitely make your points stronger.  I want to see the smartest, and funniest people on both sides making their points.  I think we only improve by getting the best people, with the best minds on both sides.  I don’t want dumb, or unfunny right leaning people to represent the right, because both sides can motivate each other to be better, but only if they’re on equal footing.

But, the right actually having a legitimately funny (and intelligent) voice is also a bad thing, for all of the unfunny conservatives who’ve been getting the default laughter of people who just happen to agree with them.  He’s raised the bar, and hopefully we’ll see more come out, because disagreeing with someone doesn’t inherently upset me, but thinking they’re unfunny, when they clearly think they are funny, upsets me more.  We need good comedy, and I hope we continue to get it.

The Problem with Democratic-Socialism

If you’re like me, you probably first heard the term “Democratic-Socialism” in regards to Bernie Sanders in 2015 or 2016.  Since then, he’s been keeping it in the news a fair amount, but over the course of the last couple of months, a second big name in “Democratic-Socialism” has risen: Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

Ocasio-Cortez, is Democratic nominee for New York’s 14th district (Queens and the Bronx) US Congressional seat.  She recently upset the primary when she won the seat, both as the younger candidate, as well as because she is a self-proclaimed “Democratic-Socialist.”

There was some conversation on The View, in which not only Ocasio-Cortez’s stances, but the term “Democratic-Socialism” were discussed.  Notably Meghan McCain dismissed the policies, which ended up as a trending topic on Twitter, but to me the more interesting piece was Whoopi Goldberg’s response.  “If you’re a socialist, tell me that,” Goldberg said. “Don’t say that you’re a Democrat… we don’t have the same ideas of what should be happening.”

So, I want to talk about what Whoopi said.  You see, I think Whoopi innocently brings to the forefront the real issue with “Democratic-Socialism,” which as far as I can tell, is that few people seem to know what Socialism is.

I’m sure, you’re probably thinking, “I know what Socialism is, it’s a redistribution of wealth,” or perhaps you’re slightly more accurate, “it’s an institutionalized social safety net.”  That’s not what I’m talking about.

Socialism, is a system put in place by a government, but it is not itself a type of government.  Who is the head of a socialist government?  What structure in the form of branches does a socialist government have?  None, because it’s not a type.

Democracy, on the other hand, is a type of government.  “A government run by the people.”  In the United States, we’re actually a Democratic Republic, but I won’t get into that right now.

For argument’s sake, let’s say we’re a pure democracy, 1 citizen+1 vote.  If more than 50% of the people of a pure democracy vote to redistribute wealth in the form of social services, and attempt to create “equality of opportunity,” that would be a democratic decision, and it was also be a socialist decision.  These two things are not mutually exclusive.

One of the issues with talking about communism and socialism in real-world examples, is that we often conflate the structure of government, and this service of government.  People who want to discredit either term will point to places like Cuba and Russia, as obvious failures.  What isn’t taken into account, is that these are dictatorships, and authoritarian governments, which are fundamentally non-democratic.

I got into a debate a couple of years ago with someone who cited them, and I asked if communism/socialism (not the same but almost always used interchangeably in these arguments) were to blame for the problems, or the dictators, and I was given the answer that they were inseparable, and that totalitarianism is always a problem.  I was then told how we shouldn’t have any regulation and that the market will always correct itself, which I tried to argue was totalitarianism capitalism, and I got the two blink, “Dora The Explorer” stare.

Is Democratic-Socialism a good thing?  That’s a point worth debating, and discussing, but ultimately to have an honest discussion, and come to an honest conclusion, we need to actually understand what we’re talking about.  Unfortunately, I suspect Whoopi’s statement was pretty indicative of the norm.

I should mention, that I am glad Whoopi said what she did, because it hadn’t been expressed as clearly as she did, what the problem was, and I hope that her statement, which I think was born of sincerity will kick off a better dialogue.