Recent events involving how the world’s two most dominant religions, Christianity and Islam, treat gay people have brought the question of religious freedom to the forefront. Christians in the United States have been in the news lately for denying service to gays, most notably some bakeries, a pizza place, and an auto mechanic. In the Muslim world in some places gays are being murdered simply for being gay, such as in Iraq in lands controlled by the terror group ISIS. In some countries, such as Saudi Arabia, the death penalty for homosexuality is sometimes applied, and is an accepted part of the law. In lieu of the death penalty, other harsh punishments can be involved. These intolerant behaviors are usually defended against critics by making claims to the need for religious freedom, the ability to exercise one’s belief, and the requirement that we tolerate religious belief. Ironically, we are asked to tolerate what I view as intolerance. These situations raise a host of questions, which I will try to sum up briefly: Should religious people be free to exercise their beliefs? When does that exercise of religious belief negatively impact others, and how should the law be applied to exercises of those beliefs? Where do we draw the line?
As the new atheist movement has grown on the internet over the last two decades, religious people are increasingly referring to any criticisms of their religions as hate speech or bigotry. This has created a situation where the religious, especially in the West, have become unwitting allies of the cultural Left, as the religious are making a specific claim to moral relativism to shield themselves from criticism. Any criticism or critique of religion is bigotry because everyone is entitled to their religious beliefs and you must “respect” those beliefs. I submit to you that religion should not be immune from criticism, and that it is extremely harmful when it is. So first let’s look at the definition of the word bigot, according to Merriam-Webster:
a person who strongly and unfairly dislikes other people, ideas, etc. : a bigoted person; especially : a person who hates or refuses to accept the members of a particular group (such as a racial or religious group)
A key feature of a bigot is someone who strongly dislikes or hates a group that is different from them. Today, people (usually Social Justice Warriors on the internet) are conflating bigotry with any and all criticism of an idea or group of religious people. If we are not allowed to think and speak critically about any and all ideas, then we are truly lost as a society. There are big consequences for this attitude, especially as they relate to the principle of freedom of speech, and how important that is for living in a free society. Furthermore, describing criticism of religion as hate speech implies that this speech should be banned by the law and simply disallowed. This to me seems to be one of the worst consequences of adopting moral relativism and cultural subjectivity as the most important aspects of someone’s worldview, and is extremely harmful to freedom of speech, a founding principle of a free society. The notion that religion or other ideas can’t be criticized is also harmful to society in general.
Protecting unpopular or controversial speech is essential to protecting freedom of speech for everyone. Whether you like someone’s speech or not, as long as that speech does not incite violence or harm to another person, it is allowed. This principle in freedom of speech is essential to a free society. If people cannot speak openly and honestly about what they believe for fear of reprisal, then they are not truly free. The ability to criticize bad ideas and bad governments is essential to maintaining that freedom. The term hate speech itself implies that some speech should be banned, violating the principle of freedom of speech. Unpopular or controversial speech needs to be protected because it is the most likely to be attacked. When someone says something I don’t like, I should not have the ability to take away their freedom or their life for it.
Religions or ideologies that make claims about the supernatural, and then try to apply their beliefs to the law deserve criticism and scrutiny. If religion can’t be criticized it makes it that much easier for them to take control of the cultural narrative and apply their beliefs to the law in spite of dissenting opinions, which have been silenced. Any criticism is shouted down as bigotry or hate speech, and critical thinking goes out the window. I don’t want to live in a world where that is the case. I want to live in a world where there is a marketplace of ideas, with the best ideas rising to the top. If your ideology or religion cannot take criticism, then it doesn’t belong in that marketplace.
I believe that the primary reason all criticism is attacked in this way is because religion can’t take criticism, it is designed to be accepted uncritically by the populace and believed in with a strong emotional fervor. Attacking any criticism as bigotry or hate speech shuts down the criticism, deflects it, and short circuits critical thinking in the minds of many listeners. People who are taught that all beliefs are equal and that you must respect all beliefs are prevented from thinking critically about ideas. Beliefs don’t deserve respect or special treatment, they deserve analysis. Criticism of an idea or belief is not bigotry. It doesn’t necessarily imply hatred or dislike of a person, it simply means that I don’t agree with your idea and here’s why. I choose not to believe it because of the following reasons. That’s not bigotry, that’s not hate speech, that’s common sense. The bottom line is, if your beliefs can’t stand up to scrutiny and can’t handle criticism without shouting the critics down, or worse even resorting to violent retaliation, then your beliefs probably don’t deserve to be taken seriously.
Microsoft’s latest operating system, Windows 8, was such a failure and so widely hated that the man in charge of its development was fired within a month of the software’s release. Criticisms of the operating system are many, but the main failure of Windows 8 is that it ruined the User Interface Design that people had come to expect from the Windows product line. For one thing, the software tried to force mouse and keyboard users on desktops and laptops into using a touch screen interface meant for tablets. It also eliminated the Start menu and replaced the famous Windows Start Menu icon with a button that essentially does nothing except bring up the tablet interface. Instead of being able to access your installed applications or browse your computer’s files, you got shunted to a tablet menu that is difficult to interact with. Another extremely annoying feature of Windows 8 was the fact that the user had to make 4 or more button clicks just to shut down or restart their machine. Getting rid of the Start Menu meant they had to introduce a new way to shut down via the mouse, and that involved bringing up the tablet interface window, clicking on Settings, and then clicking on Shut Down and confirming with an additional click. The result of these decisions is that pretty much everyone who needs a new computer to do work or play games hates Windows 8.
In a report published by technology company Akamai, South Korea ranked 1st in the world for average download speed, clocking in at 25.3 MBPS (megabits per second). The United States, by comparison, ranked 11th, with an average speed of 11.5 MBPS. South Korea’s speed is more than twice as fast. To make matters worse, compared to the average cost for an internet connection in South Korea, internet service is much more expensive in the United States. This report by the Open Technology Institute, released in 2014, gives an extremely detailed analysis of internet speed and price in various major cities around the world. For the sake of comparison, Seoul, the capital of South Korea, averages about 300 MBPS download speeds for a price of around $50 per month. The United States, for the same price, offers an average speed between 25 and 45 MBPS. Only the cities with Google Fiber, as well as Chattanooga, Tennessee (which has its own innovative municipal fiber network) bring this average up with extremely competitive prices for gigabit internet, the fastest service available to the consumer in the United States. The rest of the country lags so far behind in terms of price per speed that it drags down the averages by several orders of magnitude.
Why are we so far behind? The monopolies that control almost all internet service in the United States are primarily responsible for this sad state of affairs. They don’t compete with each other. While they don’t directly co-ordinate with each other in setting prices, they have little, or in some cases, no competition, and they don’t need to compete on price as a result. They know what the other monopolies charge so they all offer poor service for a high price, in the same range so they don’t undercut each other. Between Time Warner, Comcast and AT&T, American consumers are stuck between a rock and a hard place.
Why is any of this important? Does it really matter if the United States isn’t number 1 in internet speed and price? I say that it absolutely matters. We aren’t even in the top 10 in speed. Poor, overpriced internet has serious consequences. It limits economic opportunity for people that can’t afford internet access. It stifles innovation by putting technical limitations on what people are able to do with their connection. The difference between a 25 MBPS connection and a 1000 MBPS connection (gigabit) is like the difference between a children’s tricycle and a Ferrari.
The internet service situation in the United States raises billions of dollars per year for the same 3 mega corporations who spend millions of dollars a year lobbying politicians to continue to protect these failed, terrible policies that created this situation with the monopolies. The United States, the birthplace of HP, Intel, Apple, Microsoft, Google, and many more hugely influential tech companies, should be the de facto leader in internet speed and price. We should be head and shoulders above the rest of the world, but we aren’t. If we are going to remain competitive in a global marketplace, this has to change, and quickly.
My own personal journey away from religion was fueled by my connection to the internet from a young age. I was raised in a very religious, Christian based family and church. In high school I went to religious schools. In high school I also attended a Christian “worldview” seminar two summers in a row in Colorado, at a place called Summit Ministries, in Manitou Springs. The purpose of Summit was to provide Christians about to enter into the college world the tools they would need to defend their religion against the naysayers, to equip them to fight and win the “culture war.” After my trip to Summit, I was filled with religious zeal, and figured since I was on the internet all the time, even back in the late 90s, that I should carry the message of Christ to the non-believers I encountered on the internet.
When I was arrested in Arizona in the middle of a psychotic breakdown, I was immediately taken to jail, rather than a mental hospital, which is where I should have gone. A month later I was arrested in Ohio, and in that case I was taken to a mental hospital. In the first case, I did not get better. In the second case, I was finally able to get the help I needed, my condition began to stabilize and I was able to remain stable from that point forward. What I didn’t understand at the time was that for a majority of the country, jail has become the de facto housing facility for the mentally ill. Cuts to mental health budgets throughout the country have created a status quo where not only are millions of people in the United States in jail, but the majority of them suffer from a mental illness. In a study released in 2006, the Department of Justice estimated that fully 64 percent of local jail inmates have some form of mental illness. In reality the number is probably higher. This is all the result of policies that have weakened or even removed large parts of the mental health commitment system, enacted primarily in the 1970s and 1980s, largely during the Ronald Reagan presidency. The consequences for this are far reaching. Higher murder and assault rates, higher property crime rates, higher rates of drug abuse, and lost productivity of the many people whose lives are destroyed by mental illness.
Jabez cried out to the God of Israel, “Oh, that you would bless me and enlarge my territory! Let your hand be with me, and keep me from harm so that I will be free from pain.” And God granted his request.
– 1 Chronicles 4:10
One of the most odious movements to emerge from American Protestant Christianity in the last 20 years is what is popularly known as “The Prosperity Gospel.” Although the prosperity gospel first took hold in the United States in the 1950s, it wasn’t until the book The Prayer of Jabez came out in 2000 that the prosperity gospel really took off in the public consciousness. Written by Bruce Wilkinson, The Prayer of Jabez is based almost entirely on the above verse in 1 Chronicles in the Old Testament. The simple idea is that if a Christian is to repeat this prayer on a daily basis, their material and financial well-being will improve. The prosperity gospel revolves around the idea that faith is a contract with God, and as long as the Christian maintains his faith, he will be rewarded materially in this world. While some Christians roundly criticized the book and the theology underpinning it, The Prayer of Jabez was wildly popular. The book sold over 9 million copies and reached the New York Times bestseller list.
I’ve played a lot of Magic: The Gathering, and I’ve played a lot of Hearthstone. I have mainly played Magic on Xbox and PC, as well as very occasionally in person on paper, and I’ve played Hearthstone on PC and iPad. To understand what I’m about to talk about, it would help to at least have a cursory understanding of what these games are about. Here’s an Intro to Magic, and here’s an Intro to Hearthstone.
It is my opinion, after playing hundreds and hundreds of hours of both Magic and Hearthstone, that Magic is the better game. I’m not saying one game is objectively good, or objectively bad, this is merely my own subjective opinion about these games and why I think the way I do. If you like Hearthstone more than Magic, that’s great, I respect that opinion, I just don’t agree with it. To keep this comparison simple, I will mainly be comparing the Magic: Duels of the Planeswalkers video game series to Hearthstone. Paper Magic is a whole different world on its own, with multiple game types and thousands and thousands of cards to choose from, and it’s not really appropriate to compare that to Hearthstone, which has only several hundred cards and exists exclusively in a digital setting.
My reasons for liking Magic more have to do with overall game design, card and meta variety, and gameplay depth. These obviously overlap some, but I’ve divided it this way to keep this from turning into one long stream of consciousness rant. Let’s dig in.
I’ve never paid for cable television. Neither have any of my close friends. I’ve never paid for a newspaper subscription either. Since young adulthood I’ve always gotten my news on the internet. My friends and I all much preferred playing video games, or watching DVDs of imported movies and TV shows to watching cable TV. After Youtube came around in 2005, and with the appearance of Netflix, I never saw the need for cable TV. I only watch cable on occasion for live sports, but in general, I can’t watch a movie on cable TV, because the experience is totally ruined by ad breaks every 12 to 15 minutes. The movie is censored, edited, cut down, and worst of all interrupted by commercials. Watching TV shows is equally annoying. I would much prefer to simply wait for a show to come out on Netflix and then binge watch it at my leisure. I could also watch on Hulu, which while it shows ads, shows fewer ads than TV and at least gives you the option of watching the show when you want. Using a DVR to record a cable TV show and then fast-forwarding with the remote through every ad break is an annoying and wasteful “solution” to commercials.
I don’t believe in determinism, the idea that we are not in control of our actions or events because everything that happens is a result of forces beyond our control. Laws of physics, genetic imperatives, chemical reactions. I will admit, however, that determinism has merit. It explains much of what happens in the world. In many ways, we are slaves to our programming. We are influenced by the way we are raised, as well as by our DNA. In some ways we are no different from robots. We have hardware and software that are responsible for much of how we act. So on the other hand, I don’t necessarily believe in free will either. I think reality is somewhere in between.
I’m reminded of the neuroscience discovery whereby it has been shown that the brain will start acting and moving a person before they have a conscious thought about taking an action. So in a sense we are always on autopilot. It’s akin to the story of the monkey riding the elephant. The elephant goes where it goes, when it wants to, but the monkey tells a story about why the elephant is moving, pretending as if it’s in control of the elephant. In much the same way our emotions, our actions, our thoughts are like the elephant, lumbering along beyond our control, while our conscious minds are like the monkey, telling a story about why things happen, because we need certainty, reassurance. We want to know how and why things are the way they are. The desire for certainty is very powerful.