Categories
Geekdom

Challenge Your Eyes with the Eyeballing Game

I have always fancied myself a pretty good eyeballer, and now there’s a test to prove it one way or another: the eyeballing game. I amazed myself at how good I did on some of the tests, and utterly disappointed myself on others. Either way, I was ahead of the curve. Where do you fall?

screenshot of the eyeballing game results of 3.7, where those results fall on a curve, and the top ten high scorers of the past 500 games
Categories
Atheism and Secularity

A Finely Tuned Universe? Not From Our Perspective

In part 1 of my response to Zac Sechler’s 36 Questions for Atheists, we looked at the very basic, most fundamental question of why there is something rather than nothing and how that relates to whether the universe is eternal or if a creator deity is responsible for its existence.

I had no problem admitting the limits of my knowledge at certain points, and it should certainly be pointed out that ignorance is not an excuse or reason for the existence of a god but is rather a reason for further study, further exploration, further hammering away at what we know about the universe until answers might be revealed.

With this next set of questions, we begin to look more at life itself, specifically its origins. So without further ado:

Why is the universe so fine-tuned?

Gravity. The cosmological constant. The strength of the weak-force. The location of the earth in the solar system to allow for the existence of life. Everything we know about the universe seems fine-tuned — or “designed,” the apologist would want us to believe — to be support life. And not just life, but our life. Here. Now. Earth’s vast forests, living oceans, and everywhere else, all exist proving that the universe must have been tuned specifically for them because the odds that those conditions would arise on their own is, well, astronomical, right?

Well, not really. This question is a little disingenuous because it presupposes that life is a necessary end-goal for the universe. Instead, life is simply the result of the way that the universe is. When the Big Bang occurred and all matter and energy rapidly expanded and began to rapidly cool, everything occurred because of the laws of nature. These aren’t laws in the sense that someone wrote them down, got them approved by a legislative body, and what-have-you; rather, these are laws which simply describe what occurs in nature. Objects are attracted to each other in predictable and measurable ways; we describe that with the law of gravity. Objects move in predictable and measurable ways when forces are applied to them; we describe that with the laws of motion.

And the way the universe is allowed life to develop, potentially over and over again on countless extrasolar worlds, but at least once that we are sure of: here, on Earth.

To put it another way, if you were to dump out a bucket of Lego bricks, you might find that the resulting pile of bricks seems pretty chaotic, though you might also find that some of the bricks are attached together. Now, you could ask yourself, “Why was the bucket of bricks fine-tuned to create this structure?” or you could admit that the nature of the bucket of bricks was simply conducive of such structures forming.

The universe seems fine-tuned for life on Earth because the way the universe is is conducive to life like what we see here.

If your answer is the multiverse, why is there no evidence for that theory?

My answer wasn’t the multiverse, and while I love to speculate about the multiverse — often through misunderstandings like “every time we make a decision, a new branch in the multiverse sprouts” — I am not for sure what evidence there is for it. The multiverse, like related matters quantum theory, string theory, et al., is beyond my level of scientific understanding.

Is it possible that there is no natural explanation for the origin of life?

Is it possible? Sure, assuming something supernatural exists. However, that would mean that that which is supernatural must be able to interact and exist with nature, which makes even its interfering to originate life a natural action.

We may never know with perfect certainty what the origin of all life on Earth was; quite simply, we weren’t there. Rather, we can theorize about how it might have occurred and test those conditions in the lab, as has been done, with successful creation of some of the basic proteins needed for life to exist.

If a supernatural being, like a god, created the first life on Earth, that is not something I would be prepared to accept without some sort of evidence, starting with evidence of the supernatural being. Without that, faith or not, it’s all assumption. I can’t place my intellectual assent in assuming something that big without a real reason to; instead, I’ll stick with the scientific understanding of life as being a millions-of-years long reproductive chain of creatures, plants, fungi, and more changing bit by bit until we have the wondrous ecosystems of today.

So What Then?

If one allows for the existence of the supernatural, whether it be deities or leprechauns, wizards or poltergeists, we must admit a universe where literally anything could occur. Objects can be made to defy gravity with a wave of a wand, a woman can be formed from the rib of a man, and so much else. While science can explore endless depths of reality, explaining as much of it as it can within the terms of concrete scientific theory, if supernatural magic of any kind were possible, then would it really matter if science says that objects accelerate toward each other due to gravity? Science can’t explain supernatural occurrences. However, until such a time as supernatural occurrences are shown to be occurring (or are shown to have occurred), scientific explanation will do just fine for most of us.

That said, I boldly accept that as an unbeliever, according to the Christian Scriptures, I am incapable of seeing spiritual truths. My worldview is that of one who is spiritually “dead,” of one who is bound to natural explanations because I have rejected the Truth, as well as the explanations offered by every religion of which I am familiar.

I guess what I’m saying is that it’s possible for two things to be true, from a certain perspective. Assuming the Bible is true, then Christians rightly believe in God and all that goes along with that belief; but also, assuming still that the Bible is true, the great many unbelievers in the world, myself included, are incapable of seeing that truth; instead, we see a world where God is not real and where the world operates according to natural processes (or some other religious beliefs, in the case of non-atheists).

Assuming still that the Bible is true, it’s impossible to reason a person into or out of the faith. However, I’m fairly certain that the Bible isn’t true simply by virtue of there being nobody around that seems to believe what it actually says, particularly in regard to how Jesus wanted people to live. Although maybe what the Bible seems to actually say is altogether different to one who is “spiritually alive.”

The point is, before I talk myself in circles ad nauseum, we should be less concerned with trying to prove or disprove Christianity and more concerned, perhaps, with being better Christians for those who claim to be and more peaceful secularists, for those who claim to be.

Maybe the universe is neither Christian nor atheist; maybe it and the life it contains is simply absurd. We are chunks of water and carbon arguing about minutia, and that’s something I think we can be endlessly amused by.

Categories
Christianity

Jesus, E.T., and a Book of Many Interpretations

I am not always the biggest fan of my mind. I try to be rationally minded, or at least I think I do. Looking back at all the wild ideas I’ve held since, I don’t know, middle school, though? It’d be really easy to come to the conclusion that my mind is a house built atop sands that are assailed every so often by a tsunami.

In eighth grade, I remember expressing the idea to my English teacher Mr. Burks that I was convinced that the world’s mythologies and religions could be traced to one original religion… From my completely, totally, no way could it possibly be biased position, that original or prototypical religion, the source of all truth, must have been Christianity. Had I spent any real time pursuing this line of reasoning, outside of making endless lists of various gods, boring my reading class to tears with mythology-themed reports, and so on, I might have realized that Christianity was young. Like, really young. Had I spent any time on it, I’d probably have pointed to Hebraism instead.

Throughout middle school and high school, I was fairly obsessed with the “paranormal.” My friends and I fancied ourselves investigators of what we determined were weird goings-on in our neighborhood, and I had a yen to join the Mutual UFO Network, a group which investigates as many “flying saucers” as possible while debunking as many as they can in the hopes of one day finding the real McCoy, a genuine spacecraft from beyond our solar system.

I had a library of books in my room which covered Stonehenge, Atlantis, gods and monsters, aliens, parapsychology, and so much more. For a year or so, and this was in the late 90s, I kept a website for my Paranormal Investigators club, and those of my friends who were members stayed busy with neighborhood sightings, shared dream phenomena, demon possessions, and an unidentified wolf-like creature that leapt among the trees near our homes. Wild imaginations? Maybe. Probably.

But it helped make me into the person I am today, despite veering off course into religious fundamentalism through much of my twenties. My open-mindedness in “understanding the space-time continuum” (a phase fellow investigator Randy dictated to me as we typed up a manifesto of sorts on my Amiga back ’round about ’96) was supplanted with a bold adherence to a document already completed, the Bible.

That isn’t to say that I didn’t retain my curiosity and ability to think outside the box; indeed, I refined my beliefs quite a bit before abandoning them in 2010. Unwilling to be tied to a particular dogmatic system, I was free to read the Bible more freely, allowing it to say what it actually said without having the need to force it into a church’s hand-me-down creed.

From dipping my toes into Christianity as an independent fundamental Baptist to slowly shedding the legalism (no music harder than a bluegrass gospel song, no movie theaters, no pants on women, etc.) of my Baptist church to eventually finding myself a member of a Presbyterian church, though that didn’t long because I refused to recant the idea that the Bible allowed men to have multiple wives, which I held purely because of the Bible and not because the idea fit my own life at all; I still mention it when I see Christians wanting to fight against “gay marriage” as their own Bible’s idea of marriage doesn’t really fit theirs at all.

Flash forward through a decade of atheism, and I still find the Bible to be a fascinating book; I do my best to not fall into the trap so many other atheists have of pretending they understand it better than believers, all the while sharing memes that reveals a pretty weak knowledge of what the Bible says. I’m not going to shout from the rooftops that the Bible is the good book for all humankind, but I do find value in it in pushing Christians to be better people… and that brings me back to why I dislike my mind sometimes.

A few years into my time as a Baptist, I was introduced to a pastor and writer named James W. Knox. I listened to numerous of his sermons made available on his website and received his canon — a collection of nearly twenty-four books — for Christmas from my mom, a collection of books which I not only read in record time based on how slowly I usually read.

I loved Pastor Knox for his willingness to boldly get out of the way of the Bible and to let it say what it was saying, no matter how ridiculous or challenging the passage may have been, and I daydreamed about possibly attending his Bible college, if only it wasn’t so far away.

Anyway, one of his sermons, indeed the one which stood out the most, was about unidentified flying objects and the Bible. This is the one time when he seemed to be really out there, but I thought it was amazing. Aliens, posited the good pastor, were not beings from outer space; they were angels!

Ancient peoples saw the angels and other spiritual beings for what they were, but contemporary people? Oh, we are too inoculated against the spiritual and instead interpret them as beings from outer space whenever we encounter them. Nowadays, we’re alien-happy, with countless works of fiction focused on them, with millions of dollars per year across the world spent in search of them, we just cannot wait for visitors from the sky to come save us. Pastor Knox even insinuated that football arenas and other such structures are built with the ulterior motive of functioning as giant satellite receivers for picking up alien transmissions. Hey, I did say that the sermon all of this was from was pretty far out!

Now we come to one of the more unconventional reasons why I like the Bible: What if instead of being a book of supernatural happenings, the book instead tells to the best of the authors’ abilities the interactions of an alien race with humanity so long ago.

Suspend all of your disbelief for a while and consider the existence of a sufficiently advanced civilization, origins unknown. Actually, I guess this is the plot to Stargate, a movie I wrote fan-fiction about back around 1995 or so during the same eighth grade English class I mentioned above. Powerful aliens… playing themselves off as gods to the ancient peoples of Earth… OK, the idea of this isn’t altogether original, but I still appreciate just how well the idea fits with some of the passages of the Bible.

What if Genesis 6 tells not of aliens procreating with women but extraterrestrials? This intermingling wrecked whatever experiment was being ran on Earth and so human life had to be reset via some cataclysmic event. This would also mean that Jesus was the product of an extraterrestrial impregnation of Mary; why in this instance was such a union deemed to be OK?

In the Revelation, John witnessed the old Earth fleeing away after having been cleaned by fire, with a chosen segment of humanity enjoying a new Earth. How wild is it that one day Earth will be consumed by fire? And if humanity by that point has escaped our galaxy, then the Milky Way and the old Earth it contains (or whatever is left of it after the sun goes nova) will be rushed away from humanity’s new home due to universal expansion.

In Ezekiel’s earliest chapters, the prophet describes a spiritual creature with wings, atop which rested a throne. The vision provides an apt description for a rocket ship, complete with cockpit at its apex.

Now, obviously, none of this can be proven. As with that other, more popular interpretation of the Bible, it’s there not to be proven but to be something to think about. Is the Bible the word of a supreme God intended to save humanity? Is the best ancient humans could put down about their interactions with an advanced race, replete with warnings gleaned from their own past? Or is it entirely fiction, a collection fables based on oral retelling after after retelling?

It’s easy to point to lessons in the Bible or how it makes you feel and conclude that a spiritual authority must’ve been involved. It’s easy to point at its many apparent contradictions or morally questionable or outright repugnant passages as evidence that the book is solely the product of a very narrow segment of humankind.

But maybe the truth is stranger than either of those options?

I want to believe.

Well, it’s fun to think about anyway. What do you think?

Categories
Atheism and Secularity

The End Is the Beginning?

There is no shame in being an atheist, a secularist, a materialist, a rationalist, or whatever else and still hoping that there is something beyond death. You don’t have to believe in a god to hope that whatever our selves are persists after death. The idea of ceasing to exist is terrifying, at least to me, and it’s a strong motivator to continue to live for as long as possible, but if we were able to live even after death? Well, that would be just fine, whatever form that would happen to take.

Categories
Atheism and Secularity

Why Is There Something Rather Than Nothing?

What feels like a lifetime ago, I was introduced to the concept of lengthy lists of questions intended to catch members of an opposing viewpoint or worldview off guard or get them thinking about what they believe in perhaps a different manner. The earliest list I can recall was Hard Nuts for Catholic Apologists, a list by David Cloud of Way of Life Ministries intended to get Roman Catholics to come face-to-face with how unrelated to the Bible their faith seemed to be.

Over time, I encountered dozens of such lists. Christians wrote lists about Islam, Muslims wrote them about Christians, atheists wrote them about Christians, and so on. President Bartlet on the television show The West Wing got in on it with a list in rant form used to counter a claim about the Bible and homosexuality.

Lists of questions naturally invite answers, and because I don’t feel antagonism toward my Christian fellow humans, I will be assuming good faith in these questions, answering them to the best of my ability in kindness and hope for mutual learning.

As part of that, I won’t be pushing my answers out all at once. Far too often it seems like these lists, rebuttal lists, and lists of answers are meant to be overwhelming. One or two questions may not get your “opponent” questioning their views, but what if you ask them forty questions at once and they begin questioning things as a result of being overwhelmed?

I don’t want my answers to be overwhelming. I’m not writing “gotcha” material here. Further, let me be clear: By trade, I am not a scientist, nor am I a philosopher. Consequently, if I don’t know an answer and can’t find one with which I am satisfied, I’ll be honest about it.

So without further introduction, my first set of questions comes from Zac at Adherent Apologetics.

Why is there something rather than nothing?

Honestly, I don’t know. Maybe everything just always has been, existing in an endless cycle of Big Bang/Big Crunch. Some scientists posit that the primordial singularity which gave birth to the universe itself sprang forth out of nothing, due to the instability of nothingness.

That’s interesting, isn’t it? A universe from nothing. That reminds me of something I believed as a young Earth creationist many moons ago: creation ex nihilo. In the Book of Genesis, the story goes that God spoke the universe into existence, one bit at a time, over the course of a few days.

From my point of view, that’s a great coincidence, that the author(s) of Genesis just happened to come up with a creation myth that would bear a passing resemblance to what may have occurred. I’ll write more about the dichotomy of science and religion some other time, but I bring it up here because the question at hand — why is there something rather than nothing? — is a deviously tricky question.

Like a child who has discovered the power of the simple question “Why?”, the moment we answer our question, it can be asked again about the answer. This is very easily demonstrated; the question was posed by a Christian, so let’s apply it to Christianity:

Why is there something rather than nothing?

Because God created the heavens and the earth.

Why is there a God rather than no god?

Because God is; indeed, he is the very fundamental aspect of being.

But why?

And so on. At some point, the question hits a wall, with the answer being something akin to “existence for existence’s sake.” Scientists will always try to ascertain further answers, but I’m fairly content with the answer that the matter in the universe always has been, and well, I don’t know why.

Is there any evidence that suggests the universe is eternal?

No. In fact, we know with some degree of certainty that the universe began between 15 and 20 billion years ago in the event known as the Big Bang. We simply don’t know if what conditions were like before the Bang, though it’s possible that there was nothing (see above).

With that said, it may not be within our capabilities of ever learning what came before the Big Bang, if there even was a “before” in any meaningful sense of the word. “Before” implies a progression of time, and I’m not sure it can even be said that there was time prior to the Big Bang.

I’m not so naive as to notice the parallel of a finite universe springing forth into existence and the more fantastical explanation given in Genesis. “God said it and bang it happened” isn’t so different from “Bang it happened” when one considers that the “before” is impossible for us to know. Attempting to figure it out is not all too dissimilar from a sufficiently advanced video game character attempting to understand his universe and what conditions were like before the system was powered on.

Maybe God or a God-type entity was responsible, maybe not. Maybe an old universe borne out of the Big Bang is the best possible interpretation for what happened using scientific reasoning, and maybe only a divinely awakened mind can see the universe as having been divinely created.

Ultimately, from a personal standpoint, I’m not sure it matters. If you want to believe the universe was created miraculously, you can, but don’t get in the way of scientists and those of us bound to secular understandings; we must be able to make predictions about the world around us, and in a worldview allowing it to be beholden to an omnipotent yet unknowable Other, such predictions aren’t possible.

If not, why do Atheists hold onto the idea and say you have debunked the Kalam Cosmological Argument?

The Kalām cosmological argument goes a little something like this:

  1. Whatever begins to exist has a cause.
  2. The universe began to exist.
  3. Therefore, the universe has a cause.

I don’t disagree with this. In fact, let’s make it shorter: Every effect must have a cause.

This requires that something caused the Big Bang, and I am fine with that conclusion and the burden of ignorance carried in not knowing what that cause might be. Maybe an unstable nothing popped the universe into existence. Maybe a god spoke it into existence. Maybe the universe went back in time and accidentally became its own grandpa. Frankly, you could put just about any idea before the Big Bang and they would have the same merits: We don’t know, so pick the best explanation you can. Maybe scientists will narrow down the answers more in time. Maybe it’s a frontier that’ll never be crossed. Maybe it’s a frontier which exists particularly because of God’s hiding the truth from those who aren’t his people. Who can say? I sure can’t.

However, it must also be pointed out that assuming something prior to the universe means assuming yet another “effect” that must be “caused.”

If “in the beginning, God…”, then what caused God? And if God can be eternally causeless, why can not the universe’s essential being?

If so, why do the vast majority of scientists reject this idea?

Do the majority of scientists reject the idea that the universe is eternal? From the outdated idea that the universe is static to the idea that the universe cycles through crunches and bangs, it seems that the idea that the universe is eternal in some form or another isn’t all that uncommon.

The idea that whatever preceded the Big Bang bubbled out of an unstable nothing is new and uncommon.

Also, I don’t like lumping all scientists together like that. The majority of scientists are in fields that rarely touch upon something as esoteric as the origins of the cosmos, and generally scientists only speak authoritatively in the fields within which they are experts.

So What Then?

These were just the first of a few questions asked of atheists by Zac Sechler, the young blogger behind Adherent Apologetics. His about page says he is nineteen years old, though I’m not sure how much time has passed since he wrote that.

When I was nineteen, I was publishing and disseminating fundamentalist Baptist material, material strongly in support of young Earth creationism and critical of evolution. I understand the surety of youth when it comes to wanting to defend one’s faith. I also understand all too well that when atheists respond to Christians’ lists, those responses are all too often insulting, ill-spirited, or are otherwise not inviting of genuine conversation.

Not so long ago, I reveled in producing such, well, hateful material. Material which, while it felt good to me and was validated by fellow unbelievers, was doing nothing to elevate the conversation between Christian and atheist… was doing nothing to foster growth and learning on either side.

As for the first few questions above: Does the universe provide evidence that there is a God? Well, that depends on your worldview, on the glasses you’re using to view the evidence. Actual science will not ever conclude that God did it, but should that ever happen, the questions science asks about the universe would then be joined by questions asked of God. To take a loose interpretation of the phrase, though, God cannot be tested, making him, real or not, pretty useless within the realm of science.

I want to keep looking at the questions on Zac’s website and those posed by other believers. Maybe, just maybe, we can grow in understanding on both sides of the aisle.

Categories
Atheism and Secularity Journal

Room Enough to Grow: What Made Me an Atheist?

This question came to me from my girlfriend Meagan on this past Ask an Atheist Day (April 14): What made me seek out atheism as my identity?

It’s a good question; for the decade prior to becoming an atheist, I was a “washed in the blood” Christian with a “the fool says in his heart, there is no God” chip on my shoulder regarding unbelievers. Not many years prior to this radical change, I asserted to a good friend, Sandi, that there was no way, none, zilch, zero chance that I’d ever reach the point that I wouldn’t consider the Bible as anything less than the Word of God, no matter how many changes my beliefs underwent (such as growing from Baptist to Presbyterian to a weird blending of the two to something that I’m not sure what I’d call it).

But becoming an atheist? Eww.

My resolve that there must be something beyond the physical, that there must be things like spirits and God and all the correlated supernatural thingamajigs came not only as a result of my faith in the Bible — faith which was expertly stirred by many an evangelist and preacher — but from my first (and I am thankful, my only) encounter with a sleep paralysis “demon.” Indeed, that encounter stuck with me even after leaving Christianity behind til the point when I learned about sleep paralysis and what it can make you see or experience.

Why I left Christianity isn’t important to this conversation; suffice it to say, it was an abrupt departure from a faith I had rather thoroughly enjoyed for about a decade of my life.

Once I realized that my faith was dead, I was not at all prepared to leave behind the idea that there was something beyond the physical. The idea of death being a cessation of being thoroughly terrorizes me (still does), so I figured that I should probably still be believing in something because surely this world wasn’t the end all be all of reality. For about a month or two, I called myself a “pagan.”

I didn’t really do anything with that — paganism, in my limited experience, felt like an a la carte thing: “Here are a bunch of gods and goddesses, a few vaguely defined concepts, and a smattering of ways to put it together — from cards to gemstones, stars to tea leaves — to mean whatever you want.” Religion was waning in my mind; I most certainly wasn’t prepared to continue in one that was very nearly completely built out of my own imagination. At least with Christianity, the book was already written!

Realizing the futility of any attempts to continue in this or that beliefs without any sort of foundation upon which to stand, I cast it all off with a simple declaration: I am an atheist. Although, that declaration was too simple.

Sure, I gave up theism — my beliefs are no longer occupied by the adoration or worship of a god or gods — but I also embraced science for providing ways of looking at the world which make sense and didn’t require me to take leaps away from the world around me.

I became not only an atheist but a rationalist or a secularist, albeit one who is all too eager to want there to be something beyond what science can tell us.

“Atheist” seems to carry all that weight, though. It carries the negative stigma of one who has rejected God or of someone who isn’t trustworthy. I call myself “atheist” because I once had the reputation of “happy Christian guy who’s always smiling,” and I think people need to know that joy can be found even in a secular state of mind.

I’ve been an atheist for eleven years now, though, and well, there is a real need for good, happy atheists. I’ve seen so very many prominent atheist bloggers who repeat the same tired mockery of religion, the same misunderstandings about the Bible, the same hate and sarcasm, that well, I’ve come to understand a bit why there is such a stigma with atheism.

I can’t express how frustrating it was to move away from judgy churches only to find myself part of a community filled with equally problematic figures. Can I really blame Christians for not understanding complex scientific theses when the atheists around me still think Adam and Eve only had a few sons so “where did Cain get his wife?”, for example?

There isn’t much I can lean into here, authority-wise. I’m just a guy who’s humble enough to know that there is always room to learn, always room to extend a hand in walking that path of learning together.

I’m just a guy who believes that the world would be better if we had better Christians and better atheists. When there is so much that needs to be done to better the world, the schism between us must be mended, although that will only ever happen if Christians take up the cross to live out Jesus’ compassion and if atheists get out of their way and focus on improving the secular matters which affect all of us.

We have room enough to grow, though we will forever be stunted should we continue to fight amongst ourselves.

Categories
Atheism and Secularity Christianity

Can Atheists and Christians Coexist?

Seventeen years ago, if you were to ask me “Can atheists and Christians coexist?” I would’ve said one of two things: “no” or the more smart-ass “everyone on the planet exists at the same time just fine so yes.” My smart-allecky past self aside, let’s focus on that “no” response.

Seventeen years ago, I was a *inhales* independent fundamental Baptist who strongly believed in the plenary verbal inspiration of the Holy Bible and the inerrancy thereof, in the King James Version alone, naturally. I was a lot. But one thing that I decidedly was not was a peacemaker. Bridging gaps wasn’t something that came up much at my backwoods little country church. Indeed, most activities seemed directed toward either getting butts into the seats or, well, making sure everyone knew of all the people we didn’t approve of.

Homosexuals, atheists, Catholics, Muslims, Mormons, etc. etc. I recall the youth pastor even making a snide remark about a visiting evangelist happening to be Black because apparently even race was a divisive issue at my church.

During my time at that church, I was introduced to the movie Apocalypse and its three sequels. For being low-budget movies that were, I think, financed by Christian groups, they were at least moderately watchable and featured a few surprise appearance by actors like Gary Busey, Howie Mandel, and Mr. T. Detailing the events of a pretribulational, premillennial End Times framework, the series follows a variety of people living in a post-Rapture world ruled by the Antichrist. Those who came to believe in Jesus were called out as “haters,” outcast and persecuted by a world that cannot tolerate their message.

Seventeen years ago, that’s how it felt to be a Christian, at least my particular kind of Christian. Christians couldn’t possibly be haters because the very act of warning people about their sins — homosexuality included — was seen as a complete act of compassion. Christians weren’t the haters… Everyone else was. They hated God, they hated holy things, they hated holy people. Therefore, it followed that when the world was given over to the Antichrist and the majority of the world was firmly on his side that Christians would be derided as being hateful.

Coexistence didn’t seem possible.

The very thought of it felt dirty, actually. “What fellowship has light with darkness?” I would have argued back then.

What the Bible actually said, though, rarely factored into my decisions or the decisions, as I’ve grown to learn, of my church and others like it.

I’m an atheist now, and like my time as a Christian before, I spent the better part of my first years as an unbeliever being a divisive butthead, doing everything I could to “disprove” Christianity or show the Bible to be worthless. It occurs to me, then, that I cannot blame Christianity for my hatefulness before. I didn’t leave it behind when I left the church behind; it was something within me that I had to overcome.

In so doing, I’ve reached the point where I don’t care if there is a Christian church on every other street corner. Frankly, that doesn’t matter. What I’d like to see, though, are better Christians who aren’t out there making the same mistakes I made.

As a Christian, I couldn’t imagine living peacefully, or coexisting, with homosexuals or those who condoned (or received) abortions. Imagine my surprise when I realized that the Bible doesn’t condemn those things! As a matter of fact, a lot of what the churches spend their time on has little to do with the book they claim to stand upon, and a whole lot of what the book actually calls upon Christians to do is rarely found among “God’s people” today.

As an atheist, I chose to become a humanist, someone who cares about the welfare of my fellow humans. The more I leaned into it, the more I realized that this worldview wasn’t incompatible with Christianity. Well, not biblical, Jesus-driven Christianity.

I would gladly accept every gospel message directed toward me if it came from the lips of a Christian who was truly taking up his or her cross in devotion to not only their god but their fellow humans, as directed by their Lord in their book.

Can atheists and Christians coexist? Hypothetically, and ideally, yes. I believe so.

It won’t, however, come easy. Not every Christian cares a whit about what Jesus taught; many prefer instead to get hung up on a handful of more open-to-interpretation Bible verses in order to justify some bigotry or, more sinisterly, to supplant Jesus’ teachings with a hollow shell of a religion that functions as little more than a social club.

And then there are the atheists. Many don’t care one way or another, but among those who publicly claim the atheist label, folks all too often fall into the trap of setting themselves on a mission to disrupt religion, whether by protests or memes, often ill-spirited.

Atheists and Christians can coexist, but for it to happen, we’re all going to have to be better.

Better Jesus-followers.

Better humanists.

Better humans.

I believe in us.

Categories
Politics

Rekia Boyd

Meet Rekia Boyd, born November 5, 1989 and a resident of Dolton, Illinois, along with her family.

On March 21, 2012, Rekia’s life was tragically cut short. While out with a group of friends late in the evening, enjoying music, drinks, and each others’ company at Douglas Park. In the small hours of the night, Rekia and a few of her friends made their way to a nearby liquor store, where their paths would intersect with off-duty Chicago Police Department officer Dante Servin.

Servin approached the group in his vehicle — whether calmly or belligerently, we don’t know for sure — and reportedly solicited buying drugs from the group, to which Rekia’s friend Antonia Cross responded, telling Servin to “get his crackhead ass out of here.”

At some point, Servin drew his weapon on Rekia and her friends, and aiming out his window, he opened fire on them. Antonia was shot in the hand. Rekia, the head. She was killed instantly.

Servin would claim later that Antonia was approaching him with a gun, but no such gun was ever recovered from the scene; most likely, Antonia was holding his phone. Servin would also claim that as he approached, the group were arguing.

Servin, in November 2013, was tried for manslaughter, but was acquitted of all charges two years later in a directed verdict — Judge Dennis. J. Porter ordered a decision of not-guilty. Manslaughter implies an accident, but the actions of Servin that night were intentional. The judge reasoned that if there was a crime, it would be murder, not manslaughter. No murder charges were brought against Servin, however.

Servin resigned from the Chicago Police Department on May 17, 2016, two days before a hearing to determine whether he would be fired, as called for by Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Superintendent of Police Garry McCarthy.

The City of Chicago would give Rekia’s family $4.5 million, and her murder and the subsequent complete lack of justice would help inspire Black Lives Matter.

Former Detective Dante Servin would go on in 2017 to briefly serve as a national police community advisor in Honduras. In 2019, he sought to have the record of his manslaughter indictment expunged from his record, or at the very least to have those records sealed so that the public would no longer have access to them, so that he could have “closure” and better job prospects. Both of these requests were denied, however, and as judge Leroy Martin, Jr., noted, “Candidly, it seems to me, that Mr. Servin has benefitted from the state’s…failure to file a murder indictment against Mr. Servin and to go forward on involuntary manslaughter.”

Martinez Sutton, Rekia’s brother who was present for the court consideration of Servin’s record, said, “You go through those experiences, and the person who murdered your sister still gets to walk around and still collect a pension from the city then why would anybody have faith in the court system?”

Former Detective Dante Servin collects monthly pension checks of $4,700, and has done so since 2018.

Rekia Boyd was twenty-two years old.

Rekia Boyd’s life mattered.

Sources

Categories
Meta

Again and Again and Again and Again

Well, I did it again — made the decision to “abandon” this website to work on other things. I couldn’t do it, though. I noticed recently that my stats here have dipped lower than they have for a very long time and… I just can’t have that, now can I?

I’m at a point, though, of not really knowing what I should write about. Still, I’ve planned for several years now that once I had a stable computer upon which to write, without having to babysit a status bar icon to ensure that my faulty graphics card wasn’t being used, that I would get back into blogging.

That time, it seems, is rapidly approaching.

Time to make sure everything is working around here.

Time to consider new ways to build some community.

Time to clear my throat and prepare my voice for a new decade of blogging.

Categories
WordPress

Adding a Website Snapshot Shortcode to WordPress

There isn’t anything quite so boring as viewing websites full of links. Link. Description. Link. Description. Link. Descr— Well, you get the idea. If you have such a list on your website, you might seek to spice them up with screenshots to give a bit of pop to further encourage your users to follow the links.

But it can be a hassle to create, resize, and upload the screenshots that you need. It is an even bigger hassle to keep those screenshots up-to-date with how those websites might look over time.

What if there was a better way?

What if, with a simple shortcode, you could include within your content an automatically generated snapshot of a website which will stay reasonably up-to-date as the website changes?

screenshot of the original 'snap' shortcode at Geekeries That is exactly what [snap] is! Inspired by code at Geekeries, the [snap] shortcode is presented below with improved error-proofing and the option to specify a class attribute for the snapshot. I think you’re gonna love it!

Installation

There are multiple ways in which you can add this shortcode to your WordPress installation, among them:

  • Add the following code block to your theme’s functions.php file.
  • If you’re using Thesis 1.8.5, add the following code block to your theme’s custom_functions.php file.
  • If you’re using a custom plugin to hold your site’s customizations, add the code block to it.
  • Last, you can ignore the code block altogether by downloading this code block as a WordPress plugin, which can then be uploaded via your site admin panel’s Plugins → Add New page.

The Code (v2.0.0)

/**
 * [snap] - Website snapshot shortcode
 *
 * @via https://www.rickbeckman.org/
 * @inspiredby http://www.geekeries.fr/snippet/creer-automatiquement-miniatures-sites-wordpress/
 */
function custom_snapshot_shortcode( $atts, $content = null ) {
	# Default values
	$defaults = [
		'url'   => 'https://www.example.com/', # URL to be snapshotted
		'alt'   => __( 'Website Snapshot', 'snap' ), # Alt text for snapshot image
		'w'     => 400, # Width of snapshot
		'h'     => 300, # Height of snapshot
		'class' => '', # CSS class(es), space separated
	];

	# Parse attributes
	$atts = shortcode_atts( $defaults, $atts, 'snap' ); # @filter: shortcode_atts_snap

	# Sanity checks to ensure proper variables
	$url = urlencode( wp_http_validate_url( $atts['url'] ) ?: $defaults['url'] );
	$alt = esc_attr( $atts['alt'] );
	$w = absint( $atts['w'] ) ?: $defaults['w'];
	$h = absint( $atts['h'] ) ?: $defaults['h'];
	$class = ! empty( $atts['class'] ) ? esc_attr( $atts['class'] ) . ' website_snapshot' : 'website_snapshot';

	# Put together our IMG tag to be output, with final data sanitation
	$img = '<img src="https://s.wordpress.com/mshots/v1/' . $url . '?w=' . $w . '&h=' . $h . '" alt="' . $alt . '" class="' . $class . '">';

	return $img;
}
add_shortcode( 'snap', 'custom_snapshot_shortcode' );

Usage

At its most simple, you can insert [snap] anywhere within your posts to see how it behaves. By default, you’ll be shown a screenshot of the Google homepage.

But that isn’t very fun, is it?

Here is a fully formed [snap] example, followed by an explanation of what each optional attribute controls:

[snap url="https://rickbeckman.org/" alt="screenshot of my homepage" w=200 h=200 class="aligncenter mine"]

That example will look like this: screenshot of my homepage

If this shortcode is useful to you, I hope you’ll check out my other WordPress thingamajigs, and please don’t forget to like and share this page!

Attributes

The [snap] shortcode can be controlled using several attributes. They are as follows:

url
The full address of the site for which you want a snapshot. Defaults to https://www.wordpress.org/ in case you give it an invalid address or none at all.
alt
For accessibility and SEO reasons, you’ll want to provide a relevant alt text for your snapshot. This text should serve to describe the snapshot, and it defaults to “Website Snapshot.”
w and h
The width and height of your snapshot, respectively, as measured in pixels. Any positive integer can be used here, and both should be specified. Width defaults to 400 while height defaults to 300.
class

In order to provide seamless integration of the snapshots into your design, you can provide classes with which to target it in your styles or JavaScript. Every snapshot will be given a website_snapshot class, even if you add your own. Valid classes must start with an underscore (_), a hyphen (-), or a letter (a–z), followed by any numbers, hyphens, underscores, or letters. Class names must be at least two characters long, and you can add more than one by separating them with a space in your shortcode.

Most WordPress installations should have a few basic image styling classes which you can use to position your snapshots in your content: alignleft, alignright, and aligncenter.

Disclaimer

When you preview a post using the [snap] shortcode on a new site, you may notice that it doesn’t show a screenshot but instead shows a placeholder image. This is because the WordPress snapshot service takes a few moments to fetch and cache a screenshot once it is first requested. Subsequent visits to the page using the [snap] shortcode should display the expected screenshot.

Changelog

2.0.0 — July 13, 2019

  • Replaced URL validation function with a WordPress native function
  • Minor code cleanup and updating to take advantage of newer PHP features

1.0.0 — August 30, 2011

  • Initial version

This post was originally published on 2011-08-30. It has been updated for republication. Comments below may reflect the original version of this content.

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