Last night at a dinner conversation with coworkers, we discussed the election and were all equally confused at how Evangelical Christians have rallied behind Donald Trump. I’d like to speak to those people for a few moments. Feel free to read along, but this message is honest and to my friends and family back in North Carolina that intend to cast a vote for Donald Trump.
I’m an Atheist. I don’t make secrets of this. That being said, it’s time for some mansplaining. That’s right, an athiest is going to teach Christians about Christianity and why they cannot claim to be Christians and vote for Donald Trump.
I understand that you are scared. Your values are being challenged. Your home is being changed from friends and family to people you don’t know that sometimes don’t look like you. I get that you feel that abortion is wrong and you are afraid a Democratic candidate will allow other people to be free from your religion. I get that you honestly think that guns make you safer and the government intends to take them from you.
I spent my formative first 30 years in the South and I have seen the bad that can come from immigration. I do not deny that my family’s home town, that they built as a small community, was turned into a community they were simply a part of. I felt the fear of safety. I wouldn’t go play basketball at a park I grew up loving in Morganton, NC after dark. I am not going to paint this issue as entirely racist and not founded in legitimate fears.
That being said, there are a few things that have to be said before I drop this lesson on you. I’ve also traveled to other countries and seen communities where there are virtually no white people and felt their warmth. I’ve walked around at 3am in Macau China, and felt less threatened than I would have doing the same in downtown Las Vegas. I’ve been offered a dinner at a stranger’s home in Belize. I’ve only traveled a little compared to many of my friends, but it only takes a little to change your entire perspective.
Ok, enough of who I am and why I’m writing this. Let’s talk about Christianity. I found this amazing page on christianbiblereference.org
that cleanly enumerated Christian values in a way I can’t imagine anyone could argue. I have a few selections from the article as well as some of my own commentary to share.
The bible speaks of Wordly values in contrast to Christian values. I think that’s a great way to frame our lesson.
Worldly values include wealth, power, pleasure, revenge, fame, vanity and status. These are the most important things to people who perceive no power or purpose beyond themselves. Worldly values promote jealousies, resentments and conflicts among people in accordance with the purposes of Satan (John 8:44, Acts 5:3, Romans 16:17-20, 2 Corinthians 4:4, Ephesians 2:1-3, 4:25-32, 2 Timothy 2:22-26, 1 John 3:8-10).
The values taught in the Bible are often the opposite of worldly values: kindness and respect for all people instead of power; humility instead of status; honesty and generosity instead of wealth; self-control instead of self-indulgence; forgiveness instead of revenge. Christian values promote peace and good will among people in accordance with the purposes of God. We will never achieve perfection in this life, but those people who strive to obey God often find a sense of joy and peace that no worldly rewards can match!
Even the irrepressible atheist, I cannot at all argue with any of those values and with the exception of the part that I personally should worship God, I think they are all pretty damned good advice too.
Worship Only God
One day, a religious leader asked Jesus which of the commandments was most important:
“The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ (NIV, Mark 12:28-30)
The Hebrews of Old Testament times tended to lapse into worship of pagan deities and statues of animals or other objects, but anything that takes the place of our devotion to God becomes an idol or false god, and that is forbidden by the first of the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:1-6). Jesus particularly singled out love of wealth as a false god (Matthew 6:24; Luke 16:13), and other Bible passages mention greed, covetousness, arrogance, gluttony and pride as being equivalent to idolatry.
These are some of the things that are not necessarily bad in moderation, but can become modern-day idolatry if we let them become too important to us:
- Excessive attention to material things such as houses, cars, clothes, jewelry, physical appearance, entertainment, etc.
- Pursuit of wealth, power, fame, pleasure or status
- Excessive devotion to self, job, hobbies, country, ideologies, heroes, leaders, even family
I do not think that there is any need to explain how this relates to Donald Trump.
Respect All People
After saying “Love the Lord your God” is the most important of the commandments, Jesus continued,
The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.” (NIV, Mark 12:31)
The English word “love” has many different meanings, but the Greek word, agape, used in the New Testament, is commonly known as “Christian love.” It means respect, affection, benevolence, good-will and concern for the welfare of the one loved.
In His Parable of the Good Samaritan, Jesus made the point that we should extend our Christian love to all people of the world, regardless of race, religion, nationality or any other artificial distinction. We must practice that Christian love even toward our enemies! (Matthew 5:43-48)
So that’s pretty clear. Race, religion and nationality are equal. Interesting.
Humility or being humble is a quality of being courteously respectful of others. It is the opposite of aggressiveness, arrogance, boastfulness, and vanity. Acting with humility does not in any way deny our own self worth. Rather, it affirms the inherent worth of all persons. Humility is exactly what is needed to live in peace and harmony with all persons. It dissipates anger and heals old wounds. It allows us to see the dignity and worth of all God’s people. Humility distinguishes the wise leader from the arrogant power-seeker (Proverbs 17:7, Matthew 20:20-28).
When Donald Trump speaks of his humility, he’s actually bragging about how humble he is.
Honesty and integrity are held as very important values throughout the Bible, and any deception to gain an advantage or harm another is prohibited by the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:16) and other Bible passages. Deception may be by false statements, half-truths, innuendo, or failing to tell the whole truth. It is all too common in advertising, business dealings, politics and everyday life. We must strongly resist the temptation to engage in any form of theft, cheating, deception, innuendo, slander or gossip.
Rationalization is a form of self-deception by which we convince ourselves that sinful actions are justified in order to achieve a good result, but this is really just another form of dishonesty (Galatians 6:7-8, James 1:26, 1 John 1:8). Holiness is in living by the commandments, not in achieving an end result (Matthew 4:8-10, 16:26). In Biblical teaching, the ends do not justify the means!
Basically, the Bible just described the way Donald Trump communicates.
Live a Moral Life
Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body. (NIV, 1 Corinthians 6:19-20)
Jesus gave a list of actions that constitute immoral uses of the body: evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, arrogance and foolishness. The apostle Paul gave similar lists.
We often think of morality in terms of sexual sins, but according to Jesus, sins such as slander, greed, covetousness, deceit, and arrogance are equally immoral.
Slander? Greed? Covetousness? Deceit? Arrogance? That sounds just like our Donnie boy.
Be Generous with Time and Money
The Bible tells us to share generously with those in need, and good things will come to us in turn. Each of us has something to offer to someone in need. We can give our money and our time to charity, be a friend to someone who is sick or lonely, do volunteer work or choose a service-oriented occupation. We may give unselfishly of our time to our spouse, children or parents.
This does not mean we are obligated to share our time or money with people who are clearly not in need but just want to use or abuse us (2 Thessalonians 3:10-12).
Practice what you Preach; Don’t be a Hypocrite
If there was any one group of people that Jesus couldn’t stand, it was hypocrites! The Pharisees of Jesus’ time were a religious and political party that insisted on very strict observance of Biblical laws on tithing, ritual purity and other matters. At the same time, many of the Pharisees forgot the true spirit and intent of the law and became self-indulgent, self-righteous, snobbish, and greedy. That led Jesus to remarks such as,
Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of dead men’s bones and everything unclean. In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness. (NIV, Matthew 23:27-28)
It is not the things we say that really matter; it is the things that we do (Matthew 7:15-20). If we claim to be Christians but do not let Jesus’ teachings guide our lives, we are nothing but hypocrites.
Trump Foundation. Clinton Foundation. Enough said.
Don’t Be Self-righteous
No one is perfect; we are all sinners in one way or another (Romans 3:23, 1 John 1:8). Living a moral life means taking responsibility for controlling our own behavior. If we say or even think we are better than people we consider to be “sinners,” we are guilty of the sin of self-righteousness. It is not our right to look down on, criticize, judge, condemn, or try to control other people. Judgment is to be left to God.
Jesus said, do not judge, so that you may not be judged. For with the judgment you make you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get. Why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye? Or how can you say to your neighbor, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ while the log is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbor’s eye. (NRSV, Matthew 7:1-5)
This does not deny the right of governments to maintain law and order and collect taxes. Jesus and other New Testament leaders supported the authority of civil governments (Matthew 22:15-22, Romans 13:1-7).
A lot to unpack here. Trump does not ever admit a mistake or apologize when he is proven wrong. Name a time you have heard him say anything positive about another politician who is not a sycophant? It’s not plausible that every decision Hilliary Clinton has ever made was bad, but that’s the way Trump wants you to believe.
Oh, and pay your taxes Donald.
Don’t Hold a Grudge
Jesus said there is no place for hatred, holding a grudge, revenge, retaliation or getting even in the life of a Christian:
You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. (NIV, Matthew 5:38-40)
You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. (NIV, Matthew 5:43-45)
Bearing a grudge and seeking revenge are never appropriate responses to a perceived wrong. A grudge destroys the grudge-holder with bitterness, and revenge only escalates hostilities. Jesus told us we must reconcile with our adversaries, forgive their transgressions, and let go of the anger that may tempt us to commit an act of revenge.
Oh man. Any slight creates a grudge that is never released. When Christie endorsed, Trump jokes about his weight in front of him at a rally. Judge Curiel? Alicia Machado? Withholding his endorsement of Paul Ryan and John McCain? Jerry Seinfeld? John Stewart. The list is nearly endless. They say something negative about him, he assaults them with 10 times the intensity and one tenth of the decency, and then continues to carry feuds for years, decades….
If you forgive those who sin against you, your heavenly Father will forgive you. But if you refuse to forgive others, your Father will not forgive your sins. (NLT, Matthew 6:14-15)
God is merciful and forgives our sins and failings. In the same way, we must be merciful and forgive other people who sin against us or do us harm.
Bible references: Matthew 5:7, 18:21-35, Mark 11:25, Luke 17:3-4, Colossians 3:12-14, Ephesians 4:32
I don’t think Trump has ever forgiven anyone not named Donald Trump.
The Final Word
Even as someone who does not believe in God, I can recognize the core principals within these words and can find no fault in them. I am guessing that if you were to stand before the judgement you fear, you will find yourself wanting if you were given the chance to choose between your conviction in man’s indictment of Hillary Clinton, or God’s complete and utter indictment of Donald Trump, and you chose Trump. Tell me again how I twisted these words to support my argument? I’m dying to know.
Today I took my dog for a walk in the sun. I have been fighting some nausea today so I decided to take a walk with my dog in the fresh air and that always gets me in a creative frame of mind. While walking, I was listening to the new Dream Theater album, The Astonishing, for the umpteenth time. The album is about a dystopian society and today, while also thinking about frustration with the news, a thread of a thought occurred to me. I kept pulling on it until I felt convinced of three things.
- Hackers will be the most reliable source of news in the future, and they will become corporations in their own right for democratizing and monetizing information verification.
- If the government was truly worried about the people’s ability to defend themselves, they would take our computers, not our guns.
- Artificial Intelligence technology, that already exists today, can transform the news, how we apply context from personal to global and everywhere in between, and even politics and how our government works.
So this is a really long rabbit hole, stick with me, I promise it will make sense.
Framing the Problem
I am probably one of the few people who reads four different news sites every day. I don’t do this because I expect different stories. I do this to understand how the stories are spun according to the news corporation’s political leanings. The problem with not doing this, is that your news agency can lead you down the primrose path to misunderstanding without ever legally telling a lie. That’s how Donald Trump becomes a legitimate contender for president, and that’s how the world slumps into dystopia. Thankfully, that is not going to happen.
Getting to the Source
If you have watched or read the news lately, you probably already realize that it has already become almost entirely reliant on social media. This makes sense of course, because the news can get to people faster than they can route it through themselves. This isn’t a problem they can ever solve, so they adapt to use it to replace traditional news wires. That then of course is filtered and editorialized to condition it for the intended spin.
As Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, YouTube, Instagram and their many competitors and wish they were competitors meticulously capture every event and serve it to who they think cares about it, there comes one byproduct. In almost all cases, and article can be traced to it’s genesis. Today it would require access to people’s computers, forensic computer science and warrants to pull this off, but as the news moves faster, the digital fingerprint gets clearer. There is still one bottleneck though, humans.
Without considering spin, people are not capable of reading all of the news, and groups of people are not capable of reading the news and applying a consistent interpretation of the news, but computers can. Imagine for a minute a search engine index system similar to what Google or Bing use to determine content’s ability to match what we are searching for, tuned slightly to instead index all of the connections between not just the news, but the actual source material that inspired a blog post or even a tweet. Privacy issues not withstanding, the technology isn’t even remotely futuristic. No part of that scenario isn’t technically possible with today’s software and hardware.
But that’s not it at all. Now imagine that this news search engine was aggregating news stories based on an entirely dynamic dictionary of topics. Using semantic analysis, a computer could meticulously tag content and aggregate those tags at any level: personal, your apartment building, your neighborhood, your city, your county, state, voting region, climate area, time zone, basically any type of dimension that could be inferred by where your connection originated, cookies in your browser, social media accounts you are currently logged into, the language your browser is using, the sky is the limit.
With that type of aggregation ability, a handful of “man my water tastes like shit” tweets can cause our intelligent news software to bubble up a tweet sized news article to people in your city saying, “This morning hundreds of people are complaining about their water quality in Flint Michigan.”
This type of system could detect a food quality issue at a global scale and predict other areas that could have similar issues. Imagine if the news was capable of not being sensationalistic. If Chipotle’s current issue had been caught at several local levels and was able to report it with the appropriate priority in other markets that had been identified by the system that knew where all the stores were located.
But What About That Spin?
Yea, about that. News wouldn’t be able to sell ads if it was just a bunch of dashboards showing numbers, and a line item list of events that should be contextually important to you would make knowing what’s going on in the world be like trying to get to the bottom of your inbox, wouldn’t it?
Of course editorial content is important. Computers can definitely solve a lot of the problems we are facing, but it’s still the creativity of the human mind that can find creative ways to correlate events that have never been correlated before in any way. Editorial content is not going anywhere, but can this type of system help you trust it? Absolutely.
Today, when you log into Amazon.com from your browser, you see that little lock. That means that the browser is dealing with your personal information in a secure manner. That lock is what is supposed to make you trust that site with your data. But what about trusting that site’s data?
This system we are imagining, would have a monetized API Service. Probably monetized on an audience scale so blogs and small businesses could use it also. This API is able to sift it’s incredible database of content and perform it’s algorithms at mind numbing speeds. This part isn’t quite possible with today’s technology, but it’s a problem of horsepower more than software. Imagine that every time you loaded something, the browser of your choice gave you an indication of that content’s alignment with the global understanding of truth. SSL for honesty.
Creating Real Change
Now that we have a way to wade through truth down to the lowest level, and we have a system that can aggregate and validate that instantly, let’s change politics.
Today, politicians have little fear of lying, because nobody fact checks them. Now that our hacker news network has democratized the collection of news, and via open source systems that are open to be scrutinized down to the code level, created a system for calculating an honestly score on content, let’s change politics.
Our API for honesty has made our hacker non-profit one of the wealthiest companies on the planet. With a dogmatic mission to keep the transmission of information honest and audit-able, our fictional group of hackers have decided to launch their own actual news network to compete with all the major news networks.
The only difference to this new network, is that the news content is purely a feed of video clips, like YouTube. They have been curated for you by either your personal preferences, or things that have a potential impact on you based on anything from your location, gender, employer, investments, family’s locations, it’s really an infinite list. With no interest in selling you ads, and an open but public service approach to identity and privacy, the sky is the limit.
What this gets us is this: As you watch a politician speak, or see a celebrity tweet something, it’s being analyzed against a common understanding of the facts in realtime, and appropriate context is being displayed in a meaningful way. Imagine if Donald Trump (my personal political punching bag if I am being transparent) decided to make one of his statements about the number of rapists coming across the border. While you hear him make this statement, the display is showing you actual crime statistics, sliced appropriate to the context of the statement being made. It’s digital liar liar pants on fire. That’s awesome.
I would assume that if politicians knew that any time the public sees them speak they are being reminded of their voting records, statistical expansion of the data they cite, and how their opinions align with the inferred political agendas of the corporations that donate to their campaigns….. they would probably either say nothing, or get a lot more honest.
This Is Just The Beginning
I get that to a lot of people artificial intelligence is scary. There are concerns from all sorts of perspectives, many of which are well founded. That being said, when you look at this current election, there is one fear that strikes me much harder than being concerned that a computer will kill me to save someone else because they are richer.
That fear is based in reality. Anyone who knows me knows that I do not subscribe to conspiracies and have never owned a tin foil hat. Still, the current election is proof that the nation is very much divided, and the actions of our government have proven that disagreement has finally blossomed into gridlock.
If technology existed today, to give you confidence that information was accurate, and clearly point out when it’s not. If we had tools that could make sure that the people that we elect our truly representing our agendas and not their own, we would be fools to be afraid of them.
Fun to think about.