Archive | April 2014

Survey of Reddit’s Christian Community on Homosexuality

I surveyed the Reddit community /r/Christianity on the topic of homosexuality. /r/Christianity contains mostly Christians, but also people of all faiths (and lacks thereof). It has nearly 80,000 subscribers at the time of this post.

Here are the results.

  • The survey received 2704 responses.
  • It’s not a random sample, not scientific, etc.
  • Responses with duplicate IPs after the first instance were deleted. There were 16 such submissions.
  • Most concerned about apparent bias in the verbiage thought I personally leaned anti-gay, which is incorrect. I did not respond myself, but my responses would have been: B, C, C, D, B, B, A, A, United States, G.
  • My paraphrasing used in the graphs, for brevity, do not 100% sync up with the question responses. Be familiar with the questions/answers before you skip to the graphs.

The first section lists all of the questions, the criticisms I received and, upon retrospect, gave myself, as well as the one-dimensional data.

The second section contains a list of cross-referenced responses I thought were interesting.

 

Question 1

1. What best describes your opinion on the propriety of homosexual intimacy?

  • It is always sinful and/or immoral.
  • Like with heterosexual intimacy, there are contexts in which it is — and contexts in which it is not — sinful and/or immoral.
  • There is no context in which consensual sexual intimacy is ever sinful or immoral.

Criticisms:

  • Many wanted more granular options as to the things that could make it immoral. For example, a person might believe adultery is immoral but promiscuity is not.

c1

Question 2

2. What best describes your attitude about non-active (that is, not having sex) homosexuals in the church?

  • Non-active homosexuals should not be welcome in the church at all.
  • Non-active homosexuals should not hold any office of authority.
  • There should not be any sort of special prohibition given to non-active homosexuals.

Criticisms:

  • Later, question #4 has both “any offices of authority” and “some offices of authority,” but that isn’t broken-out here.
  • Also, a person might answer the second option while believing the issue is (a) can’t marry, plus (b) lack of married qualification. This person might want a specific option for them.
  • Finally, “welcome in the church” is ambiguous; it could mean welcome in service, or welcome for membership.
 c2
Question 33. What best describes your attitude about active (that is, having sex) homosexuality in the church?

  • Active homosexuals should not be welcome in the church at all.
  • Active homosexuals should be welcome in the church, but must be actively urged to stop their homosexual intimacy.
  • Active homosexuals should be welcome in the church without any special risk of indictment.

Criticisms:

  • Many wanted more granularity on “actively urged.”
  • Also, “welcome in the church” is ambiguous; it could mean welcome in service, or welcome for membership.

c3

Question 4

4. What best describes your attitude about active (that is, having sex) homosexuals seeking offices of authority in the church?

  • As I said above, active homosexuals should not be welcome in the church at all.
  • Active homosexuals should be welcome in the church, but should not be able to pursue any office of authority.
  • Active homosexuals should be welcome in the church, and should be able to seek some offices of authority, but not others.
  • There should not be any sort of special prohibition given to active homosexuals in the church.

Criticisms:

  • Many wanted more granularity on “offices of authority.”
  • Also, “welcome in the church” is ambiguous; it could mean welcome in service, or welcome for membership.
  • Finally, “welcome in the church” is ambiguous; it could mean welcome in service, or welcome for membership.

c4

Question 5

5. Do you think popular acceptance of gay marriage will affect society negatively?

  • Who knows?
  • I think it will improve society, actually.
  • Probably not.
  • Maybe just a tiny bit.
  • I think it will affect it negatively somewhat.
  • I think it will have a major negative impact on society.
  • I think it will ruin society.

Criticisms:

  • Some wanted an option for “the government should not recognize any marriage.”
  • Some wanted the “certainty” on an orthogonal gradient.
  • Some wanted to clarify the negative impact as being a product of sin in general.
  • Some wanted more granularity on the “improve” end.
  • Some inferred unintended overtones from the use of the word “Actually,” when it was meant simply to unload the question; it should have been reworded.

c5

“Bad for society” aggregated:

c5b

 

Question 6

6. Do you think that the negative attention given — by the church in general — to active (that is, having sex) homosexuality is warranted?

  • No; active homosexuality is never sinful or immoral, so it should not receive negative attention at all.
  • No; there are many bigger fish to fry.
  • Yes; it has received its fair warrant of attention.
  • Yes, but it should be even more of a focus.

Criticisms:

  • The second option should have been worded in such a way that active homosexuality not be presumed to be a “fish to fry” at all.

c6

 

Question 7

7. Do you think that being homosexual (that is, the orientation or preference) is a choice?

  • No, or mostly no. Formative factors (whatever they might be) most likely dictate a person’s sexual orientation to a nearly-irresistible degree.
  • Yes, or mostly yes. A person can elect to sexually prefer those of the opposite sex, even if it takes some effort.

Criticisms:

  • The explication was too bifurcating. This question assuredly deserved more granularity, especially because many believed that it is a choice for some, and not for others.

c7

 

Question 8

8. Of the following two attributes typically given to God, which do you most try to emulate in your life?

  • His merciful love.
  • His discerning justice.
  • I try to emulate both equally.
  • I don’t believe God has these attributes.
  • I don’t believe in God.

Criticisms:

  • Some disputed the notion that mercy and justice cannot be expressed simultaneously, which is a notion I held as survey author.

c8

 

Question 9

9. What country are you from?

  • 87 Skipped
  • 2072 USA
  • 190 Canada
  • 102 Australia
  • 100 UK
  • 23 New Zealand
  • 15 Netherlands
  • 11 Germany
  • 11 Sweden
  • 9 Ireland
  • 6 Denmark, Philippines, Singapore
  • 5 India, Indonesia
  • 4 Brazil, Norway, Poland
  • 3 Czech Republic, France, Russia
  • 2 Finland, Mexico, Puerto Rico, South Africa, South Korea, Zimbabwe
  • 1 Argentina, Austria, Bahamas, Bulgaria, China, Colombia, Ecuador, Egypt, Estonia, Faroe Islands, Ghana, Iran, Italy, Lebanon, Liberia, Nigeria, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Sri Lanka, Ukraine, Venezuela, Vietnam, Zambia

Question 10

10. Which of the following best describes the cohort to which you most belong?

  • Catholics
  • Orthodox
  • Mainline Protestants (an American term that lumps together “older” denominations like Lutherans, Methodists, Episcopalians, Presbyterians, etc.)
  • Evangelicals
  • Charismatics
  • Mormons
  • Christians that cannot be considered part of the above 6 cohorts
  • Religious or spiritual people, but non-Christian
  • Non-religious and non-spiritual people

c10

 

Interesting Cross-Referenced Responses

Percentage “Country, >4 responses” against “Morality/immorality of gay intimacy.”

fix1

 

Percentage “Country, >4 responses” against “Social effect of gay marriage acceptance, clamped to ‘Unknown/Neutral/Improve’ vs. ‘Bad.'”

fix2

 

Percentage “Emulating God’s attributes” against “Negative social effect of gay marriage acceptance.”

cross1

Percentage “Countries, top 8 + skipped” against “Subscriptive cohort.”

cross5

Percentage “Countries, top 4,” against “Subscriptive cohort.”

cross12

 

Percentage “Subscriptive cohort” against “Countries, top 4,” inverted.cross7

Percentage “Emulating God’s attributes” against “Homosexuality chosen?”

cross8

Percentage “Homosexuality chosen?” against “Response to inactive homosexuals in church.”

cross10

 

Percentage “Subscriptive cohort” against “Emulating God’s attributes.”

cross11

 

Percentage “Subscriptive cohort” against “Homosexuality chosen?”

cross14

 

Percentage “Subscriptive cohort” against “Morality of gay intimacy.”

aux1

 

Percentage “Morality of gay intimacy” against “Effect of acceptance of gay marriage on society, ‘bad effects’ clamped.”

aux2

 

Percentage “Subscriptive cohort” against “Church response to active homosexuals.”

aux3

 

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Memetics Pt. 3: The Short Tower Problem

In the last two videos on memetics (see schedule below), we talked about how truth — and other things we like — may not be decisive when it comes to the “spreadiness” and “stickiness” of certain ideas. In other words, “goodness” does not necessarily yield “fitness.”

But that’s not the whole picture. Vital to memetics is an understanding of how neuropsychological patterns can prompt and prevent virulence and resilience (“spreadiness” and “stickiness”).

Today, we’re going to talk about one of the most important patterns to understand — loss aversion — and how it impacts memetics.

We’ve already talked about loss aversion twice on this site:

  • In “Bibliopsychology: Why the Servant Did Nothing,” we talked about the reluctance to commit our charity, a failing against which we must fight.
  • In “Up a Tree,” we talked about a good way to think about loss aversive rooting behavior. Today’s video will echo some of these themes.

Its impact on memetics is manifold, and I think you’ll enjoy how the breakdown plays out through the story of the tower seeker.

(For those familiar with genetic algorithms, this is “local maxima” in function.)

Get out there and really investigate. I can’t believe this guy when he says, “I’m an authority,” “I’m Dr. Tower (even if he is Dr. Tower),” “They have a conspiracy”… These things might all be the case, but you are the final gatekeeper to the keep of what you believe.

Schedule

 

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Is God the Author of Evil? (Semantics of “Want/Will”)

God’s superordinate responsibility for absolutely everything that happens follows directly from his classical attributes:

  • God is omnipotent (having complete authority over creation to heal, stop, or functionally undo anything he pleases).
  • God is omniscient (even if only about the present).
  • God has a will (he isn’t indifferent or inactive).
  • God has at least an occasional willingness to intervene in the affairs of mankind to direct or course-correct.

If those properties are accepted, there’s no coherently-expressible way to avoid that conclusion of complete superordinate responsibility.

The Tension

But we don’t want to say that God is the author of evil, nor do we want to say that he meticulously micro-manages trivial events, like the precise manner in which a certain leaf is tossed-about by the wind.

Put another way, we hope to avoid saying that God deliberately “wanted”:

  • Trivial things that have no significance.
  • Horrible things that could have, theoretically, been miraculously averted.

Quietude to the Yawn-Inducing Rescue

The goal of theological Quietude is to remedy doctrinal disputes by identifying boring language problems responsible for the perpetuation of those disputes.

Whereas exciting, passionate, Loud theology would have us say, “There’s got to be more to it,” theological Quietude says, “That’s actually all there is to it.”

Quietude solves our problem.

First, Quietude asks the following (Quietude often asks clarifying questions):

What Does “Want” Even Mean?

As it turns out, the word “want” is horribly confusing, and nobody knows precisely what it means without additional inference or explication.

“Now hold on there, Stan,” you might be thinking. “‘Want’ is one of the first words we learn as children. It’s 4 letters. It’s a single syllable. It seems pretty dang straightforward!”

But It Isn’t

Here are five completely theologically distinct definitions of “want.”

Sense #1: “What you want” is any one of many desires within you.

sense1Often you’ll have multiple desires, some of which may be incommensurable.

For example, you can really want to make your wife happy by coming home on time, and you can also really want to make your boss happy by staying at work late.

Sense #2: “What you want” is the desire that “wins” and is ultimately expressed.

sense2If you choose to make your boss happy by staying at work late, then this is what you “wanted” in this Sense #2.

Sense #3: “What you want” refers to your higher-order desires only.

You may have the lower-order desire to give in to temptation and eat the sundae, but you have the higher-order desire to abstain in service of your diet. Abstaining is “what you want,” independent of which choice you ended up making.

This Sense #3 is the one used by Paul in Romans 7:15.

sense3Sense #4: “What you want” refers to your lower-order desires only.

sense4Giving in to temptation is truly “what you want,” even if you end up abstaining.

Can you see how crazy this is getting, yet? Senses #3 and #4 are complete opposites.

Sense #5: “What you want” refers to your grossly selfish desires only.

sense5This is similar to Sense #4; interest “orders” are fuzzy, but others-focus is often considered “higher.” In this sense, running away when you should make a sacrifice is “what you want.”

(The “you” is often emphasized here; there is an implied “for yourself” trailing subclause.)

The Sixth “Want”

But there is a Sense #6 as well. It’s very similar to Sense #2 (the desire that “wins”), with one key difference: It’s where no desire “wins,” but rather, the desire set is just “best-expressed,” and in a way that doesn’t fully satisfy any of them.

This can happen when two or more of those desires are incommensurable.

Let’s take the “come home / work late” scenario. In it, I could stay just 45 minutes late. I’d make my boss a little happy and a little disappointed, and my wife a little happy and a little disappointed.

I wouldn’t be perfectly expressing my desires, but I’d be optimally expressing my desires.

And, for the first time, the gold star of “want” is not placed on any of my driving desires, but rather the expression thereof:

sense6

A Perfecting Plan

Often, the incommensurability of desires is circumstantial. For example, if my wife is going to be at a school function late anyway, then I don’t need to come home on time in order to keep her happy.

If I find myself in a Sense #6 situation, I’ll want circumstances to change over time such that my optimal expression doesn’t seem so suboptimal anymore.

The best plan would be one which transforms mere optimization into perfection:

commensurate

This would be a plan of “birthing pains,” to invoke Romans 8. Creation wasn’t finished at the Garden, to invoke Irenaeus.

God’s Will

These variants of “want” can be similarly applied to “will.”

Pretending as if the definition of “God’s will” is single-faced, instead of many-faced as shown above, causes all manner of meaningless discussion and fruitless contemplation.

Let’s journey through each of the senses and compare them against our classically sovereign God.

  • In Sense #1 (competing, inner wants), it is not God’s will that evil exist.
  • In Sense #2 (the inner want that wins), it is not God’s will that evil exist.
  • In Sense #3 (the higher-order wants), it is not God’s will that evil exist.
  • In Sense #4 (the lower-order wants), God wants for nothing; he is not like humans, who are pitifully ignorant and have volatile desire sets.
  • In Sense #5 (the grossly-selfish wants), God wants for nothing; he is loving.

But in Sense #6 (the optimal expression of the total desire set, with temporary dissatisfaction), God did indeed will that evil exist.

But only in this limited, 6th Sense.

And this is indeed what we find in Scripture. For although God is benevolent and loving, he is superordinately responsible for the “bad stuff” — Heb. raah.

Isaiah 45:7
I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil (Heb. raah): I the Lord do all these things.
Amos 3:6
Shall a trumpet be blown in the city, and the people not be afraid? shall there be evil (Heb. raah) in a city, and the Lord has not done it?
Lamentations 3:38
Do not both evil (Heb. ha-ra-owt) and good come from the mouth of the Most High?

So, Is God the Author of Evil?

The answer is “No… that is, depending on what you mean by ‘author.'”

In the superordinate sense in which I say that “God owns my house,” he is. And, as we saw above, that’s also what the Bible says.

But that’s not what we usually mean when we talk about the authoring evil.

Usually, when we talk about authoring evil, we mean orchestrating events with consequentially ill intent — malice, destructive hedonism, gambling with lives, etc.

Willing “bad stuff” in one of the first 5 Senses, in other words.

In those senses, we would certainly not say that God is the author of evil, and these are the senses to which the early theologians are so averse.

If Natural Development is Valued…

If one of God’s desires is to stay mostly hands-off, letting nature take its course with minimal course-correcting intervention, then as part of that “perfecting plan,” we’ll plausibly see all sorts of “bad stuff” and “trivial stuff” — even such stuff with no prospective purpose except to satisfy that mostly-hands-off desire.

This conjecture would fit with the pattern we see in the Bible, where God intervenes directly and publicly only a few dozen times over millennia — where, for most, “He who is unseen” must be sought and found.

Of course, with the “bad stuff,” we hold a sacred hope that God’s genius and foreplanning would somehow use it for goodness, down the road, despite itself.

But this prospective utility is not assured for every “bad thing.” Natural protrusions of triviality and evil alone may satisfy a desire to “mostly let run,” if only that humanity look itself in the mirror. We dare not contrive theodicean prophecy in a misguided attempt to solve the experiential problem of evil. That’s completely above our paygrade.

To hope, however, is officially in our job description.

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Appellate Prayer, Sovereignty, and Superstition

For us Christians who believe in absolute sovereignty in the classical sense — that is, a God with an optimal predetermined plan for everything — we see appellate prayer not as a way to derail God’s plan of action, but to express ourselves and establish a conduit by which a communicative connection can be made between ourselves and God.

1 John 5:14

And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us.

That is, when we pray for something in service of his will, and that thing comes to pass in startlingly, apparently significant ways, it’s not as if we think those prayers surprised or jarred God into action.

With All of Our Hearts

We who reject such a “surprising God” paradigm say instead that, by praying for something, we engage in two important Graces.

First, we’re given a release to express our tensile poverties and weaknesses.

Philippians 4:5b-7

The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Second, we’re establishing a “flagpost A,” and when the thing comes to pass as “flagpost B,” we ostensibly have communicative evidence and, as such, appellate prayer is a vital “faith-helper.”

Jeremiah 20:13, 33:3

[To the exiles in Babylon:] You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. … Call to me and I will answer you, and will tell you great and hidden things that you have not known.

1 Chronicles 16:11

Look to the Lord and his strength; seek his face always.

That’s what it means to say that God answers prayer, even while being completely sovereign (in the classical sense) and non-contingent. This is also why we echo Christ and say in our hearts to the Father, after every appeal, “Yet not my will, but yours be done.”

We temper and humble ourselves also because we know that we’re really bad at asking for what we really need

Sometimes this is due to selfishness, but other times it’s merely due to our woefully volatile and corrupt interest sets, combined with our pathetic faculties of discernment and foresight.

James 4:3,8a

You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions… Come near to God and he will come near to you.

As a result, “Flagpost B,” is very often completely unexpected, very often shrewdly timed, and very often startlingly profound, because the Spirit transforms our subpar vocalizations into secret prayers that conform to the Father’s sovereign will.

Romans 8:26-27

Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God.

With All of Our Minds

At the same time, if we’re to have the kind of faith that is reasonable, we have to be self-critical and temper our faith with careful scrutiny.

It’s all-too-easy to go from what we Christians consider healthy faith into destructive superstition, over-attributing every little thing to miraculous divine intervention. You’ve seen this happen when reckless Christians claim God’s miraculous stamp of approval for every decision they make, and when certain Christians, like modern-day Dr. Panglosses, arrogantly and sinfully make false prophesies about the specific reasons for natural disasters and the like.

We have all sorts of skeptic’s considerations to keep our judgments prudently humble which we must diligently employ.

  • Littlewood’s Law. Given enough time, weird stuff is bound to happen naturally and without discernible purpose. (Be careful with this one; “enough” is an ungrounded antecedent.)
  • Confirmation bias. We tend to recklessly rush to conclusions when we’d prefer them to be true.
  • Placebo. Thoughts and attitudes can have recursive psychological and physiological effects on ourselves. This isn’t inherently bad or good; there are healthy and unhealthy ways that this can affect us.

That said, there may come a threshold, in an individual’s experience, after this healthy scrutiny, at which it can be reasonable to conclude “God.”

Counterintuitively, this can be reasonable even if God doesn’t exist or doesn’t answer prayerReason (in the Kantian sense) proceeds from fully-considered experience tempered by fully-employed logic, and is not synonymous with “truth,” because an appeal is made to an individual’s corrupt faculties of observation and contemplation.

At the same time, we’re not Solipsists in practice, and so we come to conclusions given imperfect evidence. We do our best prep, then make our best guess. Relentless skepticism is not a religion, but relentless skepticism risks an opportunity cost, just like any religion.

Between Heart and Mind

Prayer is our tether to an interactive God, who is nonetheless “He Who Is Unseen.” It’s a prerequisite for reasonable faith, essential for genuine humility, and a conduit to unload our anxieties to he who is in complete control of the global situation.

But his activity is subtle and shrewd, and the wisdom underpinning it — beyond human understanding or dissection — warrants humble, diligent seeking and sifting, and not reckless prophesying.

 

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