Fire and Brimstone

The typical sort of campus preachers made their rounds at my school this past week, and normally that wouldn’t be particularly notable. In fact, normally I hardly pay any mind myself. For one reason or another, there was a stronger reaction this semester, which could be due to any number of reasons that I am not particularly interested in exploring.

I have been going to my current school for several years now, the first few as a part time student. Campus preachers are part of the norm, especially during the warmer months of the semester (even God’s chosen apparently can’t handle the cold). In my experience, most people walk away or entirely avoid the quad when the Quad God is out. Thankfully, this semester the preachers have been attracting a large number of people, which I find highly entertaining. If people are arguing, then I have the opportunity to gauge people’s thought processes; if they are mocking and shouting, that alone can be amusing. After class a few days this week I walked out to the quad and observed the goings-on, and I picked up on a few differing points of view.

The most vocal group of people most of the time was of course those who simply reversed the rhetorical strategy of the preacher. By that, I mean that while he was shouting that all sinners were damned, that “homosex is an abomination” (that’s an exact quote!), or that women should “keep their mouths shut,” there were those who would fling right back. Some shouted obscenities, one person plugged in his guitar and amp with some hefty volume and blared noise, and so on. The details are less important than the reaction. The reaction was anger. The reaction was that this person was being offensive, so he ought to be silenced. Indeed, someone called the campus police to remove him. This seems wrong. If I believe that all people should be treated with love and respect (as these people seemed to think), then I am not allowed to renege on my beliefs at some moment at my convenience. That alone is reason enough to give people with even the most vile of speech the right to say as they please.

There were plenty of folks who stopped by out of pure curiosity, yours truly among them. Most in this group seemed content to discuss among themselves what they believed about what people were saying. Some found the situation goofy, others were troubled, and occasionally a few tried to inject some calmer language into the gathering, which brings me to my point.

As the throng ebbed and flowed throughout the afternoon, there was usually one reason that it began to build up: someone had something different to say (and it wasn’t someone screaming about Hulkamania). There seemed to be three distinct responses. The first two I think are actually the most related. Some people claimed to be Christians themselves, but objected to what the preacher was saying. The preacher, they would say, does not know how to win souls – he was condemning people, not loving them. In other words, these people disagreed on a matter of method, not of substance. The second group were irreligionists who rejected outright the claims of God altogether. They also agreed with the substance (that the Bible calls for an eternal hell for the unsaved/unrighteous), but disagreed in that they believe the Bible is not a depiction of truth. These people also agreed with the substance of the matter, and disagreed with the method (they believe there is no need for a method at all, as the substance is unimportant).

There was still a third, smaller group, of which I am a part. These people, by all accounts, were Christians, but they disagreed with the preacher on a matter of method and of substance. At a couple points these people spoke out, but mostly I overheard agreement among conversation. These people seemed inclined towards a belief that “God is Love,” and that the Bible and spiritual experience should be interpreted from that. I want to draw this line quite clearly – they are in opposition to the view of the first group I mentioned. The first group believes there is such thing as a wrath of God (wrath is a sin, no?) and that wrath will be incurred upon people who do not accept Jesus Christ. I believe this is an inconsistent and illogical view, but the reasons for that belong in a separate post. The third group disagree with the first strongly. They believe in the priority that God is Love, and reject the idea of eternal hell (and usually hell altogether). I believe this distinction is of the utmost importance.

My point has been largely made, but I also want to explain one last key bit of information. I do not consider the first group of people to be in favor of tolerance. While a man spouts hatred of gays, women, and all people (dubbed “sinners”), they tell the man, “No, you can’t say that!” When the other groups are saying, “No, you are wrong!” Disagreeing with a man’s vocabulary because it is too offensive does not change the idea behind the words. These people believe that God will overlook the fact that you are gay, that he will forgive when a woman disagrees with her husband, that he indeed does not love all equally, unconditionally. In biting their tongues and playing games with semantics, they prove themselves no allies of love amongst all. I believe this view is cowardly and uninformed. For those who disagree, I welcome you to read the Bible, or at least 1 John 4. If God’s love is truly unconditional, he does not hate, and he does not condemn. Think critically, deeply, and peacefully, friends.

Fire and Brimstone

Intellectual Property and Privacy

For a long time I have been worried about the quickening pace of the decay of privacy in the modern world. At a ever-increasing rate, we seem to be losing the amount of information that we generate to governments and corporations and other groups. Perhaps my idea here is not original, but it occurred to me today that perhaps there is a connection between our loss of control over our intellectual property and the tightening of the clutches around the intellectual property of those same governments and corporations.

I believe that capitalism, like most economic-political systems before it, rewards selfishness above all. Because most people are not intrinsically perfectly selfish (anyone who has taken an economics course might find the humor in that phrasing), those few who are closest to being perfectly selfish find themselves kings of their respective hills made of cash. I don’t believe this is a particularly difficult position to defend, because it is the profit motive (selfishness) that capitalists believe is the driving force that causes all economic agents to work towards an idealistically perfect conclusion. Those who are the most selfish (those who place the highest priority on the profit motive) will inevitably be those most interested in attaining and retaining wealth.

That people have a varying array tendencies regarding selfishness is a huge problem for capitalism, and it explains why the economic elites (those whose profit motives are higher priorities than for the rest of us) seem to be looking to grab at the private property of the working class. What is most ingenious about this is that they are simultaneously tightening their grip around their own property. For instance, the latest FCC proposal that people have been in an uproar over is not really about net neutrality. The issues regarding the so-called “fast lanes” is merely a red herring. The true purpose of the new regulations are to quickly usher in new restrictions on whether content can be blocked. If you look at the commission documentation, the FCC repeatedly writes that no “lawful” content may be blocked. This sounds good, yes? Until we realize the purpose of this. The implication that no lawful content may be blocked is that content deemed unlawful may be blocked. These new FCC regulations are merely a strange Trojan horse for SOPA/PIPA. And they will win this time, because now the media are playing their game. Moreover, while free speech remains largely intact at present, how can we trust that it will remain so in the future? How can we trust that the government and the ISPs will not block information that is in any way dissenting or damning?

I’m a little unfocused in this post, at least partially because I haven’t written in a while and I have a lot of thoughts, but also because I am convinced that this intellectual property stuff is bigger than it seems. There might be big benevolent players in the game (I believe that Google, Apple, Facebook, and a few others are actually on the right side for now), but eventually that might change. As long as there is greater wealth to be found from the quiet pilfering of people’s private information, there will be new temptations for the powerful. Such temptations rarely remain just so.

Intellectual Property and Privacy