jabs with bad analogies

For the past couple of weeks I’ve seen more and more people (or groups) taking pot-shots at Christians, trying to make it look silly or inept. It might be because we’re a few days away from Christmas and that’s what normally happens. But it appears as though, because there is not a huge show-stopping crapumentary on the Discovery Channel or H2 or whatever about Jesus, the attempts have been reduced to quick jabs–or sucker punches, if we’re honest–given for a cheap thrill or an easy laugh.

Earlier this month, Conan O’Brien gave this little quip (about 5:28 in):

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A few days later, I saw these images floating around, the first slightly more subtle than the second:

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(Whether people stole it from Conan and rejigged it or Conan got it from these images is not really my concern. Frankly, I don’t care).

There are two initial problems with these kinds of claims. First, they are not fair to the discourse that needs to happen concerning the refugee crisis. In fact, these types of claims not only politicize the crisis, which is insulting those who truly need refugee, but also reveal that at least one side of the debate is happily wearing its “ideological blinders”.* The other side might be, but they are not as expressive or honest about it.

Second, these sorts of political jabs are uncalled for, primarily because they operate on a faulty premise and a crap analogy. For those who have done their homework, it will be obvious that the image of Mary and Joseph frantically looking for housing in Bethlehem only to be turned away repeatedly until some gruff inn-keeper’s wife Gibbs-slaps him and make him offer the barn; that is nothing but sensationalized tradition. The historical and textual evidence about the birth narrative does not support such view.

Moreover, there is nothing to suggest that Mary and Joseph situation was anything comparable to the refugee crisis. Mary and Joseph were not trying to flee their home country and find safe harbor in another. They were simply traveling from Nazareth to Bethlehem for the purposes of taxation. If we wanted to say anything (admittedly in dramatic terms), we could say they were being “hunted down” in the same way that the IRS wants our money each April. But they were not under threat for their lives because of the ethnicity, nationality, religious beliefs, etc. To say otherwise betrays a lack of understanding about the data and an inability to make an appropriate analogy.

The refugee crisis is admittedly an awful situation, one that has created a rather heated debate with varying and often conflicting responses. It is a situation that needs to be taken seriously and it is one that deserves conscientious and respectful discussion and action. It is one where all sides of the debate need to come together and shut up and listen openly and fairly. And it is a situation that most certainly deserves more respect than being used as one side of a crappy analogy for the purposes of taking cheap-shots at Christians. Such one-lines are good for a laugh and caricaturing a group of people, but they do nothing for moving the discussion forward. It’s school-yard antics. It’s weak. It’s empty. And it’s hypocritical.

* Taken from “West Wing”.

gotta love it…

when the murmurings of a few are projected so that they seem to be the chorus of the majority. In this end-of-the-year reflection “study”, the writer goes on and on about American perceptions concerning various topics.  The upshot being: Americans are not entirely pleased with 2013.  Here are the results (if you didn’t click on the link):

  • “Most Americans won’t remember 2013 fondly…”
  • “Most Americans are happy to see 2013 go…”
  • “More than two-thirds view the year as one that was bad for the world…”
  • “More than four in ten say it was a bad year for their family…”
  • “60% of Americans…”
  • “77% of adults under 30…”
  • “a third of senior citizens…”
  • “The public sees the world…”
    • “At the end of 2012, 69% said it had been a bad year…”
  • “There are almost no issues where a majority of Americans have seen improvement…”
    • “Only a quarter say healthcare coverage is better…”
    • “more than half say it has gotten worse…”
  • “When it comes to how 2013 impacted American families…”
    • “A majority does admit that last year was a good one…”
    • “although fewer than one in ten would say it was a very good year…”
  • “how Americans rate their family’s financial situation…”
    • “33% say they are worse off…”
    • “16% say their family is better off…”

One might read this and think (so hopes the writer of the article) that the pulse of all American has been checked and this is conclusive evidence of where we’re at.

However, there is one big, fat, nasty, smelly problem: the figures/percentages given in the “study”-report only reflect the views of the 1000 people surveyed. Proof? Right here. And notice, if you did read the article, that information is nowhere disclosed in the main article, except for a tiny link at the end (i.e. you have to look for the link then go elsewhere to get the details), thus allowing the writer to present the findings in sweeping, categorical terms and therefore give the illusion of factual comprehensiveness or, heaven help us, “objectivity”.

I’m sorry, but a survey of 1000 Americans is nowhere close to serving as a accurate barometer for the thoughts, sentiments, feelings, opinions, etc of all 317,328,103 Americans.* At best, a survey of 1000 people is an accurate (more or less) barometer for the thoughts, sentiments, feelings, opinions, etc of 1000 people. To assume or to suggest otherwise is both speculation and imposition.

If you are a writer and use surveys to make various claims or observations, you owe it to your readers to be upfront and honest about the data. In other words, don’t claim to be speaking for the masses when in reality you’re only speaking for a comparatively small handful. I would recommend 1) making the data (i.e. the figures/number surveyed) initial and more obvious, and not relegate it to a tiny link at the bottom of the page, and 2) changing the wording so as to reflect the facts (i.e. “66% of those survey” or “66% of 1000 Americans”).

If you are a reader of such surveys and honestly believe that the findings are representative of the whole of American people: you’ve been duped. (Go here and here for why I both distrust and loathe surveys).

* According to the estimated figures found here.

a modicum of solace

Yesterday The Guardian provided the results of an American-based survey on various conspiracy theories. Interestingly, the headline focused only on one of the 26 questions: Obama as the Antichrist. Two things–one about the headline, and one about the survey–and then a third, which is less troubling.

With regard to the headline, it’s a bit misleading. According to the numbers in the results (the full break-down is here), only 13% believe Obama is the Antichrist. That’s hardly “one in four Americans.” The only way you can get close to a “one in four” charge (i.e. 25%) is if you lump the 13% from the “not sure” category, which is what Paul Harris does in the article. He does this on the basis that “not sure” = “possibly so” or “I could be convinced”. A bit shady on the method, but understandable. “One in four” sounds better and (slightly) more widespread than “one in seven(ish)”.

With regard to the survey, it too is a bit misleading. If we went on the title alone, we get the impression that 25% of (all) Americans believe Obama is the Antichrist. Given the population of the US (315,610,625, as of 8.30 this morning), that would mean something around 78,902,656.25. (Who is the .25 of a person!?). But that can’t be right. Outside of Garnier, who would survey that many people? Harris does explain that the survey involved only “a sample of American voters”. Okie dokie. According to this site, last year there were 146,311,000 registered voters in the US (a number that seems too clean for my taste, but no matter). So if we use that number, then, according to Harris’ “one in four” charge, that would mean 36,577,750 people surveyed believe Obama to be the Antichrist. (Thankfully, no fractions of people this time). But that can’t be right either.

Conveniently (or smartly), Harris leaves out the exact size of the sample, and he suspiciously leaves out any links to survey itself. Again, it sounds so much better and more–dare I say–condemning to say “one in four Americans” and let people assume that the number is huge. But what about facts? If you were to take the 12 seconds to do your own search and locate the survey in question (or just use the link I supplied–you’re welcome), you would see that the sample-size is . . . get ready for this . . . 1247. I didn’t leave out any numbers. 1,2,4,7. That’s all. Seriously, Harris: Asda’s got more stuff on sale.

Accordingly, if we use Harris’ bold figure of 25%, that would mean only 311.75 people believe Obama is the Antichrist. That’s not “one in four”. That’s like one in a million (I think; my maths are a little rusty this morning). But no one is going to care if Harris says that figure, so it’s no wonder that his misleadingly says, “one in four”. Things get uglier if we use the solid number of 13%, which would bring the total to a whopping 162.11 people. That’s just under one in every two million (again, I think). Seriously, Harris: you’re going to paint 1/4 of Americans with a brush admittedly used by only 162.11 people? Tsk! Tsk!

The third thing, and this is the modicum of solace: only 162.11 people admit to believing Obama to be the Antichrist. I don’t mean to sound crass, but it’s comforting to know that only 162.11 people have a faulty understanding of the Antichrist. If we follow what the Johannine Epistles say, the “antichrist” (ἀντιχριστος) is anyone who “denies the Father and the Son” (1Jn 2.22) and/or denies “Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh” (2Jn 1.7). While the Johannine Epistle seem to suggest a solitary figure–i.e. the Antichrist–appearing in the last days (cf. 1Jn 2.18; 4.3), nothing definite is said about him (or her–sorry, I have to be PC these days). However, since the language of the Epistles on this matter is apocalyptic, we can safely assume that this solitary figure is understood in apocalyptic terms–i.e. he (or she) ain’t human. And if he (or she) ain’t human, then Obama can’t be the Antichrist. Same goes for the new Pope–contra this guy–or any other person.

quote of the day (or why Santayana is still right)

Thus, eagerness on the part of the cities to receive marks of imperial favour, the desire of wealthy natives to attain the only form of public honour open to them, and the greed of the common people for sports and games, all combined to buttress the worship which the authorities had adopted as an instrument of government. But this was a way of expressing gratitude and admiration which the followers of Jesus could not take. The claim that was made on behalf of the emperor was irreconcilable with the sole right of Christ to the worship of men. Gradually it would come to the knowledge of the citizens that there was a sect in their midst that refused to join in the emperor-cultus. Astonishment would give place to anger. Every consideration that increased the enthusiasm of the citizens for the worship would make the attitude of the Christians more obnoxious in their eyes. The refusal would be construed into disloyalty; and both priests [of the emperor-cultus] and people would take every means in their power to overcome an obstinacy which would not only appear unreasonable and ungracious, but which might have the effect of making the city’s loyalty suspect in high quarters. The whole resources of the community would be employed to compel that conformity to the established usage which was not rendered voluntarily.

— J.T. Dean, The Book of Revelation (1915), 14

surprised myself (or, just lucky)

Brought to my attention by Jeremy Myers, I just took a quiz on ‘civic literacy’ over at the Intercollegiate Studies Institute website. The quiz begins with the following foreboding question and follow-up statement:

Are you more knowledgeable than the average citizen? The average score for all 2,508 Americans taking the following test was 49%; college educators scored 55%. Can you do better? Questions were drawn from past ISI surveys, as well as other nationally recognized exams.

My score: 22 out of 33 question right, or 66.67%. I’ll throw in the added variable that I did this while enduring the beginning stages of a massive migraine. So, that would mean my score otherwise might have been 66.68%. Or not. Maybe I just got lucky.

What I found interesting (or sad, really) was the comparative table at the end of the quiz–the one that shows the differences between ‘citizens’ and ‘elected officials’ on each of the 33 questions. The interesting/sad part: only on four questions did ‘elected officials’ do better than ‘citizens’, and the margin of difference is not that wide; on every other question, the ‘citizens’ hammered the ‘elected officials’.

Okay, time to sleep off this migraine.

olympic logo and eisegesis

Read this first. I’m not really sure what bothers me more about this story: the firm belief that the 2012 Olympic logo spells out ‘Zion’, or the passionate resolution to act in an unnecessary way because of that firm belief. The second would be perfectly understandable if (and only if) the first were true.

However, I’m just not seeing the word, ‘Zion’ in the logo–at least not on a normal/natural reading. The only way I can see it (and even this is iffy) is by reading it top-to-bottom, left-to-right with a rotation of the head 90 degrees for the last ‘letter’. (Raise your hand if you read like that on a regular basis). This way of reading only proves one thing: I have to force myself and change what is seen in order to see what I think I see in the first place.

If this is the sort of logic used by those threatening to boycott the Olympics, then I would hope to see similar complaints from the people of Isso, Italy and Ossi, Sardinia; personnel from the Open Source Information System (OSIS), the Sense of Smell Institute (SOSI), Izzo Golf, Zizo Systems International, and from Ozzi’s Steakburgers–just to name a few. Why these people? Because if you toy around with the ‘letters’ of the Olympic logo, these are the groups referred to by the toying.

More to the point, I seriously have my doubts that the organisers of the Olympics–much less those in charge of creating logos–purposely sought out the best way to sneak in the word, ‘Zion’ just to anger a particular group of people. It is more likely (and more reasonable) that the organisers and designers were simply being creative with the elements on hand–especially the numbers 2, 0, 1 and 2. As I suggested before, the only way that ‘Zion’ can be seen in the 2012 Olympic logo is if one wants to see it and is willing to distort what is seen in order to see it.

shows what I (don’t) know

Just for fun, I took the ‘Who Should You Vote For?‘ in the 2010 UK elections (HT: clayboy). I must admit that my knowledge of UK politics is rather laughable, and my being from the States has very little to do with that. (My knowledge and appreciation of American politics is slightly less funny). This meant that on several questions, I found myself responding: ‘Yeah, I have no idea what the really means’ and then choosing the lesser tick or cross. My doing so might be reflected in the results.

What I did find a bit strange was the ‘Info’ link following each statement. It pretty much tells you who or what party is backing or opposing that particular idea; thus, if you want to favour (or oppose) a certain party, then you might be inclined to respond according to what the ‘Info’ says, regardless of whether or not you agree (or disagree) with the particular idea. Since the quiz is aimed at determining the personal preference of the quiz-taker, I would say answer the questions without looking at the ‘Info’ and see what happens. That way you will answer according to how you stand on particular issues and not according to how party-positions might sway you. Who knows, you might be surprised (I was).* Here are my results:

Labour 32
Conservative 10
UK Independence -1
Liberal Democrat -16
Green -28

You expected: CON

Your recommendation: Labour

Click here for more details about these results

* Keep in mind, this is an internet-based quiz.

Thinking out loud

According to a recent poll, Americans (at least, those polled) are becoming disillusioned with the hopes and dreams promised to them by Obama when he ran for office.  Or, to put it more bluntly: Americans (i.e. those polled) are becoming more and more impatient in waiting for the fruits of the (overly) touted ‘change’ which so dominated Obama’s campaign.  The obvious question would be: what is causing this disillusionment?  While I have my own perspective to this question, three options should be noted first with regard to this issue of ‘change’:

  1. The promised change was nothing more than a politcal claim made for the sake of winning voters.  If we honestly think that politicians do not say things in order to win an election, then we are sadly foolish. (The first half of this statement is not meant to be all-inclusive; it simply notes a general tendency which has become a part of the political landscape).  If this is the case, then the fault really goes both ways–i.e. the POTUS who duped everyone and the voters who actually believed the rhetoric of change.
  2. The promised change is not what people expected.  This should be considered a likely possibility, especially since the definition of ‘change’ was both ambiguous and self-fulfilling (i.e. the definition kept changing) throughout the campaign.  Such things generally lead people to create ideas of their own, which often times end up not being in line with what actually occurs.
  3. The promised change simply has not arrived yet.  It is nearly axiomatic that the effects of decisions/plans made during one administration are not often felt until the next.  Thus, the full effect of the change is still in process.

However, I wonder if the cause for the disillusionment also stands behind these three options?  The cause I have in mind is the (modern) ever-growing propensity for impatience.  Or, to come at this from another direction: the cultural fascination with ‘entitlement’ and immediate self-gratification has instilled–knowingly or not–a general attitude of impatience.  (Sadly, in some recent advertisements, this attitude of impatience is being highly praised, glorified, and depicted as normative and even virtuous).  Thus, when things do not happen when we want them to happen and not in way we want them, we throw up our arms in disgust and with feelings of betrayal–both of which typically have no justification.  And when such things happen, it is no small wonder that real progress (or, dare I say ‘change’?) becomes stymied and things of lasting value remain elusive.

Best case scenario would be the third option.  While I do not agree politically with Obama on a few issues, I am willing to give him the benefit of the doubt with what he plans to do.  More times than not, strategies and decisions made by individuals in ‘power’ tend to be either confusing or misunderstood by those not in ‘power’.  The cause for both the confusion and misunderstanding is the same: there is a much bigger picture to be considered, and those without a national vantage point are simply unable to see the details of that bigger picture.  Or, to change the metaphor a little: those in valley do not have the perspective of the one on a hill.  The decisions, guidance, and direction given by the one on the hill might appear to be meaningless, irrational, and even dangerous for the one in the valley; but again, the interpretation of the one in the valley is based on a limited perspective.  Patience must be exercised in the face of the seemingly meaningless, irrational, and dangerous.  Impatience makes matters worse.