Liter8′s future (And the History of Christian Internet Culture)

If you haven’t noticed, I haven’t written on this blog in a while (outside of this post).  Part of it is my internship/work with Tom’s Guide keeps me busy. The other half is that I don’t feel like I have a lot that’s valuable to say. That’s why I’m happy to announce that liter8.net will no longer be a blog, but a portfolio site.

That’s when it hit me: What about “Christian internet culture”.

What is Christian internet culture?

Christian internet culture?  What does that mean?

Well, let’s first understand what internet culture entails. When the internet came about, some people figured out that there were a lot of fun things you could do with it. These included Flash animations, Shockwave games, and chain emails. This is the first version of internet culture. Eventually, internet culture discovered social media, memes, Youtube videos and many, many other things. As the tools spread, so did the public appeal.  The internet started out as something for only a few people, where everyone knew all of the the inside jokes. But then fandoms and political groups got involved online, and the internet divided along entertainment and political lines. A number of subcultures formed on sites like Tumblr, Twitter and Reddit, each exploring and discussing in their own way.

Now, the internet is used by billions and most memes are subculture centric, though many have become common knowledge (I’m willing to bet it’s impossible to find an American who doesn’t know who Grumpy Cat is)

If there’s an internet culture, then it should be no surprise that there is a Christian version of the Internet subculture. As many critics have noted, the American Church has mastered mimicking culture and lost the ability to create things that are artistically helpful and unique.  So, it’s not shocking to see that the church has done the same. Within a few years of the internet becoming a public tool, Christians developed their own versions of popular sites, their own communities, and even their own memes.

Some of the things that Christian internet culture created have been amazing (John Piper gifs,  apologetics databases Patheos blog network) Some have been horrible (Godinterest, Anti-masturbation cross hoax, Matt Walsh), but all have influenced the way Christians interacted with the church, the world, and each other.

However, most of these events pass us by without knowing. For example, do you know when popular reformed blogger Tim Challies became popular? Do you know when progressive humorist Matthew Paul Turner registered jesusneedsnewpr.net? Or when Matthew Hagee started broadcasting for his dad, John Hagee?

Most people don’t know, and don’t care. But I believe that understanding Christian internet culture will be really helpful for understanding the relationships within the church and between the chuch and “the world”.

That’s why I want to start a new blog on WordPress for recording Christian Internet Culture.

At this blog, I hope to:

  1. Take a critical yet open-minded look at the Christian Internet culture while being open to poking fun at it along the way.
  2. Reveal the history behind the sites, writers and trends that have influenced American Christianity .
  3. Interview the bloggers, creators and thought leaders that we read in order to understand how blogging and the internet has impacted them.
  4. Discover some of the more absurd attempts at creating a Christian internet culture

In the end, my goal will be to tell the story of how the Internet changed the Church, and how the Church changed the internet.

But before I pursue this project, I want your input. Is this something that would interest you? Would you read about this? Let me know via Twitter and email.

 

Why Gena Suarez and The Old Schoolhouse needs to be held accountable

Earlier today, the homeschool activist blog Homeschooler’s Anonymous released an enormous report recording a series of abuses, attacks, and sexual assaults surrounding the Suarezes, a particular family  in the homeschool community who control one of the biggest homeschooling magazines in the world. The  was researched by Ryan Stollar (a good internet friend of mine) Hannah Ettinger (who I’m acquaintances with),  and wouldn’t be possible without the testimony of Eric Novak (Who I’ve worked for in the past) The report is thorough and phenomenal, and doesn’t miss a beat. From what’s presented, it’s hard to deny the fact that what the Suarezes have done is not only socially unacceptable, but is unBiblical and unchristian.

But why should you care about a few homeschool writers and their actions? After all, most people who I know don’t know or care who Gena Suarez is.  And even those who do were likely never in situations of abuse, or sexual assault.

Here’s why I care: Because these are people who are trying to present themselves as family-friendly leaders  who don’t suffer from the cultural issues that (they believe) public schooling causes. They want to be seen as perfect, but they promote harmful ideas about how to discipline children, and then cover up other people’s evil actions so that their movement still looks family-friendly. On top of that, many leaders have promoted the idea that many claims of child abuse are false. This is unacceptable behavior.

I wish this were a small incident, but over the last year, case after case has come up, showing Christian leaders and homeschoolers mistreating the kids under their care. And they keep coming. Last week, Cynthia Jeub revealed that her dad (who was once considered a strong advocate against abuse) actively beat her siblings and rejected her from the family.

Cynthia’s story isn’t the only one. . I’ve read so many of these stories, that the behavior sickens me,. Thankfully, groups like Recovering Grace and Homeschoolers Anonymous are hard at work fighting for the victims.

The next question is: what’s next? The only thing I can advocate in the case of the Suarezes is sharing these stories and destroying the illusion that sexual abuse is not a problem in the homeschool community.  We need to get the Suarezes to publicly recognize their actions,  accept the consequences, and make proper reparations to all those they hurt. But most of all, homeschool leaders need to recognize their shortcomings and be willing to fight against such behaviors.

Misinformation: Taking a look at the Recent PJI/Corrie Ten Boom story.

 

Corrie Ten Boom

My friend and old editor Alan Noble recently noted how a particular story from conservative legal group Pacific Justice Institute has attracted attention from various conservative and Christian news sites.

In their latest press release, PJI has reported that a Spring Charter Schools, a series of CA charter school has apparently targeted a series of Christian books to be removed from their library. This included Corrie Ten Boom’s book THE HIDING PLACE, a historical account of Miss Ten Boom’s time protecting Jews, suffering through concentration camps in light of her faith.

Naturally, this account was picked up by various conservative news sites.  Todd Starnes, a Fox News reporter with a long history of promoting stories of Christians being persecuted in America (even though many of these accounts are later found to be inaccurate or missing facts), was one of the first.  It was also picked up by conservative blogger and columnist Rod Dreher, who stated “I don’t know what kind of character they are building into those children at Springs Charter Schools, but it is clear that historical ignorance and moral cowardice are part of the package.

But is this case true?  Let’s take a look:

The Setup

The PJI Press Release states that:

PJI attorney Michael Peffer sent the school a cease-and-desist letter on August 22, citing long-established Supreme Court precedent that strongly disapproves of school libraries removing books based on opposition to their content or message.   
 
Last week, the Superintendent of Springs Charter Schools, Dr. Kathleen Hermsmeyer, ignored the precedent in PJI’s letter and instead insisted, “We . . . do not allow sectarian materials on our state-authorized lending shelves.” 

Starnes later wrote: 

So why would a public charter school take issue with books written by Christians?

I figured Superintendent Hermsmeyer would be more than willing to set the record straight and explain the book purging. It seems I figured wrong. I gave her 24 hours to return my calls, and as of this writing, she has not done so.

But she did reply to the letter she received from Pacific Justice Institute. And what she told them was a bit alarming.

“We are a public school, and as such, we are barred by law from purchasing sectarian curriculum materials with state funds,” she wrote. “We only keep on our shelves the books that we are authorized to purchase with public funds.”……

……...Hermsmeyer denied they were discriminating against Christian authors or publishing companies. 
”At no time, however, have we discriminated against Christian authors or publishing companies who create secular educational materials,” she wrote.

Starnes spins this in order to make it appear as if Springs Charter Schools is explicitly discriminating against Christianity.

The Missing Facts

However, as Alan found out rather quickly, this story doesn’t quite add up.  For one, there’s a lot of evidence pointing to Hermsmeyer being a dedicated Catholic, including high amounts of  religious activity online. There’s also the recently released statement from Springs Charter Schools on their Facebook page that reveals the context of the events.

  1. The individuals who reported this were not named, nor was the employee they talked to.
  2.  The reported conversation seems to have occurred in a school textbook warehouse, not a conventional library (Spring Charters School did not have any normal libraries)
  3. However, the school has stated they did not ask for Christian material to be removed.
  4. The staff and faculty are supportive of every individual and their religious conviction
  5. They are happy to provide religion-themed accounts, such as Corrie Ten Boom’s THE HIDING PLACE. In fact, students are encouraged to read THE HIDING PLACE
  6. However, the school is not allowed to pay for religious material, since the money comes from public school.
  7. However, Spring Charters is more than happy to accept donated religious material. It should be noted that this donated material is stored in a separate area, apart from the textbook warehouse. But it is freely available to students.

Conclusion:

If all of Spring Charter School’s statements are accurate, then both the Pacific Justice Institute and Todd Starnes have misrepresented the situation, There is no ill intent within the school towards Christians or their material (or, at least nothing as explicit as PJI’s press release entailed). Hopefully, further information will be revealed in order to show the context of the incident in question so that PJI and Spring Charter Schools can take action to avoid a repeat occurrence of the incident. Until then, Starnes and PJI should adjust their reports in order to properly represent the facts.

Thanks to Alan Noble for doing all the research on this.  I’ll post a link to his piece on this once it releases. 

Top 10 Books that Stuck with Me

There’s a Facebook Meme going around my friends about the “Top 10 Books that Stuck With Me”.   I love the concept, because it reveals a lot about a person.  I could easily write this up as a facebook post, but I want this to stick around.  I believe theses books will help you understand my mindset and where I’m coming from.

Without further ado, here’s my Top Ten Books that Stuck with Me

  1. The World is Flat by Thomas Friedman. For some reason, a book arguing for globalization was my first foray into non-fiction reading.  Friedman’s ability to explain the history of computers, open-source software and outsourcing opened my mind to a larger world of economics.  While Friedman’s arguments are out-of-date and his attempts at updating the material are mediocre, this book opened my mind to a whole new (flat) world
  2. Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card.  Ender’s Game introduced me to a new world of stories, of complex minds, of philosophical ideas, and hard sci-fi that still holds up today. I’ve only read the novel once, but that one reading left  a deep imprint on my mind.  I enjoyed the sequels (Both the SPEAKER OF THE DEAD trilogy and ENDER’S SHADOW series), but none of them had the depth and impact that Ender’s Game had for me.
  3. The Republic, Plato:  I originally studied Plato during a course that tried to analyze it from a “Biblical worldview”.  The author was obsessed with trying to prove how Platonism was incompatible with “Biblical/Hebrew thought”.  But as I read Plato’s Republic, I began to see how Plato’s ideas (at least the ones about the nature of things) could be compatible with Christian thought.  I began to see how they influenced Augustine and other thinkers. It was even clear how  Plato’s ideas  could help us understand the nature of God and the nature of Man, and how they interacted with reality.   It was because of Plato that  I saw how Non-Christian ideas could be compatible with a Scriptural view of reality.    While I’m no longer a Platonist (I prefer Aristotelian thought, instead), I still cherish Plato’s ideas and the historical attempts to reconcile his ideas with Christian thought.
  4. Do Hard Things, Alex and Brett Harris:  I originally viewed the Harris Twins as saints, as men who changed everything for me..  It’s because of them that I developed a love of non-fiction, of writing, and of philosophical debate.  They taught me to strive for more than the status quo and to do my best in order to glorify God. After 5 years of reading them,  I’ve now learned  how their movement was invested in a certain sect of conservatism that promotes unhelpful ideas about politics, gender, and other issues.  I’ve met people who were negatively impacted by Do Hard Things, and who suffered because of it.  I still think some of the ideas were valuable for me, but it’s hard to say whether I would recommend the book today.
  5. The Truth is Out There, Thomas Bertroneau: This simple book that explored certain Christian ideas in classic sci-fi left me with a desire for deep thought about pop culture.  While the book is a bit niche, it’s still one of my favorite books on the topic.
  6. The Tipping Point, Malcolm Gladwell:  Gladwell is one of my journalism heroes.  He tells stories and expressed ideas in a way that everyone loved and that was accessible.  I’ve read every one of his books. But the one I will revere above all others was my first: the Tipping Point.
  7. Why People Believe in Weird Things, Michael Shermer: I believe skepticism and Christianity are compatible.  Being a Skeptic doesn’t mean being an atheist; It just means critically testing all the evidence before you and making sure all claims and evidence are valid.  Enter Michael Shermer, a prominent atheist and skeptic. His book Why People Believe in Weird Things is on my list because it was a perfect book for taking on nonsensical claims. In it, Shermer doesn’t try to dismiss religion (Though he does critique the modern Creationist movement), but challenges popular non-religious views on subjects such as the lunar hoax, Objectivism and Holocaust Denialism. He showed me how to critically think through the evidence and events and find the truth.  In fact, it’s because of Shermer and his skeptical view of the world that  want to  help cultural Christianity avoid these falsities and seek the truth. While Shermer and I disagree on many things, including God’s existence, religion’s value and Intelligent design, I still appreciate his work and how it can help a person build a stronger critical lens.
  8. The Reason for God by Tim Keller.  Over the years, I’ve enjoyed  reading about Apologetics, but most books are either condemning of the other side or unhelpful for engaging with the complexities of other groups’ ideas. However, the one apologetic text I would heartily approve of is The Reason For God. Keller is a master of using  thoughtful prose to make complex ideas accessible.  While his book doesn’t answer every argument, it is still one of my favorites to use in conversations with Non-Christians.
  9. On Writing Well, Will Zinsser: This book was recommended to me by an old editor. I’ve read it multiple times, and learned many things about the nonfiction writing craft because of it.  If it weren’t for this book, I don’t think I would be where I am today.
  10. Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling.  HP was the song of my generation.  Thousands of my fellow students read it.   However,  HP was more than just a good book to me.    HP was the gateway drug to my Geekdom.  Through Harry Potter, I helped me develop a love of story, a love of fantasy, and a love of good reading.  I learned that fantasy could be fantastic, and that loving a good story didn’t have to end with the book.

 

Christian Mingle: The Movie

Christian Mingle is one of the biggest Christian dating sites online. You may have seen the ads for it.  I think it’s cool it exists, just like there are dating sites for Jews and atheists.  However, for some reason, Corbin Bernsen (Better known as Sean Spencer’s dad from PSYCH) is writing a directing a movie about a girl pretending to be a Christian to get on Christianmingle.com.

Here’s the trailer.  

The concept feels like a really weak version of other comedies I’ve watched.

That said, I have no idea what inspired Bernsen to write such an absurd film.  Was he paid to write it?  No clue.  Only time will tell how this film turns out.

Is there a Christian Persecution Complex?

According to my friend and past editor Alan Noble, yes.  He wrote a feature for The Atlantic that does a great job of exploring the modern state of American Christianity and how so many are actively seeking reasons to claim persecution:

The Christian church itself has a long history of telling stories of martyrdom and persecution. The stories of saints’ lives often center on their sufferings for Christ. For example, Fox’s Book of Martyrs is a popular and classic text recounting notable martyrdoms throughout church history. The purpose of these stories is to inspire and strengthen Christians, particularly those who will later face persecution. But they were not designed to function as aspirational fantasy. And that is the real problem with many persecution narratives in Christian culture: They fetishize suffering.

Read the entire thing here.  It’s a fantastic piece.

I’m back! (August 2014)

Aloha!

I haven’t blogged in a few weeks, and am really sorry.  A lot has happened since my last post and now.

  • I moved to New York, where I had to live with friends for a few weeks, then moved into an apartment
  • I got an internship with Tom’s Guide/PURCh, where I get to cover tech and learn online media journalism.
  • I attended Redeemer Presbyterian Church, the home of Timothy Keller and his amazing community.

Now I have a long subway ride home and back, and have to socialize and explore the city.  However, because I believe this blog matters, I will be striving to post as often as possible.  We’re still going to explore issues of Christianity from a Skeptical position, as well as engaging with the news and with popular bloggers in a thoughtful and valuable way.

Anyway, I hope this blog is able to encourage some thoughtful and engaging ideas, and we can spread the conversation.

Taking Off the Roof Pt. 3: HE IS THERE AND HE IS NOT SILENT

As I end my journey through Schaeffer’s “trilogy of books”, I feel as though I’m ready to take on the world. Or at least the rest of Schaeffer’s work.

After finishing God Who is There and Escape from Reason,  the pinnacle of the work is He is There, and He is Silent.  This book is more focused on a key question of how we hear and know God.

Schaeffer argues that there is a metaphysical,  a moral and an epistemological need for a creator who is personally interested in personal beings. He then represents opposing ideas, and how they’re inconsistent.  In the end, man needs a personal Creator who created personal beings to make sense of all the universe.  In the end,  I completely agree with his conclusion, and thought he made a decent case.  However, a few things did bug me as a Iread them

  • I’m not absolutely sure the way he gets there is the most effective.  He makes some weird historical claims (as expected).  For example, he notes how Carl Sagan was a follower of Edgar Rice Burroughs, and how Sagan mixes science and science fiction.  I’m not sure how this is relevant?  I may not agree with Sagan, but I’d never declare his work to be science fiction in the stylings of Burroughs.  Is this a statement regarding Sagan’s thing about stardust?  His ideas about man traveling into space?  What is it?
  • As usual, a lot of Schaeffer’s stuff is really timely, engaging with the thought leaders and counter-culture of the mid 60s-early 70s.  That’s fine, but it makes hard for the book to hold up as a timeless document, IMO.   The first three chapters focused on these timely examples, while the meat of the book was in the final chapter.    I liked the idea of one Amazon reviewer, who thought that the final chapter of the book should have been printed as a booklet, and that Schaeffer summarize the preceding three chapters in a prelude, which would have saved time.

Overall, I think I enjoyed this volume more than the other two, since it seemed more focused on particular ideas and “modern patterns”, and less on history (where Schaeffer seems his weakest).

Why We Creationists need to fact-check ourselves (A Rumination on Joshua Feuerstein

Josh Feuerstein

Its weird how some things go viral; especially when those things are based on oversimplifications and falseties.

A recent case of this came up via God of Evolution, a site run by fellow journalist Tyler Francke.  Tyler focuses on critiquing creationist misrepresentations of Evolution and showing that Evolutionary Creationism is actually a valid belief to hold.

Tyler  linked to a video from the evangelist Joshua Feuerstein, who argues he can refute Evolution in under 3 minutes.  The video went viral, and even attracted the attention of the BBC, who did a segment on the argument.

While Tyler’s response was satirical, pointing out how this simple argument wasn’t enough to convince most Evolutionary scientists. The video still attracted the attention of atheist vloggers and bloggers, and even warranted an article (taken from Patheos blogger JT Eberhard) at the Richard Dawkins Foundation website.

I’ve heard these arguments that Feuerstein promoted before.  However, it wasn’t in a public debate between two experts.  It was in a training situation, where the students are learning it in a form of  bubble.  The argument is great when facing off with each other and with those w/ little experience in physics or biology.  But if used in a conversation with an actual expert, the argument turns out to be quite faulty.

Answering the Thermodynamic case against Evolution

For example, let’s look at an argument promoted by Feuerstein and even by Henry Morris (of the Institute for Creation Research); that the Second Law of Thermodynamics contradicts Evolution:

8.  ”The law of thermodynamics says that chaos can never produce order.”

First, there is not one “law of thermodynamics”.

Second, order can arise out of chaos.  Roll a dice enough times and you’re bound to get a string of 20 consecutive sixes.

Third, you’re probably referring to the second law of thermodynamics (or whatever website you took the argument from was).  The second law states:

The second law of thermodynamics states that the entropy of an isolated system never decreases, because isolated systems always evolve toward thermodynamic equilibrium, a state with maximum entropy.

Essentially it means that in a closed system (a system where additional energy is coming in) things will move toward a state of disorder.  The argument Joshua is using assumes that the second law prohibits order from arising, therefore something (which he asserts is god without any evidence) must be causing the order.

The rebuttal is easy: that’s not what the second law states.  Even in a closed system the second law doesn’t prohibit order from forming, it just says that the ordered energy will be less than the disordered energy.

But in terms of evolution the second law doesn’t even apply because living systems are not isolated.  They are not closed systems.  Look at any plant to see this.  Most plants produce leaves by using 2% of the energy it receives from the sun to photosynthesize atmospheric oxygen and carbon dioxide molecules into high-energy, highly organized hydrocarbon molecules such as sugars.  This doesn’t violate the second law because the increased order is driven by energy coming into the system from the sun.  In fact, is is thanks to the second law of thermodynamics that living systems are able to increase their organization.

Had Joshua gone to a biologist (or chemist) or to a textbook on evolution, he could’ve learned this.  But he didn’t.  He went to a website where anybody, credentialed or not, can espouse any position, whether or not it’s the scientific consensus.  This is not the behavior of somebody who cares about science.  It is the behavior of somebody who is looking to confirm the position they already hold and to make it sound scientific.

See?  An argument that seems, in light of a layman’s knowledge of thermodynamics, to make sense.  But when compared to somebody who actually understands thermodynamics and physics, it falls to pieces.  Feuerstein’s video is full of these problematic arguments.  I really wish Joshua Feuerstein had taken time to see if his argument held up before vlogging it to millions of viewers.

Frankly (Francke-ly?), this is what bugs me.  I see straw man arguments like this all the time in both the Christian and Atheist camps.     Too often,  I found myself thinking that  I have the answers, but when these answers are tested against someone with better knowledge,  they all fall flat.

One of the most memorable instances of this was when my professor brought in a man named Max.  Max was a philosopher, a theologian, and a brilliant man.  He knew his theories of epistemology, teleology and theism better than I knew the Doctor Who universe (which is saying something).  He came into class, put on his “atheist hat”, and presented an argument that, after three hours of discussion, no one in my class could find a hole in.    Sometimes, this was because we are missing a series of facts.  Other times, it is because you and your opponents are working from two different definitions.  We were stunned. If Max had left us there, we might all considered abandoning our faith

Thankfully, Max took the next two days to lay out the logical foundations required to answer the problem he offered. And when we reached the answer, our minds were blown.  He did his best to offer proper definitions and descriptions of the problems, and give us the strongest philosophical foundation for struggling with this problem.

IThere are some legitimate problems that each side (whether it be atheist vs theist, or Evolution vs Intelligent Design) presents.   But if you  or I  want to engage in a way that deals with these intellectual problems, then let us learn to communicate effectively and accurately.

If we want to argue anything, let us use accurate  terminology and fact-check  everything.  If we’re talking about proofs or theories in science, then let us use the proper in-context definitions.  If we are trying to argue that faith is destructive, then let’s use the proper definition, not one that we’ve determined via our own experience.

The goal of every conversation should be clarity and accuracy.  If I don’t have that, then I’m wasting my breath arguing.  After all, the most loving thing you could do for your neighbor could be striving to understand them.