Overpasses for America anti-immigration rally experience

Republican Chairwoman and rally organizer Mary Ann Benitez with EAAC Director. Keystone United/Keystone Skinheads founder and Republican Committeeman Steve Smith - Photo: whiteadvocate.org
Republican Chairwoman and rally organizer Mary Ann Benitez with EAAC Director. Keystone United/Keystone Skinheads founder and Republican Committeeman Steve Smith – Photo: whiteadvocate.org

Today, I attended a rally dubbed Overpasses for America to challenge beliefs of anti-immigration protesters. I offer my recap of the event.

Earlier this year, members of a local group — the European American Action Coalition (EAAC) an “organization that advocates on behalf of white Americans” — participated in a rally they called “Anti-illegal Alien Invasion Rally” organized by Mary Ann Benitez (Lackawanna County Republican Committee Chairwomen for the 112th district) and attended by Steve Smith (Luzerne County Republican Committee member, director of the EAAC, and co-founder/former member of Keystone United/Keystone State Skinheads which features recent pictures of Smith on its website along with pictures advocating for violence/containing violent imagery reading ‘Kill your local drug dealer,’ ‘Smash the reds‘ and ‘Good night left side‘).

Smith writes at EAAC’s website whiteadvocate.org where he admitted to pleading guilty to simple assault and ethnic intimidation which resulted in a 2003 arrest, defended racial profiling, written about America becoming a “third world country” if an amnesty law for immigrants is enacted, “the problem of violent crime within the black community” (a focus of many posts), “the problems that multiculturalism tends to bring,” an “anti-white agenda,” diversity “turn[ing] once prosperous and safe cities into crime-ridden cesspools,” the prediction of whites being a minority in the United States “catastrophic to our country and well-being,” and stated “diversity is not a strength.”

More recently, on October 18, members of EAAC including Steve Smith, members of the American Freedom Party (known for their “Diversity = White Genocide” banners) attended another rally — again organized by Mary Ann Benitez — which I had approached with intentions to have conversation and challenge anti-immigration arguments.

Photo of overpass ralliers
Photo of overpass ralliers

Personally, I don’t identify as a liberal, Democrat, or progressive and am not a supporter of President Obama (much to the surprise of one rally attendee who raised his voice when speaking with me saying something along the lines of ‘You voted for Obama twice and would vote for him again if you had the chance!’), but do support an easing of immigration laws so that American citizenship could be more easily attained and a providing of amnesty for immigrants who currently live in the United States…and so I found myself at odds with this rally and many of its attendees.

Rather than villifying immigrants and immigration, a more humanistic approach can be taken by which people are integrated into a community and afforded legal protection and rights to do so.

Approaching the rally held on a Lackawanna County overpass, I saw signs and banners reading ‘Impeach Obama,’ ‘Obama lies,’ ‘No amnesty,’ ‘Secure our borders,’ ‘Save America,’ and ‘Save the USA.’ Following distribution of my business card when I was greeted by a rally attendee (which was accompanied by mutterings of ‘he’s that atheist’ or something to that effect and what seemed to be a ridicule of church/state separation which later was followed with ‘the constitution says nothing about separation of church and state), I spoke with several individuals.

Below, I shall outline the common assertions and arguments I heard and offer my responses.

Children of illegal immigrants aren’t citizens – they are just de-facto citizens and it shouldn’t be that way/people are breaking the law by entering into the country illegally.

According to United States law, individuals born in the United States are United States citizens regardless of parents’ citizenship status. There is no continuum within the construct of citizenship; either someone is a citizen or is not a citizen. If there is a problem with the fact that people enter the country illegally (and no problem with people entering the country legally), why not make the entering process easier and allow more people to be citizens and/or significantly reduce laws so that people are not here illegally?

Some will want to enter the United States for very good reasons including but not limited to events occurring in one’s home country including political persecution, lack of employment opportunities, a subpar standard of living, a want to flee threats of violence and pursue refuge, and a desire to ‘start a new life’ by moving to a new country. Many immigrants want to be law-abiding citizens who benefit the United States but are unable to do so under current policies.

Violent imagery on Keystone United's tumblr page - http://keystoneunited.tumblr.com/page/5
Violent imagery on Keystone United’s tumblr page – http://keystoneunited.tumblr.com/page/5

Illegal immigrants harm America by ruining our way of life – bringing diseases into public schools through unvaccinated children, committing crimes, dealing drugs…

To the best of my knowledge, it is the case that children (regardless of parents’ citizenship status) must be vaccinated in order to enter the public school system – so much so that anti-vaccination groups oppose laws which require children to be vaccinated in order to be accepted into public schools.

Indeed, as is the case throughout populations, regardless of citizenship status, crime and drug dealing occurs; the potential to commit crimes, too, exists within humans. Why particularly focus on [potential] crimes committed by immigrants at the exclusion of crimes committed by United States citizens? If individuals are violent — regardless of citizenship status — there shall be legal consequences when law officials justly intervene.

America should deal with its problems first and thus close the borders completely – allowing no new citizens.

This line of reasoning is question-begging; in an effort to argue that immigration is a problem/immigration should be banned, it is assumed that immigration is a problem (and presumably that this should be dealt with first). Might also problems in America be reduced, anyway, due to contributions from immigrants…? It is possible to both deal with problems and allow new citizens. New citizens, by the way, are being born each day yet I see no opposition to childbirth in any and all circumstances at this rally. Why a focus on immigration and not childbirth? After all, when a child is born a new citizen exists amidst a country with problems.

President Obama is to blame for current problems of [illegal] immigration.

Two million deportations during President Obama’s administration don’t fit well with this claim.

At the end of the day, there wasn’t only disagreement with Democratic politics and encouragement for immigration laws to be strengthened, but a great deal of fearmongering and negative attitudes about immigrants on display at this rally. Rather than my alternative to ease immigration laws so that illegal immigration would not be a problem (my response to the tautological ‘illegal immigration is illegal’ refrain), rally attendees I spoke with advocated for border closure and spoke negatively about immigrants – talking about all of the negatives they believe which result from illegal immigration while largely neglecting the positives.

I hope that rally attendees will reconsider their views about immigration — instead advocating for an easing of immigration laws so that more people may become legal citizens/illegal immigration would not be a problem and jettisoning the beliefs that immigrants pose a particular danger to the ‘American way of life’ — and comment on my piece. I’d be happy to engage more with rally attendees…this time not on an overpass sidewalk in the pouring rain (which wasn’t a good situation for audio/video recording) with vehicles passing.

As always, leave your comments below.

Update: There have been several attendees from the rally weighing in below. Feel free to read those comments.

Selective action and prayer’s incompatibility with free will

"Prayers to Heaven Balloon Launch"
“Prayers to Heaven Balloon Launch”

I discuss the incompatibility of prayer with free will and difficulties Christians face in arguing for God’s selective action.

Last month, in a piece titled ‘Prayer and the false cause fallacy,’ I argued against common reasoning Christians provide to argue for the efficacy of prayer – that because an event happens following a prayer we can be justified in believing prayer was responsible. I briefly hinted at the incompatibility of prayer and free will in the light of moral evil — harmful actions humans inflict upon other humans — and shall now expand on my reasoning in this post.

Atheists often object to Christian claims about the efficacy of prayer as follows – ‘Why doesn’t God intervene to stop mass murderers – perhaps even slightly, without notice — by altering humans’ thoughts? Since this does not happen, and God is supposed to be an all-loving, all-knowing being who can effortlessly stop heinous acts, we can be justified in disbelief of God.’

A typical Christian response is such that if God intervened in human affairs [at least to stop mass murderers] free will would be infringed upon. Free will is of utmost importance — trumping all other concerns — and may not be infringed upon lest we be agents unable to exercise meaningful choice thus God does not intervene.

For purposes of this post, I shall take this argument for granted and demonstrate that even if we accept this line of reasoning, Christians face significant difficulties if they contend that prayer has efficacy in situations involving a group of individuals.

Suppose a Christian prays for, like in this example, someone to love them – that Jane prays for Bob, despite his leaving Jane following relationship difficulties, to reenter into a relationship with her. The mechanism by which success was achieved is often unstated by the Christian, but the result is often emphasized. Might God have bestowed a boon upon Jane – instilling her with special knowledge and advice? Might God have intervened upon Bob – causing him to enter into a relationship with Jane?

In either case, and likely every case by which a Christian would describe the transformative nature of prayer, free will is compromised. Before the prayer there existed a state in which Bob, exercising his free will, decided not to remain in a relationship with Jane…but suddenly after the prayer Bob entered into a relationship with Jane. Free will would be infringed upon in this case because an already determined choice had been altered in some way because of God’s supposed interference.

If the Christian maintains that prayer instead led Bob and Jane to meet somewhere, for instance, and ultimately rekindled a romance there would still have to be a ‘divine rearranging’ of events by which Bob and Jane had met; God in some way had to have changed decisions of Bob and Jane so that they met. If the Christian would maintain that Bob and Jane met by accident, for instance, without the intervention of God, it is not, then, the case that God had intervened to begin with (and thus efficacy of prayer can’t be argued for in this case).

"Prayer Wall"
“Prayer Wall”

What about ‘financial blessings’ such as these? Surely if someone receives a check in the mail because of prayer/God’s intervention it is the case that God had influenced the actions of people so that a check would arrive. If the Christian maintains that the check arrived without influence from God, efficacy for prayer could not, then, be argued for.

Even other mundane requests such as help for passing an examination would involve, at the very least, God intervening in human affairs although free will might not be infringed upon in all cases (perhaps it could be argued that others may be placed at a disadvantage and thus were not able to actualize their choices which would have — absent prayer — have yielded a higher test result in a curved grade situation)?.

The Christian, then, next faces an atheistic objection concerning natural evil — why would God not intervene to stop deadly natural disasters, birth defects, etc — while maintaining that God intervenes in some areas in life but not in others. How could an all-loving, all-powerful, and all-knowing God intervene to help someone pass an examination but not intervene to stop hundreds dying because of a tsunami?

Christians who argue that God intervenes in some circumstances — whether infringing upon free will or not — but not in others face tremendous difficulties in explaining why God would act in some situations [often quite mundane] and not in others [involving gratuitous suffering]. Saying God doesn’t intervene because he wants to preserve free will yet maintaining prayer worked in some situations in which free will was infringed upon places Christians in an even deeper morass.

For more of my thoughts on the problem of evil, see this category.

As always, feel free to comment below.


A request to die with dignity

Death vocalist Chuck Schuldiner on album cover Vivus!
Death vocalist Chuck Schuldiner on album cover Vivus! Photo: Relapse Records/ deathband.bandcamp.com

“A request to die with dignity. Is that too much to ask?” – Death, ‘Suicide Machine’

Many of my readers know that I am a fan of the metal group Death. Many of Death’s songs, much to my liking, have philosophical themes which lead listeners to ponder deep questions about human existence.

The songs ‘Suicide Machine‘ and ‘Pull the Plug‘ deal with themes of suicide — particularly assisted suicide/euthanasia — and appear to show support for people with terminal illnesses who, instead of “prolong[ing] the pain,” want to end their lives prematurely.

Vocalist Chuck Schuldiner sang, “A request to die with dignity. Is that too much to ask?,” “In death they now seek tranquility,” “Extending agony they must be blind,” and “Pull the plug let me pass away/Pull the plug don’t want to live this way” making what appears to be a compelling case for supporting euthanasia.

Newlywed Brittany Maynard, aged 29, has recently appeared in various media outlets announcing to the world that she has been diagnosed with brain cancer and has only six months to live. Rather than dying of natural causes and suffering from the brain cancer, Maynard has elected to end her life via physician-assisted suicide in an area where doing so is legal. Maynard has said, “I don’t want to die. But I am dying. Death with dignity is the phrase I’m comfortable using. I am choosing to go in a way that is with less suffering and less pain.”

Religious traditions concerned with a seemingly non-negotiable dignity of life (see here for one example from a Catholic perspective) typically oppose assisted suicide on grounds that because human life has some natural dignity [endowed by God] it should not be willfully ended under any circumstances. Catholics — using this line of thought — will generally also oppose the death penalty, abortion, and murder (although theories of just war and ideas on self defense can seemingly allow for some wiggle room with this idea of natural dignity).

A Catholic perspective arguing against euthanasia runs contrary to [non-Catholic] perspectives on personal liberties and individual autonomy which generally empower individuals to make decisions about their lives absent unjustified harm to oneself and/or others.

In the case of euthanasia, it especially seems to matter that the choice to end one’s life is informed and reasonable lest — as opponents of euthanasia would argue — undue harm is inflicted and self-destructive actions are taken. Is Maynard’s situation one in which harm and self-destructive actions are warranted?

This undated photo provided by the Maynard family shows Brittany Maynard. Maynard Family/AP Photo
This undated photo provided by the Maynard family shows Brittany Maynard. Maynard Family/AP Photo

Surely, not all reasons people have for ending their lives are informed. Mental health professionals rightly pathologize suicidal thoughts coupled with intent, means, and a plan. In the case of a terminal illness, much different than pathological plans for suicide, the case to end one’s life is compelling – there exists a chronic condition which ultimately will end one’s life and an individual wants to avoid a high level of pain. Maynard’s decision is an informed one backed with good reasons made in a right state of mind.

Perhaps this dignity of life Catholics speak of can be preserved through an early ending of life absent a high level of pain caused by brain cancer. Is there much dignity — or really any level of human flourishing — in dying a very painful death in which natural bodily functions may not function in a proper way? Ought Maynard — on a moral and legal level — to be empowered to end her life should she desire and the circumstances warrant it in a society in which we are generally granted personal autonomy and individual liberty?

While individual Catholics or other individuals may oppose euthanasia and not want to end their lives early if diagnosed with a terminal illness, I don’t believe this sentiment should be binding on all within a pluralistic society. Rather than prolonging the pain, individuals ought to have an ability to opt-out — to end their lives early given a diagnosis of a terminal disease — and make choices about their own lives without interference from governmental officials or imposition of Catholic teachings unless, of course, they desire Catholic teachings and interference from government.

We can both value life and support an individual’s moral and/or legal right to make informed decisions about their lives — euthanasia included — especially in cases of ending one’s life prematurely in the case of terminal illness. My valuing of life extends others bodily autonomy and personal liberties by which they can make informed decisions.

As always, feel free to comment below. This piece, designed to be no longer than 800 words, will not fully cover a vast topic such as euthanasia, but hopefully will inspire some self-reflection and discussion.

Can we trust reason if God doesn’t exist?

Photo: Getty Images/DiatoZen
Photo: Getty Images/DiatoZen

I respond to the assertion that if the Christian god does not exist we cannot trust our own reasoning.

C.S. Lewis and other Christian apologists often formulate arguments such that an atheist has no grounds to trust their own reasoning faculties if it is the case that the universe were not designed by the Christian god. C.S. Lewis, in his book The Case for Christianity, explains,

“Supposing there was no intelligence behind the universe, no creative mind. In that case, nobody designed my brain for the purpose of thinking. It is merely that when the atoms inside my skull happen, for physical or chemical reasons, to arrange themselves in a certain way, that gives me, as a by-product, the sensation I call thought. But is so, how can I trust my own thinking to be true? […] But if I can’t trust my own thinking, of course I can’t trust the arguments leading to Atheism, and therefore have no reason to be an Atheist or anything else. Unless I believe in God, I cannot believe in thought: so I can never use thought to disbelieve in God” (Lewis, 32).

Lewis’ reasoning has several flaws. First, Lewis assumes that we cannot believe our reasoning faculties are reliable/trustworthy if it is the case that random processes (rather than a supreme intelligence) lead to thought. Why is this the case? Lewis merely, at least in this passage, only asserts that random processes do not provide justification for believing our thought faculties are available – that thought processes can only be thought of as reliable if a supreme intelligence had created them.

The process by which thought came to exist, I think, has no bearing on whether thought processes can be thought of as reliable, but rather looking at perhaps the results and analyzing the accuracy (in most cases) of said thought processes should lead to whether we can be justified in believing our thought processes are reliable.

As I explained in a piece refuting presuppositional apologetics, believing induction — that the future will resemble the past given sufficient trials or experiences — is reliable…and the circularity of induction is not only a problem for atheists, but also a problem for theists which — in order to start reasoning at all — ought to be believed lest we live reckless, destructive lives.

We can distrust out own thinking when we have good reasons to, but in tasks of everyday life we have very good reason to trust our thinking. We believe that our toothbrushes are not going to randomly fly out of our hands or harm us in some way. We understand that when we pour water from a pitcher water will empty into a glass and not spill. Because of tremendous experience with mundane life tasks (and even more complex tasks) we have good grounds to trust our reasoning; our thought processes are constantly vindicated when we are able to properly function as human beings. God, then, need not enter into explanations about justification for reasoning.phillyflight

Another flaw in Lewis’ piece surrounds ‘arguments for atheism’ – as if disbelief in Christian theology is only justified if atheists can raise successful counter-arguments. While several good counter-arguments exist to cast significant doubt upon Christian belief (problem of natural suffering; incompatibility between free will and divine foreknowledge; similar epistemological methods leading to different conclusions about religious beliefs…) , it is ultimately the case that without Christians advancing good arguments for Christian belief there is no good reason to suggest Christian belief is true [the burden of proof is on the Christian who makes a positive claim].

Third, why does Lewis privilege the Christian god over competing religious claims; that is, why assume that the creator of the universe is the Christian god? Lewis’ argumentation, if we accept it for sake of argument, can only lead someone to believe a creative intelligence which created the universe exists or existed. After all, the Christian god is not the only possible ‘greatest conceivable being.’

Finally, Lewis’ argument just reeks of ‘God of the gaps’ or ‘mystery therefore magic‘ reasoning. Because the atheist can’t give an accounting for thought processes without assuming the Christian god exists, Lewis asserts, the Christian god must exist. Centuries ago (and even in decades past) theists almost certainly have used this line of reasoning with other natural phenomena such as earthquakes, diseases, lightning, etc.; because there appeared to be no explanation for x phenomenon God must exist – only an explanation appealing to God is viable since no good competing explanations exist.

Even if the atheist has no accounting for reasoning (or any other phenomena), the theist is not justified in asserting that because something can’t be explained one has good reason to suggest the Christian god exists. The atheist can say ‘I don’t know.’ How ought one bridge the gap from ‘I don’t know’ to the Christian god did it…and the story of the resurrection, Holy Trinity, various miracles, a global flood, etc. are also true by the way.

A more modern version of Lewis’ argument is recast by Christian philosopher Alvin Plantinga. Watch Plantinga discuss his evolutionary argument against naturalism with atheist philosopher Stephen Law below.


As always, feel free to comment below.


“Turn your mind off” says Joel Osteen

Photo: D Dipasupil / Getty Images
Photo: D Dipasupil / Getty Images

I respond to Joel Osteen’s anti-intellectual encouragement for people to ‘turn their minds off’ and embrace faith.

Megachurch pastor Joel Osteen frequently advances a prominent anti-intellectual attitude of neglecting reason, argument, and evidence in favor of faith within a philosophically barren sphere of Christianity.

On October 2, Osteen wrote, “Faith is not in your head. Faith is in your heart. Sometimes you have to turn your mind off and listen to your heart.”

It is difficult to charitably interpret Joel Osteen’s comment particularly because his position appears to be self-refuting; Osteen advances what he would consider reasonable advice while simultaneously telling people to neglect using their minds which would be necessary for comprehending advice. Perhaps Osteen is being metaphorical — particularly because thought is a product of the brain and not the heart — and wants people to prioritizing feelings while neglecting anything which would seem to oppose feeling?

Nevertheless, it is quite clear that Osteen is not advancing what some Christians would call a reasonable faith or a combination of faith and reason which would warrant belief in the Christian god. Rather than providing reasons for Christian belief — without merely appealing to faith — Osteen advocates a position of ‘listening to the heart’ – a faulty approach to attaining justified true beliefs which ironically leads religious people of various denominations to radically different conclusions about the nature of the supernatural…and presumably also leads some to believe that no gods exist.

If Christian belief — or any belief for that matter — is worthy of consideration it should have no difficulty facing the greatest intellectual challenges. Rather than ‘turning the mind off,’ Christian adherents ought to, as 1 Peter 3:15 suggests, provide reasons for their belief in God. Besides, if there is good reason to suggest Christian belief is warranted, faith — in Osteen’s case, ‘listening to the heart’ — need not enter the picture.

I am extremely skeptical of someone who casts reason, argument, and evidence as something to be shunned – something to be ‘turned off’ – especially when very good reasons exist to doubt the claim being advanced. Osteen’s position, it seems, regarding Christians dealing with doubt, is not to rationally evaluate whether Christian beliefs should be maintained, but rather appears to be a suggestion to self-delude and neglect to wrestle with any challenges. Perhaps this position also further mires Osteen in an epistemological wasteland since this renders Christian belief is unfalsifiable — immune to revision — if it is the case that all challenges should be neglected in favor of faith.

Resorting to a position of telling others to ‘turn their minds off’ is a tactic of desperation and a huge red flag indicating that a claim may not stand to face intellectual rigor. Osteen offers a faulty epistemology with his anti-intellectual appeals. Christians should do much better than this. Are there any other areas in life in which people should ‘turn their minds off’ and ‘listen to their heart?’ If not, why take this approach when considering Christian belief?

As always, feel free to comment below.