Update: King’s College Should Serve Meat on Fridays during Lent

During the Lenten season, King’s College removes meat from ALL dining locations on campus and forces students and faculty to abide by the Catholic tradition of fasting from meat on Fridays regardless of their religious beliefs, lack of religion, or general disagreement with the Catholic tradition of fasting. Some King’s College students are not traditional Catholics in the sense of following all traditions and abiding by them. Many believers in the Christian god do not subscribe to church teaching and have their own views of how they should worship god and abide by church teachings. King’s College should serve meat on Lenten Fridays so that the fast is an option and authentic. Serving meat will respect the choices of meat-eaters, not financially burden those who wish to purchase meat on Friday, and assure that the college’s mission statement is upheld. Read More

Equivocating Faith

In a recent issue of the “Monarch Minute,” a short publication issued by the King’s College Student Government Association, student Ryan Glenn had the following to offer:

A Word From…

Ryan P. Glenn on Faith

Consider all the things we put our faith into; we have faith that our government will properly serve us. We have faith that the laws of science are well established (and that we won’t float aimlessly into outer space whenever we walk outside). We have faith in each other as we strive for the best in ourselves and in our world. Many of us have faith in a loving, benevolent God who tenderly cares for us. In my own experience, faith is a constant struggle. Faith is not simply a blind acceptance of how things are. Instead, faith for me is a life-long journey in trying to figure out the relationship I have with myself, with others, and with God. I have found that faith is a commitment to seek that which lies beyond my limited human understanding. Faith is the doorway to true peace and happiness. Enjoy the journey!

I’ve previously commented on faith in various posts including a conversation I had with my former priest. Theists constantly try to legitimize faith in God by comparing it with “faith” that we employ every day. People make statements like, “You have faith that George Washington existed! You don’t KNOW that George Washington existed because YOU WEREN’T THERE and have to have faith that he existed! I have faith, just like you, that God exists!” This method is extremely fallacious.

Equivocation is an informal logical fallacy in which a person uses a term two times although the term has a different definition in both instances. Unaware readers will see the term used in the first instance (or the second) and assume that the same definition works in both instances. You can see the equivocation quite early in Glenn’s passage when he says that we have “faith in the government” and “faith in science”…and then switches to faith in God using the same sort of definition that he proposes.

Faith in God is quite different than the “faith” we place in the government. The government exists in order to protect the people, enact and enforce laws, and is set up with a system of checks and balances so that people are protected. The government grants us certain “unalienable rights.” Government officials certainly make bad decisions at times, but one of the main purposes of our government is to protect the people. It seems quite odd to say that we have faith that the government will protect us…and this certainly isn’t the same kind of faith that people have when they believe that an omni-god exists. The government certainly exists. Documents such as the constitution guarantee rights. Lawmakers are held accountable when they make bad decisions. People can vote for representatives and “vote out” people they don’t like.

It’s even stranger to suggest that we have “faith” in the laws of science because they permit no exceptions and are statements about how the world works. Take thermodynamics, for example. The laws of thermodynamics permit no exceptions and have been observed to be true in any possible scenario. Do we need “faith” to believe in the laws of thermodynamics? Ryan notes, “and that we won’t float aimlessly into outer space whenever we walk outside,” but this seems silly because there is no rational reason to suppose that universal laws will suddenly be violated, gravity would be suspended, etc. We don’t need faith to believe in gravity.

Ryan notes, “We have faith in each other as we strive for the best in ourselves and in our world.” I’m not quite sure what he means here because this statement is very vague and to be charitable, his space in this publication was very limited. This certainly is not akin to a belief in a supernatural realm, an omni-god who cares for us, created the universe, and sent his son to die for our sins. We work with others constantly and most of us are generally good human beings. We certainly hope that we will succeed in life, but this isn’t the same thing as “I have faith that God exists.”

Suddenly, Ryan jumps, using the same term, “faith” to say “Many of us have faith in a loving, benevolent God who tenderly cares for us” and explains that “faith is a constant struggle.” Do we constantly struggle with the belief that our government will properly serve us? Do we constantly struggle with belief in gravity? I think not. The equivocation is quite obvious. Glenn can’t possibly mean the same thing when he talks about “faith in God” and “faith in the laws of science and the government.”

He also goes on to note that “Faith is not simply a blind acceptance of how things are. Instead faith for me is a life-long journey in trying to figure out the relationship I have with myself, with others, and with God.” The use of instead here doesn’t make sense to me because he first states that he has faith in God then states that is is a journey to try and figure out the relationship he has with God. Usually, when the word instead is used, it is meant to show a contrast such as “This is not this, but rather that; My belief isn’t the product of tradition, instead it is the product of research and hard thinking.”

Theists constantly equivocate faith in this manner and attempt to legitimize faith in God by trying to argue that it is acceptable because we employ faith in other areas of life. Faith in God and “faith in science,” as I explained, are totally different. We would never say “I have faith in gravity.” We know that gravity exists.

If belief in God were rational, warranted, and based on fact, we would never have faith entering the picture, but rather could simply give an argument and come to a reasoned conclusion. Even for issues that can seem quite unclear, I would never say something like, “I have faith that we don’t have free will.” If I were to ever say something like this in a philosophy class and then continue to say, “We use faith in all areas of life and or knowledge is limited,” I would be rightly ridiculed and laughed at by the students. Faith is no pathway to truth, but rather an excuse that we use when we don’t have a reason to believe something. It’s certainly not blind (in some cases), but it is void of truth.


Hate Mail Proves My Point

My blog and Facebook profile typically have lively positive discussion that is engaging, but I get quite a large deal of hate mail. As always, I welcome discussion, but little discussion is had when people offer personal attacks, wish that someone would shoot me, and tell me to come to a dorm room so “my fat face can get fucked up [for Jesus].” Of course not all theists are like this, but many of these people are indeed your “average Joe moderates.” Read More

Times Leader Interview 11/25/10

A holiday from controversy

Luzerne County’s diverse lawn display apparently satisfies religious and secular people alike.

By Jennifer Learn-Andes jandes@timesleader.com
Luzerne County Reporter

A seasonal display has returned to the Luzerne County Courthouse lawn, with the traditional Nativity mixed in with Santa,
a Menorah and candy canes.
A seasonal display that includes a Nativity has returned to the Luzerne County Courthouse lawn, and King’s College senior Justin Vacula said he’s fine with it.
Vacula was the target of backlash last year when he initiated a complaint about the display that led to its removal.
After legal research, county officials set up a more diverse display that is being repeated this year.
According to a resolution recently adopted by commissioners, the display must now include a menorah, Santa Claus, snowman, snowflake, Christmas tree with a Kwanzaa symbol ornament and a sign that reads, “Luzerne County celebrates its cultural heritage this holiday season.”
Courthouse workers say finishing touches to the display will be made early next week.
Vacula said he has no problem with this arrangement, as opposed to last year’s initial display that isolated and illuminated the Nativity.
“This seems to be the way to go. Now everything is together as a unified display,” said the 22-year-old Exeter native.
His decision to turn to the American Civil Liberties Union and Americans United for Separation of Church and State last year turned him into somewhat of an outcast.
Vacula said he was inundated with hate mail, paper and electronic, and one local radio station described him as the third most hated local person after former county judges Michael Conahan and Mark Ciavarella, who were implicated in the federal corruption probe. People called for him to be expelled from King’s College, he said.
There were also demonstrations outside the courthouse before the Nativity was returned to the courthouse lawn, and a page was set up on the Facebook social networking website to criticize Vacula, he said.
“I received a lot of after-death threats. People said I’d be tormented for eternity, and that they wanted to watch it happen. People said they hoped I’d get shot and hit by a van and die,” Vacula said.
In retrospect, Vacula said people turned it into a religious debate, when he thought of it as a legal one.
“It was a legal issue. Whether you’re a believer or not, I think everyone should be in support of separation of church and state. People didn’t understand that,” Vacula said.
He said he doesn’t regret his stance, though he wishes he had been better prepared for the “hysteria.”
“I thought there would be a backlash, but I didn’t think it was going to be as big as it was,” he said.
Vacula, an atheist who posts his views at greenatheist.blogspot.com, said he accomplished his goal: ensuring that the county complied with the law.
He said many came forward to support him in that goal, though some didn’t openly show it.
“People said I was taking away Christmas. That’s impossible to do. People can put anything they want in their yards. They can meet with their family at Christmas and go to Mass,” he said.
Jennifer Learn-Andes, a Times Leader staff writer, may be reached at 831-7333.

TV Appearance on Local News

You can view the clip of my interview concerning Westboro Baptist Church’s announced protest of a military funeral procession here [link no longer working]. Start at the 19:15 to get the full story about the funeral of fallen soldier Dale Kridlo. My interview starts at 23:20. The buffering speed is slow, but it loads.