Tag: Christianity

Open Doors: 4300 Christians Murdered in 2018

Rafael Augusto B.L. de Oliveira | Brazil

What does it mean to be a Christian? To some, it means finding shelter and strength through our Lord’s word in order to overcome our daily challenges. To others, it means helping those in need. Whatever are your reasons to be a disciple of our Lord Jesus Christ, being a Christian isn’t always an easy task; our faith has tests all the time. To be a Christian sometimes means having to face hatred and persecution. During hard times, it’s quite important for we Christians to keep our faith strong and stay united. 

 If the world hate you, ye know that it hated me before it hated you. 

 If ye were of the world, the world would love his own: but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you.

– John 15:18-19 (KJV) 

Christian Persecution in the World 

When I say persecution, not only do I mean that Christians are being oppressed through violent means, but also through less obvious means such as biased laws and psychological bullying. A good example of this is how in several countries in the Middle East, laws force Christians to restrict their expression of faith. 

Schools commonly teach about past oppression and violence against Christians. Unfortunately, many of these issues still occur today in parts of the world. Without action, it may only get worse. Currently, persecution of Christians happens mostly in theocratic Muslim countries and areas where terrorist cells have control.

For example, extremists in Syria levied a jizya on any non-Muslims. Those who could not comply had to either convert to Islam or face death. where Christians are a minority and are forced to live under strict regulations such as paying special taxes and not being allowed to practice their faith in public. Moreover, Islamic Saudi authorities violently imprisoned 35 Christians in 2012 for holding a prayer circle.

In several other countries, Christians and other minority religions may only practice their faith in private. In fact, nations with Sharia law often ban items and articles from other religions such as Crucifixes and statues. The mistreatment of Christians is not exclusively in Muslim countries. It also occurs in the Jewish state of Israel and dictatorships such as North Korea. According to Open Doors, the totalitarian state holds some 50,000 Christians in forced-labor camps. 

Open Doors: Christians Murdered in 2018

Sometimes the dedication we have for Christ can even lead to murder. In 2018, 4300 Christians were killed across the globe, according to Open Doors, a non-denominational mission with the goal of helping Christians in countries where Christianity is oppressed for cultural or political reasons. Sadly, the number is only going up. In 2017, there were 3066 murders of Christians for religious reasons. This represents a 40% increase from the previous year.  

However, Open Doors is attempting to eventually bring this number to zero. Andrew van der Bijl founded the group as a small operation to illegally smuggle Bibles to Soviet-controlled Poland in the cold war. Later on, they expanded, smuggling Bibles all over the Communist bloc. Nowadays, Open Doors helps Christians exert their rightful will of regularly practicing their faith in over 70 countries where oppressive laws still exist.

An Increased Danger 

As stated above, the murder rate of Christians drastically increased last year. Unfortunately, the coming years may spell out even more danger for the world’s most common religion. Several factors are leading to this. Michel Varton, the current director of Open Doors, stated that ”The number of vandalized Churches in regions where Christianity is a minority, has highly increased in the past few years”. 

Clashes with Christianity 

In the internet age, information is at everyone’s hands. So, it is becoming more difficult for dictatorships to dumb down the masses. But unfortunately, many countries still use religion as a tool by teaching a twisted, radicalized version of Islam. 

Governments of Muslim-majority countries often see the spread of Christianity as a threat to their power. As a result, they tend to discretely marginalize Christianity through Sharia law. For some of them, Christianity is a symbol of Western imperialism. Thus, they perceive it as a sign of disrespect to their local cultures and customs. 

Some oppressive governments in Asia also see the expansion of Christianity as a threat. This has been a notably growing trend in several parts of Asia with Hindu fanaticism and Buddhist radicalism. Both have taken an aggressive stance towards foreign religions in recent years.  

The Spread of Radical Islam

The vast majority of the incoming immigrants and refugees from the Middle East just want to mind their own businesses and have a chance for a fresh start in the Western world. Unfortunately, a small minority are violent radicals. With a recent uptick in radical Islam in Sweden and other countries, persecution of Christians may increase.  

Moreover, radical Islamic movements have been gaining strength in Asia and Africa. Particularly, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Nigeria, and Somalia have seen drastic increases.

An End in Sight?

At this time, it does not appear that the next few years will bring an end to these horrific murders. However, groups like Open Doors and others hope to minimize the casualties and enrich religious freedom. We have only scratched the surface about this, but as the internet thrives, it appears that awareness for Christian persecution may also rise. With this, awareness groups may hope to raise more funds and rally more people to their cause to end intolerance.

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Libertarianism is not Self-Destructive or Unsustainable

By Mason Mohon | @mohonofficial

A recent article by an unknown guest contributor on the Bilan Report suggested that a libertarian society is unsustainable for various reasons. Among these are the ideas that all personal freedom leads to libertinism, individualism is incompatible with the NAP (non-aggression principle), and the supposed libertarian assumption that all governance is bad. The author makes many misconceptions about libertarianism in their article. In response, this piece attempts to set the record straight on libertarian philosophy.

Continue reading “Libertarianism is not Self-Destructive or Unsustainable”

California Legislation Goes After “Fundamentalist Christian” Views of Sexuality

By Jason Patterson | California

Does freedom mean freedom to speak, or does it mean freedom to censor speech that you don’t like?

In the state of California, left-wing lawmakers are attempting to pass a bill that would ban the sale of books that includes “fundamentalist” Christian views on sexuality and marriage.

Assembly Bill 2943 would make it an ‘unlawful business practice’ to engage in ‘a transaction intended to result or that results in the sale or lease of goods or services to any consumer’ that advertise, offer to engage in, or to engage in ‘sexual orientation change efforts with an individual,’” according to the National Review.

That’s a lot to be taking in. So let’s break it down, looking at both sides without bias.

• Some Christians threat it could lead to also banning bibles due to verses that could be considered anti-homosexual.

• California is one of the most “queerest” states in the country and San Francisco has more LGBT civilians than any other city in the country.

• This isn’t a simple ban in “public libraries,” but rather a ban on a book being allowed to be sold in any form, private and public.

The bill is sure to spark further controversy. Whether or not it will pass has yet to be determined.

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Essentialism: The Mother of All Linear Thinking

Craig Axford | United States

There are some feelings

we just can’t think our way out of or ignore until they go away. A case in point is the conviction that we all carry with us that we have a core or essence — a certain je ne sais quoi that makes us who we are.

From this false sense of self we extrapolate to the world around us. If we have an essence that we can be reduced to, then just about everything and everyone else has the same quality. There is one fundamental thing that gives virtually everything in the universe its particular character. Even if we can’t put our finger on it, it’s there.

From this perspective essentialism isn’t so much a philosophy as it is an attitude. It’s an attempt to take our point of view and build a justification to back it up rather than an effort to better understand the world as it really is.

… the river is everywhere at once, at the source and at the mouth, at the waterfall, at the ferry, at the rapids, in the sea, in the mountains, everywhere at once, and that there is only the present time for it, not the shadow of the past, not the shadow of the future.” ~ Hermann Hesse, Siddhartha

Our environment consists of complex systems — ourselves included — that have many necessary parts but no sufficient ones. Each is carrying out a number of processes that react dynamically to other processes going on both within the system itself and within the larger world. Finding an essence in this pea soup of moving parts and feedback loops isn’t so much like looking for a needle in a haystack as it is like trying to find the butterfly in China that caused the hurricane in the Caribbean. It turns out there was an awful lot that had to go right from that hurricane’s perspective between the flapping of the butterfly’s wings and its development into a storm. Take away any one of them and you end up with something weaker than a hurricane, or maybe even nothing at all.

Furthermore, why stop with the butterfly? Before it there was a caterpillar, so the caterpillar, not the butterfly, must be the fundamental (i.e. first) cause of the hurricane. But we can’t consider the caterpillar without considering everything that went into making it, can we? And so on, and so on…

. . .

Essentialism is defined as “The principle or theory that any entity such as a person, group, object, or concept has innate and universal qualities.” The online sociology dictionary from which this definition was pulled gives as an example “a person is born gay.”

Homosexuality is an interesting choice, given it’s relatively easy to dismiss sexuality as an example of a “universal” quality, even if it is demonstrably innate. Let’s consider for a moment some of the varieties of human sexuality: heterosexual, bisexual, homosexual, & asexual. These can refer to preferences, behaviors, or both. The preferences may be strong, even absolute and inflexible in some people, while being weaker in others. A person who is very sexual in their teens and 20s may be largely asexual in their later years, or visa versa.

But if the quality of being universal is relatively easy to challenge, what about innateness? Certainly it is pretty well established at this point that homosexuality is genetic, isn’t it? There definitely is strong evidence that homosexuality, at least in most cases, has a biological basis. But then again sexuality in general has a biological basis, so attributing it to biology isn’t really saying much. Regardless, it’s not clear why identifying a gene(s) or other physical trigger with a particular behavior or preference qualifies as uncovering something essential about a person.

It is precisely because people exhibit a variety of sexual preferences and behaviors that no single one of them can be essential to being human. It follows then that no physical cause we might correlate with these behaviors will be essential either. Regardless, there are certainly instances of homosexuality (and heterosexuality, etc.) out there where the biological indicators of a different preference are present to at least some degree. In such cases we have to conclude that cultural, psychological and/or other environmental factors played a role. These cases cloud the either/or choices genetic/biological essentialism attempts to force upon us even further.

Photo by Audi Nissen on Unsplash

Essentialism doesn’t just fail to find something universal, let alone necessary, in particular expressions of sexuality. Differences in our physical abilities likewise reveal the weakness of linear essentialist thinking when it comes to human identity.

We are, with very very rare exceptions, born with two legs and arms, ten toes and fingers, etc. These features of the human body are, most definitely, innate. Bipedalism and opposable thumbs are two features we use to distinguish ourselves from other species. If essentialism was to find a home anywhere, surely it would be in these truly innate universal traits.

As it turns out losing a limb or limbs, while having a profound physical impact upon a person’s body, does not impact upon the essential humanity of the person suffering the loss. Indeed, thanks to advances in medical and other technologies these losses, though still traumatic, are arguably less significant now than they have ever been.

As I was completing this piece, the brilliant physicist Stephen Hawking died. If anyone proved the essence of a human being does not reside in a healthy fully functioning body, he did. Hawking spent more than five decades crippled by the debilitating illness known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease. Yet in spite of being unable to move his limbs and having to rely upon sophisticated technology to communicate, his mind remained sharp. Indeed, few in history rivalled his capacity to transform the way we think about the universe.

. . .

So what does it mean to be essentially human, or anything else? Is there one component or quality that a person, group, or object can be reduced to that defines their essence?

In his book Scale, the theoretical physicist Geoffrey West puts the problem this way: “Because the essence of any measurable quantity cannot depend on an arbitrary choice of units made by human beings, neither can the laws of physics.”

West wasn’t talking about essentialism in a sociological or philosophical context, but still his point is well taken. If anything can arguably be described as the essence of a thing, it cannot be “an arbitrary choice” by humans that we depend upon to define it. In physics a good example is an object’s mass. Mass doesn’t vary according to whether we are using kilograms or pounds to articulate it. The unit of measurement is referring to something that is invariant and should not be mistaken for the thing (i.e. mass) it is referring to.

Can humans be reduced to a single invariant quality? Can other species for that matter? Keep in mind we are talking about an invariant quality, not biological processes that follow the same scaling laws regardless of species or environment. Do we even want such an unmovable center at the heart of our complexity given the implications that follow from it for things such as choice, resilience, and openness to new experiences?

. . .

The effort to reduce human beings to as few data points as possible, with one being the obvious if unobtainable ideal, has taken on new urgency in the age of big data. That correlation does not equal causation has not stopped marketers, corporations, and governments from correlating the hell out of us. With every click or swipe they make new assumptions about our personalities and preferences. By nudging us in that direction with the next ad or search result that appears on the screen algorithms seek confirmation through their own self reinforcing feedback loops.

As I’ve argued elsewhere, if there’s one thing humans can’t be objective about it’s themselves. But even if we could, somehow, find a magic place from which to cast an unbiased eye over our own experiences (collective as well as individual), it’s hard to imagine finding from that transcendent perch a single essential thing at the core of the human experience from which every other aspect of our existence could be understood and predicted.

The gene won’t do. The more we learn about genetics the more mutable the gene becomes. The relatively new field of epigenetics has revealed that changes take place in gene expression over our lifetime which even have implications for future generations not exposed to the original environmental trigger. These impacts are in addition to the usual mutations that play a key role in both disease and evolution.

Likewise, the brain has proven itself to be incredibly modular and plastic. Finding something essential there is a quixotic endeavor in light of this fluidity. Attempting to pin the essential tail on the existential donkey when the donkey in question is different from one day to the next at the cellular, organ, and experiential level isn’t just difficult. It’s an exercise in futility.

. . .

Essentialism is a product of our tendency to categorize things in our environment and to draw clear lines between these categories that connect a supposed cause to an actual effect. Historically these lines have often been fantastic, leading to all manner of superstitions and myths being offered up as explanations for everything from the weather to illness.

“When one tugs at a single thing in nature, he finds it attached to the rest of the world.” ~ John Muir

But with the possible exception of the most fundamental forces in nature connections are rarely few and linear. As systems become more complex, the list of influences contributing to a particular outcome grows creating a web of variables that no algorithm or supercomputer can possibly deal with entirely, let alone comprehend.

This isn’t to say life is just too complex for us to get closer to the truth of the matter. However, it is to say we can’t get very close to the truth by thinking in simple linear terms the way essentialism invites us to. Essentialism is the easy way out.

As Andrew Shtulman put it in his book Science Blind: Why Our Intuitive Theories About the World Are So Often Wrong, “Essentialist construals of genetic information are neither accurate nor productive, but they are an enduring obstacle to how we interpret such information because essentialism is our universal starting point for thinking about inheritance.” Shtulman concludes, “Even geneticists were once preschoolers intent on imbuing the biological world with discrete, immutable essences.” That isn’t just true of genetics and future geneticists playing in the preschool sandbox, but of virtually every area of human inquiry and everybody else. Fostering greater tolerance for nuance and uncertainty may not be as reassuring or intuitive as essentialism, but in the long run it’s by far our best bet.

Photo by Tiago Gerken on Unsplash

Other recent articles by Craig: Are You Getting Enough Awe in Your Experiential Diet? & This Darwin Day Let’s Remember Evolution is About Kinship Too

Follow Craig on Twitter or read articles by him on Medium.com

Why We Will Never Forget Waco

When I was a child my grandfather had a coffee mug that always grabbed my attention. On one side it read “Ruby Ridge Never Again” and on the flip side it read “Waco Never Forget.” He wasn’t an anarchist or a gun nut but my grandfather recognized that what happened in Waco in the early Spring months of 1993 was a breach of our constitutional liberties and a painful twisting of the institutional rights that govern a separation of religion and state. Over 80 Branch Davidians and four ATF agents would die during the course of a 3-month standoff that culminated in what amounted to a nationally televised snuff film paid and orchestrated by our federal government. Today, as we witness the 25th anniversary of the event, the aftershocks of Waco still command rabid debate.

Waco would come to politicize the modern gun rights and religious freedom movements in ways that still linger today. Waco was the convergence of many political and cultural manifestations of the late baby boomer generation that found itself in the jaws of a modern state that seemed to care little for our Bill of Rights. Aggressive and centralized power authorities, the politicians and federal agents that led this massacre were the embodiment of everything our founding fathers had hoped to protect us from.

The President was Bill Clinton, the Attorney General Janet Reno, and Waco their stomping ground. In the weeks leading up to what would become one of the gravest examples of government’s force on its own, freedom fighters, observers and a domestic terrorist gathered a mile away from the site to document, protest and discuss the developing situation. Among the members of the gallery included future Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh who was radicalized in the events during and after Waco.

For many in the anti-government movement, the months-long standoff at the compound verified many of their worries about an all encroaching state. For the men and women who believe the second amendment stands as a testament to the right to defend your property and loved ones against a tyrannical government, this was the moment of truth. Today, it should be remembered as a point of reference to those that critique the idea of American citizens protecting themselves in their own homes from an unruly and dictator-like central authority which expresses little humanism or care for their constituents. The second amendment does not guarantee you victory but it does give individuals the right to fight and die on their own terms and that’s exactly what the Davidians did.

The leader of the Branch Davidians was a charismatic, egotistical man named David Koresh. Growing up, Koresh suffered from dyslexia and learning disabilities but he preached the word of the gospel with passion and his following grew. His sermons were filled with readings from the book of Nahum which proclaimed a coming war with an apostate state. Koresh and his followers were obsessed with the idea that they would one day have to battle with a Babylonian government and the federal government’s aggression on the compound was a sign of the coming end times.

The Branch Davidians had a history in Waco, Texas. In the early 1960’s the Davidians leader Victor Houteff moved the organization to the Mount Carmel compound just a few miles north of Waco. Seventh Day Adventists, the Davidians believed they were living in a divine end time of biblical prophecies that would witness Christ’s Second Coming. Seen as an extremist Christian sect, the Davidians were people who truly believed their sole purpose to be the attainment of eternal life.

This all played a major role in the standoff as Koresh and followers honestly believed they were living through end times and that Koresh was a divine prophet. In recordings of top members, it became clear that the Davidians only desire was to get to heaven and they were willing to go the whole way (die) to prove their devotion.

On February 23, 1993, authorities arrived at the Mount Carmel compound with the intent to search the premises for illegal weapons. The story of what happened next depends on who you believe. What is agreed upon is that David Koresh came out the front door of the Mount Carmel compound and that’s where the agreement ends. According to ATF agents, they witnessed Koresh armed and began firing on the suspect. A bullet pierced Koresh’s wrist while another one bit through the closed door behind him, mortally wounding member Perry Jones. The Davidians argued that neither Koresh nor Jones was armed at the time. In the ensuing firefight between ATF agents and a well-armed Davidian complex, four ATF agents and six Davidians were killed. After this, there would be no turning back.

The videotapes of three video cameras that agents trained on the building that day had vanished by the time a federal inquiry was raised in the aftermath. All of the daily logs for the federal agents and deputies from that day also vanished in the months following the attack.

Federal agents were angry and they would show this anger in the following months through a series of psychological and physical attacks on the Davidians. Four of their people were dead and there would be hell to pay. For the Davidians also there appeared no way out of this predicament. The Davidians knew they would be arrested and charged with conspiracy to commit murder of a federal agent which carry life sentences. The standoff stalled and federal agents grew frustrated.

No tactic was deemed too unsavory for our federal agents. They stood on tanks outside the compound and flicked off women and children inside. Agents regularly pulled down their pants and mooned the inhabitants of the church while scrawling “David we are watching you” on the compound windows. Eventually, after the Davidians made it clear they would not surrender, federal agents resorted to psychological warfare in the form of playing loud noises and repetitive music day and night. One of the songs the ATF agents blared at the compound was Nancy Sinatra’s “These Boots Are Made For Walkin:”

You keep playing where you shouldn’t be playing

And you keep thinking that you’ll never get burnt

Well, I’ve just found me a brand new box of matches

And what he knows you ain’t had time to learn

These boots are made for walking, and that’s just what they’ll do

One of these days these boots are gonna walk all over you

The same morbid and bizarre strategies used against terror suspects during the Bush presidency were found first on American soil in Waco in 1993. Frustrated with the resolve of the Davidians, federal agents eventually shut off all electricity to the compound in hopes of forcing members out. They stayed, resorting to rationed rainwater as the onslaught of force continued.

There was never going to be a happy outcome to the events at Waco. FBI agents twisted and turned the Davidians in a sick game of good cop/bad cop until there would be no clean exits left. This strategy created increased distrust amongst Davidians and had the counter effect of emboldening their prophecies of an apostate state and the coming end times.

On the morning of April 19th, the time for discussion had come to a close. Federal agents called the Branch Davidian compound and instructed members that they would be commencing tank activity and to “take cover.” To this, the Davidians threw their phone out the front door. The end was near.

What happened next is still the source of great debate. According to the official timeline presented by our government, armored tanks approached the compound and poked holes in the building before pumping tear gas into the complex. At around 11:30 AM a small fire broke out on one side of the building and FBI surveillance records claim to have audio recordings of Davidians suggesting they set fire to the building themselves. It would be another hour before the fire department was called to the scene.

In all, 76 Branch Davidians would die in the fire that day and in the months and years following questions continued to linger regarding the timeline of events as portrayed by federal officials. The first major criticism was lobbed by Houston attorney Dick DeGuerin who went inside the Mount Carmel complex during the siege and testified at trial that the bullet holes found on the front door from the initial approach by agents on February 23rd showed incoming rounds, not outgoing. This suggested that it was ATF agents who fired on the complex first instead of the official statement that portrayed ATF agents returning fire against the Davidians who initiated the fight. At the trial, officials claimed to have ‘lost’ the door referred to by DeGuerin and Texas Trooper David Keys testified to seeing the missing door placed into a U-haul by two men after the siege, never to be seen again.

Another cause of controversy was the manner in which the tanks administered tear gas on the morning of April 19th. Survivor David Thibodeau claimed that damage to the building from the tanks allowed the gas to spread. Although the FBI had planted surveillance devices along the walls of the compound to use as evidence in the trial, members of the jury had trouble making out much of the conversations over the noise and hiss present throughout the tapes. While the FBI insisted the conversations provided audio evidence of Koresh and followers talking about lighting the compound on fire, many of the members in the trial audience claimed that they could make out no such conversations over the imperfect recordings.

Furthering questions of the state’s case was the element of pyrotechnic devices found in the rubble of the compound. Attorney General Janet Reno denied use of the devices and from 1993 to 1999 the FBI denied under oath the use of any pyrotechnic devices in the assault. So then why were there pyrotechnic devices found in the rubble? When the FBI turned over documents to Congress in 1994 for an internal investigation, the page listing the use of pyrotechnic devices was missing. Years later, a senior FBI official told Newsweek that more than 100 federal agents were aware of the use of pyrotechnic devices on the compound on April 19th, 1993.

We still don’t know, fully what happened. Perhaps Koresh and his followers did indeed attack ATF agents. Perhaps they did, indeed, set fire to their compound in an attempt to verify the claims of their prophecies. However, many believe it is more likely that the federal government had no business being on the property to begin with and that their use of force in the approach on February 23rd backed Koresh and his followers into a corner they would never get out of.

We remember Waco as a prime example of the power and authority that our modern federal government commands over free American citizens. The escalation of force and the trampling of religious freedoms by Janet Reno and federal agents crystalized what many saw as an increasingly dogmatic and ill government run by authoritarians. Our government targeted a group of off the grid end-timers on paper thin gun charges and met true believers of the second amendment and their religious rights.

We remember Waco not as a footnote of our American history but as a major expression of a new era of American politicians that sought to discontinue the prescriptions of liberty as laid out in our constitution. The memory of the men, women, and children who died in a blaze of fire that day in Waco remind us all that there are still those amongst us willing to live and die by the sword of eternal freedom.