Category Archives: Essays

Can Prayer Change God’s Mind?

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In a small town in the American Middlewest, a young boy is diagnosed with terminal cancer. His church community rallies together to pray for his healing. Three months later, doctors find no signs of cancer; he has been completely healed. The church community celebrates the apparent miracle—the power of prayer saved this little boy’s life!

In a similar situation, in another small town in the American Middlewest, another young boy is diagnosed with terminal cancer. Likewise, his church community rallies together to pray for his healing. Three months later, the little boy dies.

What is the difference between the two scenarios? In both cases, a child has a terminal disease and, in both cases, a large church community gathers to pray for the boy’s healing. Why is it that one boy lives and the other doesn’t? Did the second group not pray as hard? Did they pray incorrectly? In either case, did prayer work?

These are hypothetical scenarios, but the reader is sure to be familiar with these kinds of stories. A disaster happens, someone comes upon hard times, a friend comes down with a terrible disease. No matter what, we are encouraged to pray, the assumption being that the act of prayer will help to bring about a positive outcome in the situation.

When it ends the way that we want, we rejoice in the power of prayer. Of course, when it doesn’t end positively, or when something completely unexpected occurs, we say that it wasn’t God’s will and find some sort of meaning in what does happen.

While this is a comforting approach for some, it leaves many questions on the table. It can be misleading and, as a result, might end up hurting more than it comforts. A reassessment is called for.

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Fake News Isn’t the Problem, Relativism Is

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When the soon-to-be-president Trump called a CNN reporter ‘fake news’ to his face, it was both entertaining and ironic. First of all, it was great theater seeing such an esteemed agency being called out in such a public forum. But, if anyone is a peddler of fake news, it is Trump.

Fake news has become something of a boogeyman man of late. Since Trump’s surprising election, politicians and pundits from both sides of the debate have pointed to fake news as a major culprit in the debacle.

But so-called fake news is not limited to news agencies broadcasting dubious partisan views—that is just the most prominent example, so everyone, including the future president, is harping on it. Looking closer, we see that fake news actually stems from a more fundamental crisis of philosophy that has swept through our culture in the last decades: The belief that truth is relative and all one needs to do to make something true is to say it. That philosophy is what fake news is all about, and the Donald might be its most reliable adherent. Continue reading

On Mourning Celebrities

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2016 was uncommonly brutal on celebrities.

I might be a humbug, but I don’t get the grief over celebrity deaths. Yes, death is bad and it is especially sad to think of a talented person passing. As psychologist David Kaplan suggests in Lindsay Holmes’ reflection on Prince’s death, “We may grieve celebrities because our dream was to emulate their career path or because a celebrity death can also remind us of our mortality.”

But is all the lamentation really appropriate? Continue reading

Why No One Leaves the Country After an Election

In the last few months, several celebrities have threatened to move out of the United States if the Donald became president. Notables such as Whoopi Goldberg, Jonathan Stewart, Cher, Samuel L. Jackson, and Miley Cyrus all put their feet down before the election as a way to protest the possibility of their side losing.

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Former “Daily Show” host Jon Stewart said he would consider “getting in a rocket and going to another planet, because clearly this planet’s gone bonkers” if the real estate mogul wins.

Of course, now that the election has passed, and the Donald has indeed been elected president, the celebrities are not so gung-ho anymore. As the Daily Mail reports, “Some dismissed what they pledged as a ‘joke’ and others simply went to ground when asked by DailyMail.com when they were packing up and heading to Canada or other countries.”

This is rather disappointing to some, who saw the purging of this group as the best reason to vote for Trump. It also brings into question the formerly rock-solid faith that fans had in the celebrities. As Miley Cyrus said, “I don’t say things I don’t mean!” What are we to believe now that she has apparently had a change of heart and now accepts Trump as the president?

This shouldn’t be a surprise. As explained in the 2010 essay, Juggernaut, I explored this kind of threat to leave and why it so rarely happens. In short, we live in a closed economy, and the threat to leave is a kind of wishful thinking that such an action would be productive. When the election is over, the realization that there is no better option sinks in, and we all end up dealing with what we’re given. Continue reading

If You Think This Is About Sexism and Racism, You’re Missing the Point

At first, it was entertaining to watch the talking heads try to make sense of the election results that they had been so wrong in predicting.

Then, it got scary.

As the results came in, and it became clear that Donald Trump would win the presidency, it seemed as though a light bulb flashed in their heads: Half of America is sexist and racist. Nothing else could explain this election of such a vile creature to the highest position in the land.

The musician Moby posted a meme that captured the consensus grief: “America, you are so much more racist and misogynistic than I’d ever imagined.” People wept in public at the clear evidence that America hates women, Hispanics, African Americans, Muslims, and LBGT types.

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It is an understandable frustration considering the kind of rhetoric that Trump has espoused over the last year. The thought is that, since some 60 million Americans voted for a misogynistic, xenophobic bigot, some 60 million Americans must be misogynistic, xenophobic bigots. As an emotional Van Jones put it: “This was a white-lash against a changing country. It was a white-lash against a black president, in part. And that’s the part where the pain comes.”

But can that really be the explanation?

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Voting Frenzy a Sign of National Malaise, Not Vigor

With all of the attention focused on this election, it is easy to get caught up in a patriotic fervor.

Everyone posted ‘I Voted’ stickers and talked about how it is a duty to make your voice heard. Celebrities paraded around talking about how important it will be to have “the most qualified” candidate, Hillary, as president, and preachers talk about how important it is to have the supposedly pro-life Trump pick the next Supreme Court justices. Everyone disagrees on who should be president, but everyone agrees that voting for president is the most important thing we can do as Americans.

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Taylor Swift getting her vote on.

Even the most independent citizens are pulled in. They too can sense the importance of having their candidate in the White House, or, more importantly, not having their opponent in the White House. Everyone has gotten swept up in election fever.

But is this really a good thing?

It occurs to the objective observer that this election has done a lot of things to this country and none of them are particularly good. Four stand out:

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The Misogyny of Feminism

When Taylor Swift recently declared herself to be a feminist, she said it was in part because she realized that Feminism isn’t necessarily anti-men. It is unknown whether she realized that it is in fact anti-women.

I have watched with great interest as Feminism has made a comeback in recent years. Celebrities like Taylor Swift, Beyoncé, and Emma Watson have all made bold statements in favor of the movement; business leaders such as Sheryl Sandberg and writers like Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie have continued their support; and Hillary Clinton’s rise to the presidency has elevated the cause.

Altogether, the various initiatives and voices amount to what might be considered a Fourth Wave of Feminism.

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T-Swift and Lena Dunham probably talking about girl stuff.

The thoughtful reader cannot help but to ask ‘Why?’ After a century of reforms, why is it necessary to renew the charge? What are these new feminists after anyway?

If you ask a member of this Fourth Wave, they will likely tell you they are after equality. As Miss Swift put it, “Saying you’re a feminist is just saying that you hope women and men will have equal rights and equal opportunities.” To most, that is what Feminism has always been about, and that’s what it is still about.

Yet the casual observer will note that women have long had equal rights and opportunity. To be sure, women have the vote in every Western country, they dominate higher education, and comprise almost half of the U.S. workforce; contraception and abortion are not only legal, they are subsidized and mandated by the federal government; and a woman is the leading candidate for president of the United States of America. By all accounts, modern Western Civilization should be a feminist utopia.

Still, modern feminists are not happy. Indeed, they are fiercer than ever and ready for war. Why? Continue reading

The Death of Dissent

In the aftermath of the horrific attack in Orlando, we have witnessed a death that is equally troubling if only because of its scope and the fact that no one is talking about it—the death of dissent.

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A photo shared on Facebook of 49 birds flying over a vigil for the Orlando victims has gone viral. The photographer wished to remain anonymous.

Sympathy and support for the mostly gay victims has come from all corners of society including charitable gestures from Christians, Muslims, and others who are considered anti-gay. The sympathy and support is not what’s troubling. What’s troubling is that the sympathy and support have been rejected. Continue reading

How a ‘Personal Relationship with Jesus’ Steers Us Away from Jesus

I was recently at a talk on Catholic New Evangelization and the speaker began with a provocative question: What is our central goal and purpose as Catholics?

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A little personal relationship action in Ben-Hur.

After giving the audience a little time to consider, the speaker provided us with the answer: To have a personal relationship with Jesus. According to him, it was the only thing we need, and without it our spiritual lives could never be fulfilled.

Now, this hadn’t been the first time I had heard about the importance of a personal relationship with Jesus. It has always been popular with Protestants, and lately it has become a standard bearer for Catholics as well. But it struck me as odd that it should be considered to be the entire goal and purpose of our faith. Is that really what Christianity is all about? Isn’t a personal relationship a little lacking when considering the awe and glory of God? What does it mean to have a personal relationship with Jesus anyway? Continue reading

The Moral Obligation to Be Beautiful

Recently, the folks at Boundless posted a provocative article titled ‘Where Have All the Beautiful Women Gone?’

The idea? That our culture, with its Photoshopped images and instant gratification, has numbed men’s minds to women’s natural beauty. The beautiful women haven’t gone anywhere; it’s just that men can’t see them anymore.

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Doubtless, those with access to social media can relate. We are constantly bombarded by images of ‘idealized’ figures, and, naturally, have come to expect this in the people we see in real life. Not finding it there, we are left unsatisfied and swipe away any real beauty that we might encounter.

But is this really the main problem? Continue reading

The Superhero Heresy

March 5, 2016

With several blockbuster superhero films out every year, there can be little doubt that supers are hotter than ever. Batman, Iron Man, X-Men—there’s even something called Ant-Man. But, amid all the hoopla, one is compelled to wonder whether we have lost sight of what a superhero really is.

There was a time was when a superhero was the embodiment of goodness—bright, confident, and in service of truth, justice, and the American way.

Not so any more.

Of the eight major superhero pictures due in 2016, all are dark and brooding, some are violent enough to garner an ‘R’ rating, and the biggest of them feature superheroes battling, not a villain with some dark past, but other superheroes. These days, it’s the superhero who has a dark past, truth and justice are relative, and the best any of the heroes can hope for is a utilitarian solution to an unsolvable problem.

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This is a far cry from the original superheroes. In 1978, Christopher Reeves starred as the genuine and honorable Superman in the first ever superhero blockbuster movie. It was a faithful telling of a hero, who had been a beacon of hope and goodness for generations in America.

Since, the superhero genre has exploded in popularity now touting thirteen of the twenty highest grossing films of all time. But, as its popularity has grown, the movies have grown darker and the heroes have grown more anti-heroic. Tim Burton and Michael Keaton’s Batman (1989) presented a darker twist on the superhero, albeit in a colorful and campy way. Then came X-Men in 2000 and Spider-Man in 2002, by all counts darker and dealing with more serious issues. By 2005, with Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins, we could see that the cheer of Superman was no longer relevant. Continue reading

Why Anti-Trumpers Might Be the Bigger Problem

As 2016 Super Tuesday results filed in, a sinking feeling could be felt across the country. Political pundits and lay voters alike realized that Donald J. Trump had a good chance of securing a majority of the states’ primaries, which meant that he could win Super Tuesday, and winning Super Tuesday could propel him toward the nomination, and if he won the nomination he could foreseeably win the presidency. That sinking feeling led to an eerie realization: The Donald could become president of the United States of America.

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What had been an impossibility suddenly became real; what was for so long a joke was suddenly no laughing matter.

A chorus arose from the commentators, soft at first, but by Super Tuesday a full-blown bellow: Stop Trump! The Donald would be atrocious for American democracy, and we must do everything we can to prevent his nomination. People pulled out the stops; comparisons to Hitler were rife; Whoopi Goldberg threatened to leave America.

But, in reading over the commentary, hit pieces, and outright propaganda that arose to stop the unconventional candidate, it occurred to me that Trump really isn’t the worst thing for American democracy—the troop of anti-Trumpers and their logic are. Sure, Trump is a clown and has no business being the president of the country. But the anti-Trump haters are out-clowning him, and almost making a Trump presidency appealing because of it.

Here’s why:

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No, We Don’t Need More Women in the Tech Industry

If there’s one thing that all leaders and pundits in the tech industry can agree on, it is that there aren’t enough women in the field.

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As Derek Khanna pointed out in his seminal Atlantic article, women hold 57 percent of occupations in the workforce, but, in computing occupations, that figure is only 25 percent. The leadership picture is even more dismal. Of the many chief information officer jobs at Fortune 250 companies, women comprise only 20 percent. And it’s getting worse. In 1984, females were awarded 37.1 percent of computer science degrees; today they account for less than 12 percent.

If we were to listen to the popular tech writers of the day, politicians, and even a growing number of male tech leaders, this trend amounts to a great “tragedy”. As Khanna puts it, low numbers of women in tech is bad for women, bad for tech, and bad for society in general.

But can it be said that things are so terrible? The last time I checked, IT was the most expansive and innovative industry on the planet. Granted the numbers show that tech favors men, but can it be said that that is such a bad thing when it is clear that the industry is prospering so? Why is it a tragedy that only 12 percent of computer science degrees are awarded to women? Why do we need more women in tech anyway?

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Dr. Selflove: Or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Myers-Briggs

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Probably an INTJ.

I was at college the first time I had heard about the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) test. So, naturally, I was a skeptic.

It was a hot August evening in Bloomington, IN, when I shuffled into a huge lecture hall with hundreds of other students to take the test. We were told that the test would measure our personalities, strengths, and weaknesses, and that it could help guide us in school and in work after graduation. We were told it would change our lives forever.

I wasn’t buying it. How could some stuffy academic know my interests, desires, and behavioral traits based on a few random questions? Who were they to say what is best for me in relationships and work? I took the test reluctantly and smug in the knowledge that it couldn’t possibly do what it promised.

Throughout the test, I found myself debating the wording of the questions and the method in general. For several questions, I found myself wanting to choose more than one answer. I selected the best, and carried on, sure that I would have to explain away what was bound to be a slew of errant results. Once I finished, I prepared to refute.

But, when I saw my results, something rather spooky happened. I actually agreed with the findings. Continue reading

How We Got Rights So Wrong

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Heard from the crowd: “We want to be more equal than they are!”

May 16, 2015

If the recent debate over RFRA laws and same-sex marriage teaches us anything, it is not that there are a bunch of bigots out there or that there are people being unjustly discriminated against. It is that, as a nation, we are facing a crisis of rights.

Witness the recent news item from Oregon: Last month, a judge pronounced that two bakers should pay $135,000 in damages for refusing to bake a same-sex wedding cake.

Now, we can look at this from a few angles. It could be that a couple of bigots are getting what they deserve. Or it could be that they are being unfairly demonized for doing their conscience. There are good people with good arguments on both sides of the debate.

We can all agree, however, that the Oregon case signifies a clash between opposing rights. Both sides of the argument claim to be in the right and to have the right to do what they are doing. On the one side are the bakers’ rights to conduct business as they please and to practice their conscience. On the other side are the customers’ rights to buy available goods and to not be discriminated against. The bakers’ rights necessarily infringe upon the customers’ rights, and vice versa. Continue reading

Why We Should Hang Up the Mobile Device Ban

On Jan. 1, 2015, San Antonio will begin enforcing a new cell phone ban for drivers. The ban is, by many accounts, common sense and will catch the city up with progressive California and New York bans. It also happens to be a terrible idea.

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Sweet antenna.

To begin, let it be said that I do not condone texting or talking on the phone while driving. It is undoubtedly a distraction, the consequences of which are seen everywhere. Any time I see poor driving—swerving, driving 15 miles an hour on the highway, crashing into cement barricades—it is doubtless because the driver is focused on a handheld device and not the primary task of driving. It goes without saying that the tragedies we see in the news where kids or families are killed in accidents due to distracted driving are horrible, and we should do all we can to eliminate such senseless catastrophes.

This ban is not the answer. Continue reading

Romancing the Subconscious

A chapter from the 2014 release, Psychonomics: How Modern Science Aims to Conquer the Mind and How the Mind Prevails.

On a cool summer evening in Southern California, a group of three fashionable young women scamper into a posh hotel bar to partake in their typical Friday evening ritual of drinks, dancing, and, of course, decision-making. The girls don’t admit that they’re out looking for guys, but they aren’t opposed to the idea either. After all, they’re not spending the evening in their apartments in pajamas. They’re in high-waisted jeans at a bar with an upside-down sign.

The three women are all very attractive and, by many accounts, could have their choice of men. Over the course of the night, they are approached by several groups of guys, of which some get to talk to them for a while and some fail spectacularly. The failures can be awkward and often rather painful. “Sometimes guys just don’t get it,” one of the women, Katlyn, says as she tosses back her tangled brown locks. “It’s clear we’re not interested, but they still don’t go away.”

On the other hand, the successes can be fun and sometimes lead to lasting friendships. “You can meet some really interesting people out,” Katlyn says. “And when you click, you just know it.”

two-girlfriends-at-bar-drinking-champagne Continue reading

Five Reasons to Embrace Your Inner Perfectionist


Recently, the people at Emotional Intelligence 2.0 posted about the 9 Things Successful People Won’t Do. As could be expected, one of the items was that they won’t “prioritize perfection”. “Human beings,” they say, “by our very nature, are fallible. When perfection is your goal, you’re always left with a nagging sense of failure.” And, with a single short paragraph, they write off perfection as something that no successful person would even consider.

It struck me as odd primarily because I can think of a dozen perfectionists off the top of my head–and they are all successful. Think about celebrity perfectionists–Steve Jobs, John Lasseter, Serena Williams. These kinds of people are extremely talented and extremely successful. And, if you ask them, their success is largely dependent upon their drive for perfection. Why would the EI people suggest that successful people aren’t perfectionists when it’s clear that at least some exude the trait?

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In Defense of Photoshopping

August 2, 2014

Photoshop is killing our self-esteem.

At least, that is the consensus  on a growing trend throughout our media and culture: Advertising and editorials have combined to present an image of men and women—especially women—that is unrealistic, unattainable, and downright unhealthy.

The culprit? Photoshop and to some extent its users have singlehandedly distorted reality and made it impossible for girls and boys to be appealing. The photo editing software allows users—art directors and photographers alike—to remove wrinkles, cut fat, and emphasize tans, making women and men look flawless everywhere we turn. Take for instance, the image of a 55-year old Madonna. While the original shows her age, lines, and presents her as a little Smeagol, the final product is bright, vivid, and perhaps even youthful. In the original, she’s like a Gollum; in the final, she’s “Like a Virgin”.

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This Book is 11,856 Pages Long

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August 2008

After having read Jacques Barzun’s suma thirteen times, I have concluded that this book is not really 912 pages long as it appears in the product details, but rather 11,856 pages. Every time I read this masterpiece, I find new ideas and fresh material on every page. Seemingly, the book is an endless fount of intellect, culture, etiquette, morals, art, science, politics, and genius that serves as the capstone of the last era and the cornerstone for the next. Continue reading