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I woke up this morning with a strange, unfamiliar feeling. I immediately called my therapist, who informed me that I was experiencing the “state of being wrongness.” Never having felt this way before, I was understandably concerned, but he informed me that it was normal and that everyone goes through it at some point, although some more than others.
On the eve of the election, I predicted that Mitt Romney would win the election with 295 electoral votes and predicted which states would go which way. All in all (discounting Florida, which is still counting) I had an 88% accuracy rating. That sounds good, but when you consider only the all-important swing states of Ohio, Virginia, Iowa, Florida, and Colorado, that number might drop to zero, depending on how Florida ends up going.
Now here is the funny thing. Looking back over the numbers, I would probably call it the same way again, at least 90% the same. I wasn’t alone. The University of Colorado electoral prediction model, which has correctly called every race since 1980, had Romney winning with an even greater margin than I predicted. Many respected pundits were calling the race for Romney. Dick Morris, Bill Clinton’s former political adviser and 1996 campaign manager, for months predicted a Romney landslide almost on par with those of Ronald Reagan.
So why did things go wrong for all of these predictions? There are various reasons, including an increasing level of government dependence, stable and growing Democratic voting blocs, overestimated Romney support, and a morphing complexity of national demographics.
To take them one by one, there are more people on welfare than ever before. To the over 56 million people who are either on food stamps, welfare, or unemployment insurance, it is understandably frightening to imagine voting for a candidate they fear might cut these programs. They were probably right about Romney’s intentions in that regard. Government dependency was an issue in the 2012 election that cannot be ignored.
Second, it was assumed that Barack Obama’s voting base, including younger people and minorities, would not turn out in as great of numbers as they did during the fervor of the 2008 campaign. As it turns out, they held fairly steady. Not only that, but the number of minority voters, who vote overwhelmingly Democratic, has been steadily increasing and they showed up on November 6th.
Third, the level of enthusiasm among Republican voters was overestimated. It is difficult to reconcile both this point and the one above with the current state of the economy and the show of support at party rallies. Obama consistently experienced smaller crowds than 2008, while Romney appeared to be drawing greater support than John McCain did four years ago. The support for Romney appeared to be there, but they just didn’t show up to vote.
Finally, the face of the nation is changing. While more people still identify as conservative than liberal, the basic ideals are changing. According to a May 25, 2012 Gallup poll, the number of people who self-identified as Economic Conservatives was 46%, Economic Moderates 32%, with only 20% identifying as Economic Liberals. When the same question is asked in terms of social issues, the numbers change quite a bit. Social Conservatives drop by eight points to 38% and Social Liberals rise by eight points to 28%, with Social Moderates remaining about the same. These numbers indicate that, while a clear majority of people are conservative when it comes to economic issues, the number of social liberals is quite competitive with a sixteen point swing. Therefore, people like myself who are economically conservative, yet disagree with candidates like Romney on the vast majority of social issues are going to have a difficult time getting really excited about that person as a political candidate.
So what does this tell us going forward? Not a whole lot, really. However, it should send a warning to the Republican Party that, if they want to remain a viable party or, perhaps, even remain a party at all, they are going to have to find a way to reach across that economic and social divide to woo voters. It should also tell the ultra-conservative demographic that they are likely going to have to accept future candidates with whom they disagree at least 50% of the time to avoid getting ones with whom they disagree 100% of the time. With the country becoming more polarized, I suspect the days of having that “perfect candidate” may be over and we are all going to have to compromise going forward.
A common perception regarding cigar smoking is that one should keep the ash on the cigar for as long as possible. Is this true? And, if so, why? Does it serve any real purpose?
The ability of your cigar to hold its ash for a long period does suggest high construction quality. A nicely rolled stogie with quality long filler will often hold onto its ash for two inches or more. Of course, just because the ash falls off early, doesn’t mean it’s a bad cigar…it’s just one indicator.
Keeping the ash on longer can serve another purpose, other than bragging rights. Many cigar smokers believe that a bit of ash at the end of the cigar helps keep it at optimal smoking temperature. Overheating a cigar is bad news in terms of enjoyment, as it can ruin flavor, cause burn issues, and even burn your mouth if it gets too hot as the cigar shortens during consumption. Ash can provide a buffer between the air being sucked into the stick and the cherry itself, thereby avoiding these problems.
That doesn’t mean you have to keep the ash on at all times, however, or tempt fate by letting the ash grow until it falls into your lap. At that point it becomes a matter of preference. Some people enjoy a warmer smoke, which sometimes provides stronger flavor and more copious smoke output. The line between a warm smoke and overheating a cigar is a thin one.
So enjoy your cigar in any way you wish. If you prefer to keep your ash on as long as possible, then do it. But don’t worry too much about what people will think if you tap it off early.
I often hear those who support a Creationist view of the universe use the concept of beauty to support their position. “There is no way a sunset this beautiful happened by chance,” they say. “This definitely shows the activity of an intelligent designer.”
This article is not intended as a defense of an evolutionary process. Nor should it be considered an attack on Creationism per se. However, it is designed to demonstrate that the use of beauty as proof of the latter position may be all well and good for an opinion, but can in no way be considered proof. The reason why is because beauty is not a fact. It is, as mentioned, a concept. Christopher Hitchens, in his book God Is Not Great, recalls a story about an instructor, Mrs. Watts, who taught young Hitchens about nature and the Bible.
However, there came a day when poor, dear Mrs. Watts overreached herself. Seeking ambitiously to fuse her two roles as nature instructor and Bible teacher, she said, “So you see, children, how powerful and generous God is. He has made all the trees and grass to be green, which is exactly the color that is most restful to our eyes. Imagine if instead, the vegetation was all purple, orange, how awful that would be. (Hitchens 2)
Hitchens’ point was that nature did not change to suit the eye, but that the eye changed to suit nature. Perhaps more accurately, the human concept and expectation of beauty adapted to nature. We’ve all heard the old adage, “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.” Truer words have never been spoken and fewer more illustrative ones.
Remaining with our nature theme, there are certain parts of the United States considered beautiful by some and reviled by others. For example, I have relatives in the southern state of Louisiana. They love the area and believe it to be beautiful. While Louisiana may have some attractive areas, most of what I’ve seen (and I have visited on several occasions) has been either unremarkable or entirely off-putting. On the other hand, I am from the state of Michigan and consider it to be a state with much to offer in the way of natural beauty. However, there are those from other parts of the country who consider Michigan to be the armpit of the nation.
A pattern begins to emerge—simply that people recognize beauty in that with which they are familiar. There are some commonalities, of course. Everybody loves a brilliant blue sky, because everybody has been exposed to a brilliant blue sky. Consider a science fiction movie that takes place on a planet featuring a red sky. We see that and think how terrible it would be if Earth had a red sky. How frightening and strange that would be! Yet it is completely reasonable to assume that those used to a red sky would think the same thing about our blue sky. Sunsets and sunrises are universal for humans. We love the red, yellows, and oranges that accompany them. However, if we were used to a brown and green rising or setting, what we now love would seem out of place and perhaps even sinister. We are accustomed to the features of our own planet and therefore consider them beautiful.
Douglas Adams, writing in his bestselling book The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, includes a passage that, while not indisputably parallel to the topic at hand, is so charmingly demonstrative as to demand inclusion. In this brief passage, the earthling Arthur is talking with Marvin, a depressed and stoic robot. Arthur begins,
“I come from a planet called Earth, you know.”
“I know,” said Marvin, “you keep going on about it. It sounds awful.”
“Ah no, it was a beautiful place.”
“Did it have oceans?”
“Oh yes,” said Arthur with a sigh, “great wide rolling blue oceans…”
“Can’t bear oceans,” said Marvin. (Adams 135)
Humans love the familiar. It is more attractive to us. More beautiful. In general, we crave normality, predictability, and consistency. These qualities can raise our spirits when present and dampen them when absent.
When someone indicates a vision of natural beauty to me and says, “Are you telling me that such a lovely thing could have just happened? Surely it would take an intelligent being with inside knowledge of humanity to give us all these things that we enjoy and consider beautiful,” I must remark that the things of great beauty are such because they simply are the way they are. And if they were different, we would likely consider the alternative just as beautiful.
Hitchens, Christopher. God Is Not Great, How Religion Poisons Everything. New York: Twelve,
2009. 2. Print.
Adams, Douglas. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. New York: Del Rey, 1998. 135. Print.
It is no great secret that I have distanced myself from Christianity. While I have many family and friends still in the Church, I make no pretense of being involved or even interested in the religious life of a believer. Yet I have been an outspoken critic of the faith and of religion in general. Some of the questions I get asked is, “Why do you care so much? If you are so removed from Christianity, why spend so much time criticizing it? Wouldn’t it be better to simply live your own life? Why try to ruin someone else’s peace?”
I recognize these as legitimate questions and in this article will attempt to answer them, as I do have my reasons.
There is nothing I believe in more than the freedom to believe as one might wish, even if I consider those beliefs to be without merit. I am not the final judge of what someone’s personal worldview should be, or their religion, or whether or not they should claim a religion at all. Superficially, Christianity falls into this category. Is it not a personal belief? And am I not therefore infringing on someone else’s right to believe by consistently presenting cases against it? Why can’t I just leave it alone?
Again, these are good questions that deserve an answer.
1. Is Christianity a personal belief?
A belief in Christianity is personal in the sense that a person can hold such a belief for themselves. It is not personal within the belief structure itself. Christianity is constructed in such a way that it must be seen as the only legitimate belief system available. This inevitably results in great exclusivity within the ranks and merciless condemnation of other similar constructs. Christianity needs to be the only way to the Truth. Without that, it becomes no better than any other creed or belief. Its very existence depends on being “the way, the truth, and the life” (King James Version, John 14.6).
The effects of this arrogance are clearly seen. Those who do not accept Christianity are condemned and told that they will necessarily spend the afterlife in eternal suffering. Often, those who reject Christianity are shunned, pushed aside, treated with prejudice, maligned, libeled, whispered about behind closed doors, and treated to a never-ending barrage of entreaty. Believers gather and pray for misery to strike the stubborn heathen in the form of holy conviction. Unbelievers are seen as less spiritually aware. Christianity is an excellent method of ego-stroking. It allows the believer to feel superior to all those who side against belief.
These factors show that Christianity quite easily becomes more than simply a personal belief and begins worming its way into the lives of unbelievers. If one is not Christian, one is not good enough and is not fulfilling their potential. If one is not Christian, one is doing themselves, their families, and those around them a great disservice. Unbelief is considered pure selfishness.
It gets worse than this. Christianity depends on conversion. Those in the faith cannot be content with making others feel bad about their lives or causing them to worry needlessly about their eternal fate. Christianity demands that believers seek out and convert unbelievers. It is in their creed. In the parable of the marriage supper found in Luke 14.23, Jesus says, “And the lord said unto the servant, Go out into the highways and hedges, and compel them to come in, that my house may be filled.” (The emphasis is mine.) This and similar commandments are not suggestions. Believers themselves face a price if they fail in this regard. “When I say unto the wicked, O wicked man, thou shalt surely die; if thou dost not speak to warn the wicked from his way, that wicked man shall die in his iniquity; but his blood will I require at thine hand” (Ezekiel 33.8).
In this more relevant sense, Christianity is not a personal religion. The believing individual cannot be content with having it for themselves. They are required to share it with everyone.
There are uncounted people (I know many) who struggle with this every day. It colors their lives in decidedly negative ways. The constant pressure to believe harms their lives, renders them unable to fully enjoy and appreciate their daily lives, and often separates them from family and friends.
Christianity is an insidious system. Many people, particularly those with a strict Christian upbringing, have no idea how to rid themselves of this loathsome burden. The religion they cannot accept has a hold on them nonetheless, exerting cruel control from afar. This is why it is necessary to confront Christianity head-on and to provide those struggling with the tools necessary to break the chains once and for all. Christianity claims to provide freedom. It does not. It is not satisfied with those who willingly accept it. It must own everyone else, as well.
2. Am I infringing on someone else’s right to believe?
No, I do not believe so. I am not saying and have never said that someone cannot hold these beliefs for themselves. One is welcome to believe whatever they wish. Unfortunately, this is not, as has been clearly stated, what Christianity does. I say, cling to whatever faith you wish. You might even talk about it with others. However, when you begin to say that everyone else must either agree with you or resign themselves to a hell, you have overstepped your bounds.
3. Why can’t I just leave it alone?
I feel this point has already been largely addressed. Having narrowly escaped a life within the grips of a fundamentalist regime, I have experienced the process of escape. I know it can be done, although not always easily. I feel a responsibility to those who now find themselves in the same position I was in some years ago. My specific goal is not to convert, but only to make it as clear as possible that there are options. People need to know all of the facts before they make a decision they may not find easy to fix later. Certainly, the Church is not going to provide these facts. Objectivity is not, and never has been, one of its strong points. This is why I cannot and will not be silent on this issue. As long as Christianity continues to forge shackles of required belief, I will do my best to break them.
King James Version. [Colorado Springs]: Biblica, 2011. BibleGateway.com. Web. 8 April 2012.
 The idea that the holy spirit will visit spiritual truths to hardened hearts, making them see the evil of their hearts to such an extent that they will be unable to eat, sleep, or function until they repent of their sins.
A common argument presented by Christians to show that their faith is superior or even relevant is the idea that its teachings require good (moral) works and actions. Some even go so far as to say that without Christianity, morality as we know it would collapse. There are numerous problems with this line of reasoning and, because it is so pervasive, it is necessary to address it.
We must first put to rest the notion that without Christianity, morality is not possible. There are two arenas here. First we can talk about morality as being good works: feeding the hungry, healing the sick, and so forth. This is what is meant by “moral works.” Then there is the standard of morality that includes the baser things: sexual behavior, for example. These are the “moral actions.”
Interestingly, Christianity feels like it has a monopoly on both of these markets. Not only do they feel they are uniquely qualified to help the unfortunate, but they also believe that their standard for moral actions is the only one to which mankind should adhere. This results in quite a lot of confusion, unlike that of moral works. For example, few people specifically argue that we should let people starve. However, the opining on homosexuality or extramarital sex rages hot and heavy in Christian circles.
In this article, we will work our way back, starting with moral actions, to see if Christianity can truly say that their standard is the right one. Then we will look at moral works to see if Christianity has that market cornered, including a very brief discussion of whether one needs god in order to be good.
Christianity certainly has a lot to say about moral actions. “Thou shalt nots” reign supreme, guiding the Christian’s life, particularly in the area of sexual behavior. This may be the place to start. For a religion that superficially appears to be repulsed by sex, it is perversely fascinated by the topic. There is no greater evidence for an entity’s fascination with a certain subject than that which is shown by that entity’s attempt to control that subject. In this area, Christianity excels. It dictates when during your life you can have sex, with whom you may have that sex, and in some cases which positions you may assume during sex. Presumably, Christianity holds these beliefs because they are the will of god, passed down to them through the teachings in the Holy Bible.
One interesting point to make is the division between the Old and New Testaments. There are many precepts taught in the Old Testament that Christians do not follow, such as not blending various kinds of cloth in their garments (King James Version, Leviticus 19.19). Yet there are other instructions to which Christians still tightly cling.
The common explanation for this is that when Jesus came he fulfilled the requirements for the law (Matthew 5.17). In that same verse, however, Jesus also makes it clear that he did not come to “destroy the law.” He says it twice in one sentence, in fact. So the law still remains. Yet we can afford the Christian perspective one small victory, because it is not necessary to win this one. Even if Jesus did abolish Old Testament law, we are still left with our original point: the control over morality, i.e. sex. For example, the Old Testament speaks against homosexuality. On the other hand, the New Testament has very little or, depending on your interpretation of the original Greek text, nothing at all to say about homosexuality. Jesus never mentions homosexuality. If Christians do not have to follow or defend Old Testament law and their teachings on homosexuality are markedly absent from the New Testament, then why the conflict?
This simply shows that attempts by Christianity to control moral actions are not so much motivated by a desire for others to have fulfilled lives, but more about the control itself. The desire and attempt to control others’ lives can be viewed as immoral itself. Therefore, even if Christianity was right about certain moral standards, the attempt to push people into rigid compliance may cancel it all out. Performing an immoral action in order to achieve a moral result is very shaky ground, indeed.
Now we can look at Christianity in the light of moral works. There is no doubt that Christian organizations do a lot of good things: feeding the hungry, etc. However, they do not have a monopoly on those works. Secular organizations do the same things, as do non-Christian religious groups.
The argument that is most often made is that Christianity, because of its focus on humanity and the idea that every human is “a child of God,” reinforces the drive the help suffering beings. I do not argue that this may be seen as a motivation, but this is not the point. In order to defend itself properly, Christianity needs to show that it is the only provider of such motivation or, at the very least, provides enough extra motivation to make all the religious baggage worthwhile.
Christianity is clearly not the only provider of motivation for moral work, so we can put that idea to rest altogether.
The claim that Christianity provides an extra layer of motivation for moral works is also shaky. Certainly Jesus talked about helping the poor. But so do many secular figures. Warren Buffett, who came in third on the Forbes list of billionaires, has given billions of dollars to charity. Buffett is a confessed agnostic and has affirmed this stance on several occasions (Singer).
It is also worth mentioning that Christianity has been responsible for an enormous list of evil works. Not simply deeds done by Christians, no! Deeds done because they were Christian and in the name of Christianity. Holy wars, the Inquisition, witch hunts, Manifest Destiny, and continuing bigotry and prejudice. To say that Christianity provides motivation for moral works may be true, but it also provides motivation for at least as many immoral works.
We can also ponder the question of moral works performed as a result of something else. In other words, is it truly moral to do a good thing because you feel that someone else has told you to do it? Or because you feel like you have to? If you believe god will be unhappy with you if you don’t do good works, then you may perform these works, but is it then truly moral? You only did it because you had to, after all. I would argue that a secular person who does good is exhibiting a more pure form of morality than a Christian who does the same good. A secular person has no other motivation, other than to help their fellow beings. A Christian may have motivation to do good, but doesn’t that simply mean that they need more encouragement to do those moral works?
In short, Christianity comes with a heavy price. Certainly, performing moral works is a good and decent thing to do. Yet we can get there without paying Christianity’s heavy toll. Why wouldn’t we?
King James Version. [Colorado Springs]: Biblica, 2011. BibleGateway.com. Web. 6 April 2012.
Singer, Peter. “Atheism and Altruism.” Skeptic.ca. JR’s Freethought Pages. Web. 6 April 2012.