How well do you know your fellow Americans?

Can we talk about this?

To understate things significantly, this is an unusual Presidential election we are facing. And the degree of “unusuality” has only served to increase the heat of our political rhetoric. While we’re already fairly quick to demonize our opponents — overtly or subtlety — that tendency has been magnified during this election season. This is a tendency has long bothered me, and so with an increase in the mudslinging has come an increase in my impatience with this unfortunate tendency.

It makes me impatient because — and I’m generalizing here — I don’t think most of us make a real effort to understand why those we differ with on political issues (or any sort of issue, for that matter) hold the views that they do. We are often shocked, shocked! that someone could possibly vote for (or against) Candidate A or be for (or against) Policy Position X.

On the other hand, I tend to think that the vast majority of political views have some  plausibility to them, and while I find some of them to in the end be unpersuasive, I can usually see the rationale that would lead someone to support them.

There are several reasons why I think it’s important to make a serious effort to understand the views of those with whom we disagree: some go back to my studies in ecumenism, some go to my desire to convince others to accept my argument, which requires that I get inside their head to understand theirs.  😉

It’s this motivation which made me such a fan of the Ideological Turing Test (ITT), a social experiment which can be an effective way to determine the extent to which we truly understand the rationale of people who views whose differ from our own. Thanks to DarwinCatholic, I first heard of ITTs at atheist-turned-Catholic Leah Libresco’s blog when she used an ITT to compare the extent to which atheists and Christians truly understand one another’s positions (she came up with the atheist/Christian ITT prior to becoming a Christian herself).

In short, ITTs typically consist of a group of people from each of the various sides of an ideological question, in which each person is asked to submit multiple sets of answers to a series of questions, one set according to their own perspective, other sets according to the differing perspectives. So in Libresco’s ITT, the “panelists” submitted two sets of answers to her series of questions: one set from their own perspective (atheist or Christian), the other set from the opposite perspective. Then, the public is invited to vote as to who they think wrote a given answer (the author and their perspective are kept secret during the voting stage). The goal for the panelists, of course, is to be able to so successfully mimic the opposing viewpoint’s perspective that your “fake” answer is voted as authentic, especially by those who hold that perspective. Being able to do so would give a strong indication as to your grasp of a position with which you actually disagree.

With that as the background, we come to the point of this post: I think it would be interesting to run an ITT with regard to this year’s Presidential elections, with three positions: voting for Mrs. Clinton, voting for Mr. Trump, and voting for neither (that might be voting for a third party candidate or simply not voting for any Presidential candidate).

The question for this ITT is simple: in 300 words or less (for each of the three positions), why are you voting the way you are?

I’ve already shared this post with some friends who collectively hold to all of these positions, but I’d be open to submissions from others, so if you’re interested in participating as a panelist and submitting answers for all three positions, either say so in the comments or email me at with “ITT” in the subject line.

I hope to have all the submissions in by next week, at which point voting will begin.

One final thought: even if you aren’t a panelist or don’t even vote, I would invite you to consider what is the ultimate point of this experiment: how well do you understand how those you disagree with think?

Meaning, Purpose & Getting in the Zone

in the zone…

One of the sources of a general sense of frustration in American culture flows from our attempt to give our lives meaning & purpose rather than finding the meaning & purpose which they already have. It is the latter which ultimately gives us the sense of fulfillment and focus… of being “in the zone”.

Let me unpack that a bit…

In Saturday’s post I talked about the attractiveness of the Judeo-Christian take on meaning & purpose, as opposed to atheism’s position on the matter. It’s not just atheists, though, who attempt to give meaning & purpose to our lives… doing so is a very common American approach to life, probably the dominant one, in fact.

The ideas of the “self-made man,” of “making something of yourself,” of “being all you can be” are all deeply embedded in our culture, and they all hinge on the idea that meaning & purpose are something we give to our lives.

As I mentioned in this opening of this post, I propose that much of the underlying frustration which many Americans feel — and which manifests itself in many ways — flows from this idea of giving purpose to our lives. Why? Because of what I said in the previous post: you can’t give meaning & purpose to your life (or to anything, for that matter)… you can only find and discover the meaning & purpose which it already has.

Recognizing this is not a bad thing, however, but just the contrary: discovering why I exist and what I exist for is freeing and exhilarating… it allows me to thrive, to live life abundantly.

How do we do this? How do we find meaning & purpose in our lives? The same way you’d find the meaning & purpose for, say, a machine that you don’t know how to use: you ask the Maker…

Michelangelo, The Creation of Adam, 1511-1512

Meaning: Either it’s there or it isn’t

One of the most appealing aspects of the Judeo-Christian understanding of reality is the idea of meaning and purpose: everything — including my life — has both meaning and purpose. Unlike an atheistic understanding of reality, my worldview doesn’t require that I live a fiction: instead, I get to live my life exactly as it is: with a meaning and a purpose.

Let me unpack that a bit.

One of the great tragedies of contemporary American culture is that despite the abundance of material wealth and leisure time which the vast majority of us have, many of us are profoundly unhappy. There are many causes for this malaise, among them a sense of purposelessness and a lack of meaning.

To overcome both, some people try to maintain a state of perpetual distraction, while others throw themselves into their work, hobby, or something else which at least gives their life the appearance of meaning.

The conundrum is this: if the atheist is right and there is no God, then life has no meaning, and any attempt to give it meaning is fictitious. While the average atheist may not have thought this through, the more intellectually-serious and -coherent atheists have (e.g. the twentieth century British philosopher Bertrand Russell, as I discussed in this post).

On the other hand, the Judeo-Christian account of reality says that yes, my life has meaning, every circumstance I encounter has meaning… indeed, everything in existence has meaning.

Instead of living either a lie — pretending there is meaning where there isn’t — or a life of “heroic despair” — acknowledging there is no meaning and soldiering on anyway — I get to live an adventure: first, discovering the meaning of my life, and then living it to the fullest.

I’ll take the latter option, and twice on Sundays, thank you very much.

So… what’s the meaning of your life?

Additions to the Q&A

an angry sky god?

I’ve made some additions to the Ultimate Q&A outline (see the entire work-in-progress here). Additions are in italics…

  • 1.1.2. Are you open to the possibility that God might exist?
  • No.
    • Why not?
      • I don’t want someone telling me what to do
      • I don’t like the idea of someone always watching everything I do

Again, feel free to propose additional questions and/or answers in the comments…

The Ultimate Catholic Q&A

Raphael, Transfiguration, 1516-1520

One of my long-term projects for Cruciform is an outline of sorts laying out the reasonable case for Catholicism. I’d like it to be in a flowchart format, but for the time being, it’ll have to be an outline. I’ve made this a Page that you can click on in the upper right as well.

Here’s the beginnings of the outline… feel free to add any questions in the comments.

  • 1. Do you believe there is a God?
    • What do you mean by “God”?
      • Great question! In short, by “God” I mean the Creator of the Universe spoken of in the Bible who is also the Uncaused Cause written about by the ancient Greek philosophers.
    •  Yes, I believe in that God.
      • Great, proceed to question 2.
    • No, I don’t believe that that God exists.
      • 1.1. Do you believe that any gods exist?
        • Yes, but not that one.
          • 1.1.1. Which gods do you believe in?
        • No, I don’t believe that any gods exist.
          • 1.1.2. Are you open to the possibility that God might exist?
            • No.
              • Why not?
            • Yes, but I don’t believe that that God exists because…
              • there is no proof that that God exists
              • belief in God contradicts science
              • pain & suffering prove that that God doesn’t exist
  • 2. Do you believe that Jesus of Nazareth is God?
  • 3. Do you believe that Jesus founded the Catholic Church?

“Reading” the Newspaper


It’s at a minimum interesting — and usually instructive — to “read” a newspaper, i.e. to be attentive to the kinds of stories that the editors present, and what that tells us both about them and about us.

When it comes to the cultural analysis that I call being a movie “critic”, one of the forms that I find particularly fascinating is to “read” the newspaper.

The quotation marks there are important, of course… I’m not talking about just reading the stories found in a newspaper, but about stepping back and being attentive to the nature and number of stories the paper contains.

In this post I’ll explain what I mean by this, give some examples about how to “read” a newspaper, and then explain why it’s important to “read” a newspaper.

Continue reading ““Reading” the Newspaper”