The professor stood in front of the whiteboard, finger raised in righteous purpose before twenty totally focused students of Ancient Greek. The bearded, unkempt, bespectacled academic had suspended his recitation of the intricacies of noun declensions to hold forth on the “why” of it all.

Lower lip trembling as if he were close to tears, Dr. Johnson proclaimed, “A liberal arts education changes you. It doesn’t just — or even primarily — prepare you for a job. It is about becoming a better version of yourself.”

He stared us down, making the depth of his point via the passion on his face.


“I want to be an apologist, maybe as a professor at a university or something,” I said to Dr. Smith, another of my Classics professors. We had been chatting informally in the hallway outside his office. He had asked what I wanted to do with my life.

Dr. Smith had dedicated his life and heart to the spread of the Gospel of Jesus. Even some of his tests in Ancient Greek were designed with a missionary purpose…concurrent with high quality language instruction.

“That’s interesting,” he replied. “But the point of a university is to seek Truth, wherever it is to be found. As an apologist, you are — by design — saying you have the Truth and must defend it. You are defending the Faith, not advancing it.”


I spent ten years or so in college, progressing from an undergraduate at a Baptist school majoring in Religion and minoring in Classics (Ancient Greek and Latin), to a Masters student learning Business, to a law student. Over that long and varied span, the project, the telos, the point of education became clear to me.

There are two, actually. First, job preparation. Though this never took with me particularly, I recognize that many people go to university to be better able to land desirable employment after school.

Second, training of the mind. With a proper education, you learn how to learn. You learn how much you don’t know. You learn to take in information, digest it, analyze it, and — crucially — critique it. If the information conflicts with other conclusions you hold, you learn how to more or less simultaneously challenge the validity of the new data and examine your previous conclusions. Using the techniques of science, reason, and discussion, you gradually learn how to arrive at the conclusions that are more likely than not to hold up over time.

That is, after a proper education, you change, as Dr. Johnson expressed so passionately and, as Dr. Smith suggested, you become equipped to discover Truth with some reliable measure of precision.

Part of the project is to learn how to reject old ideas, no matter how deeply held, and to adopt new ones. One of the hardest lessons to learn is how to hold a conclusion provisionally, always subject to new evidence or argumentation.

At least this is what I thought education was for…

But I noticed that even professors who taught me to critique literature or to evaluate the merits of a business merger or to tear apart a line of constitutional argument would cling emotionally to deeply held beliefs. Some opinions simply ran too deep. They reached the core of the professor’s identity and as such sat beyond his willingness to apply the very techniques he was teaching us.

I recall an incident in law school. My Corporations professor had veered from scholarly instruction into the murky realm of indoctrination. He was a socialist at heart, you see, and so saw fit to rail against the concept of corporate stock being understood as “property” in any real sense of the word. Departing from the standard deference that students give professors who are on a tear, I challenged — politely, I thought — the professor’s opinion about stock. For my efforts, the next morning he treated me to a private chew-out session in his office, even suggesting that I drop the class. He said he had never been so insulted in his sixteen years of teaching law students. To be clear, my only challenge was to his ideas; I never asserted anything untoward about his character.

The surreality of this situation has stuck with me for more than a decade, and it comes to mind any time I find myself in disagreement with someone else on any issue that runs emotionally deep. It was surreal, of course, because it occurred at an institution that was specifically designed to teach me to argue points such as the one raised that day in Corporations.

It also comes to mind because, even though most of the people I know beyond a passing familiarity do in fact hold university degrees, I so rarely find anyone who can distinguish between a critique of their ideas and an attack on their character. Instead, they tend to act like the Corporations professor.

I don’t have the actual data, but it certainly seems that most of the discussions I have that delve into closely held opinions end poorly. Almost without exception, my interlocutor feels insulted.

Now, I grant that I can be brash. I do my best — I really do! — to keep my comments directed at the ideas being discussed, but my manner and demeanor seem to be substantially off-putting. I’ve known this about myself since I was young and I have put in a non-trivial amount of effort to be as polite as I can in such conversations without sacrificing the intellectual rigor of criticism (again, of ideas). Nevertheless, I seem to piss people off.

Even when I think I’m being polite, though, as with the law school professor mentioned above and with others, this doesn’t generally mollify my counterpart. Among the accusations commonly directed at me in such discussions are these:

  • “You just want to be right.”
  • “You want everyone to agree with you.”
  • “You want to dominate the conversation.”
  • “You won’t change your mind.”

What can I say? I do want to be right.

Not for reasons of ego, but because I simply don’t want to be wrong a minute longer than I have to.

Also, I want to find areas of agreement because the whole point of discussions on matters of some controversy is to arrive at a better approximation of the Truth.

Since I’m writing on my blog, I guess I am dominating the conversation. In a real exchange, however, I feel this charge is unfair because I so rarely try to shout people down. If they digress, devolve into insults, or (very commonly) speak incoherently, I will generally end the conversation. Whether that counts as dominance, I’m not sure.

Finally, I most definitely do want to change my mind, if it warrants changing. And I have. As a youngster, I went from being a sort of agnostic to a serious, dedicated Christian. As an adult, I changed my mind about that and rejected religion and faith. As a law clerk at the Montana Supreme Court, I regularly engaged in political and social arguments with a fellow clerk. She almost never made sense in these discussions, but her willingness to engage permitted me to really challenge and clarify my own thinking. As a result, my opinions evolved substantially on matters like the treatment of animals.

Over the last few years, my opinions on abortion, gay marriage, foreign policy, gun rights, and real estate agency have undergone huge changes, though I’ll understand if you don’t ask me about them.

Opinions were made to be changed. The fact that certain religious, political, and social points of view run so deep as to give us our very identities does not mean those opinions should remain constant. The better parts of judgment and personal development would to be change who we are when we discover we are wrong. This is the ultimate self-improvement project, and I plan to continue it.

I’d love to have you join me. But I’ll understand if you don’t.


Do you remember the angst of being a teenager? It was a sensory overload kind of experience that is all too easy to forget. There was just too much going on to remember it clearly.

You had a mind newly capable of higher reasoning but you had very little knowledge to apply it to. If you’re a male, hormones controlled most of your day (in one way or another), negating the benefits of your newfound capacity for rational thought. If you’re a female, I honestly don’t know what you thought about but I do know that it was confused, harried, and filled with unnecessarily stressing emotions.

Adults seemed not so much stupid as clueless, detached from your sense of reality. Peers influenced your actions more than anybody else. As you would hang out with your friends there was always something in the air, that sense that–somehow, someway–sex was nearby.

My lovely bride and I were discussing teenage sex recently. Not in a sicko pervert way, mind you, but in a holy-crap-our-kids-will-be-teenagers-in-a-few-years kind of way.

You see, when we were teens, our parents and our churches and even some of our friends taught us that teen sex was bad, was evil. It was bad because God said so. You could even sorta, kinda find Bible verses that obliquely talked about premarital sex being bad, though the Good Book was awkwardly vague about it.

The point is, when we were young, we were steeped in a culture that frowned heavily on teen sex, or really any kind of premarital sex. Now, though, we’ve discarded the inconsistent and infuriatingly ham-handed faith of our youth and its attendant moral proscriptions. We are in a place that leaves us only our reason and our judgment to ascertain what is right and wrong.

This is a liberating place to be, but it’s also a bit confusing at times. Contrary to what many of the religious claim, no longer pretending to know what we don’t know–that is, no longer having faith–does not leave us in a world of “anything goes.” But we do have to rethink everything, and how to properly parent our children through puberty and beyond is one of them.

We cannot fall back on some authority like the Bible or God. We have to be proactive. We have to think. So we did. Here is a random sampling of our conversation:

  • Is it ok for teens to have sex? More generally, when is it ok to have sex? At marriage? After high school?
  • What if your son is 14 and he says he’s considering having sex with his girlfriend? Do you forbid it? Do you applaud his unheard-of openness with you? Do you take him to the store and make him buy his own condoms (the theory being that if he’s man enough to bonk he’s man enough to buy condoms out there in the open at Walgreen’s)?
  • Say your daughter is 19 and you’re sitting down at a coffee shop on her college campus and she mentions a new boy she’s been seeing. Then she tells you about the great sex they’re having. Is it a good thing that they’re having sex? Is this a conversation you’d ever want to have with your daughter? Why or why not?

These are difficult questions requiring much actual deliberation. But here’s the great part: We didn’t have to look up the relevant Bible verses. We didn’t have to consider God’s will, that bane of the Christian’s decision-making mind. All we had to do was think.

And we figured it out. No god required. What a joyous thing!

(But, no, we’re not going to tell you. You can do your own thinking.)

I Might Be Wrong

I might be wrong. About everything. Or anything.

I might be wrong about god, foreign policy, and Dave Barry. I might be wrong about me.

I’ve been wrong before. It stinks. I hate it. Not so much because it damages my ego, though there’s some of that. I hate being wrong because it usually means I’m not doing everything I can to be as happy as I can be. It sometimes means those around me aren’t as happy as they can be, either.

And if I’m wrong, please do me a favor. Tell me. Nicely, please, but tell me.

When you tell me, I kindly ask that you focus on how and why I am wrong. Give me reasons explaining why I am wrong. Feelings aren’t very convincing in most cases. But logic, evidence, and rational thought are.

I’m willing to change, by the way. To borrow a line from my favorite author, I don’t want to be wrong for a moment longer than I have to be.

I want to be right. Do you?

What If Jesus Rose?

What if it’s true? What if  He really rose from the dead?

Let me answer that plainly. If Jesus actually rose from the dead, one of two things must be true. The first possibility is that Jesus rose from the dead miraculously, that is, via an event that is contrary to scientific laws. The second is that Jesus’ resurrection fits in nicely with scientific laws, but we just do not understand the process yet.

The Miracle Hypothesis

If the Resurrection was miraculous, the implications are enormous. Now most folks run straight to the conclusions that Jesus must be God, that He died to save us from our sins, and that the Bible must be the Word of God. I don’t.

Granting that a miracle actually happened, how could I ever coherently conclude anything? “Miraculous” means nature was violated, which means that reason (“the power of the mind to think, understand, and form judgments by a process of logic” according to Google) no longer applies, which means…what, exactly? Reason is a tool that we use to form consistent judgments of reality, translatable from one person to another. It is an objective means of obtaining knowledge.

But if a miracle happened, how can I know what to conclude from it? Reason would no longer apply to any judgment that I make, as its reliability has forever been tainted. And if it did apply, how could I ever know it? Without reason, I have no tools other than whim, emotion, and subjective experience to evaluate the world around me.

The Natural Hypothesis

If Jesus rose from the dead without miracle, then it is truly the most extraordinary event to have occurred in the history of mankind. We would do well to study it in every detail to learn what biological, chemical, and physical processes enabled such an anomaly.

Unfortunately, details are sketchy and inconsistent and evidence is sorely lacking, making such investigation nearly impossible and almost certainly futile.

What we cannot conclude, however, is that Jesus is God. Natural events require no divine agency for them to occur. The “Natural Resurrection” would not refute Jesus’ claim to be God, certainly, but it does nothing to support it.

Six of One…

The astute reader will notice that what I have presented here is a kind of “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” argument. If a miracle occurred, reason no longer applies (at least not consistently and knowably), so you cannot reasonably conclude anything at all, let alone that Jesus was God. If a miracle did not occur, you cannot reasonably conclude that Jesus was God.

And that’s the point. You ask, “What if He really rose from the dead?” with the expectation that I will reply, reasonably, that He must then be the Savior He claimed to be. But if he really rose from the dead, I cannot use reason to draw any conclusion whatsoever about his divinity, or much else.


Sweet daughter has been reading a story about a family of four girls having to deal with the death of their mother. It’s set in Mexico, mid 1900s.

It’s a story written by a woman, for girls about the age of ten, as mine is. As a manly man (ahem) nearing 40, this does not represent my favorite oeuvre. Nevertheless, it sparked a brief conversation with said offspring about death and how to handle it.

We don’t do this very often, as Americans. Death seems to still be a rather taboo and unseemly topic of conversation, which reeks of irony considering what we actually do talk about. (I’m looking at you Richard Sherman.) But we need to talk about it. Not dwell on it, mind you. Let’s address it as we would any other topic about which we need to teach kids.

So that’s what I did. We talked about grief. We discussed how the idea of an afterlife confuses the survivors, for if we’re going to see our loved ones again, what’s the point of being so sad? Sweet daughter seemed to grasp without much trouble at all the concept that when someone dies, they’re gone and that’s it. Most importantly, in the midst of grief we have to believe that we will be happy again.

The pain we feel isn’t for the one passed. It is for ourselves and for any other survivors. As such it is something that we can deal with. We need not pretend that the dead live on and so “watch over us” or take interest in what we do. Our lives are our own, and we need not live them for the departed. We can honor those gone, but we don’t need to be ruled by them in any way. Consequently, we must acknowledge that happiness can and should return when the grieving is done.

Looking back on those I’ve lost, this perspective fills with me with a great sense of freedom. It feels healthy to miss them from time to time but–in the main–to take joy in having known them. They do not look down on me from Heaven. Instead, their lives have left an indelible (I hope) mark on my life, for the better.

Life, short as it is, seems much sweeter, much more precious, when its brevity is fully comprehended. And while it hurts to lose someone–indeed, the pain can sometimes make us feel as if we will never breathe again–we must remind ourselves that the pain will pass and that happiness, happiness is the whole point of life.

My hope is that when my daughter experiences for the first time the loss of someone close to her, she will grieve well…and then move on and grasp the fullness of joy that life has to offer.


Some months ago I decided to no longer post on Facebook my thoughts that I record in this blog. The impetus for that had two components.

First, from perusing Facebook, I had collected over time a well of frustration relating to various religious, political, and deepity type mental emesis that was threatening to overflow. That would be healthy for no one.

Second, it seemed that I had a talent for alienating friends simply by sharing my thoughts. In fact, a couple of them had been quite dismissive and insulting, intentionally attacking my character. After some challenge to them, these folks decided to withdraw from the conversation, cutting me off entirely. This did not tend to augment anyone’s happiness levels.

So I drew the conclusion that I’d rather not alienate any more friends. The result was that I largely just ignored Facebook for a while, checking in here and there to make sure I didn’t have any private messages, and that I would no longer share my (apparently) controversial thoughts in that forum.

But then two things happened.

First, I managed to alienate another friend anyway, completely apart from Facebook and blog ramblings. In fact, through a quirk of circumstance, I happened to find out precisely how much my friendship was worth to this other person: $130. (As usual with me, in my last communication I left the door open to reconciliation, but the other party simply deemed it not worthy of a response.) This told me that I didn’t need Facebook or the internet in order to lose friends. I seem to be able to do this no matter the medium. (Lest we think I’m having a pity party here, I’m not. I’ve made several friends over this same time period, and many others have shown meaningful support to me simultaneously. But I think these observations are relevant.)

Second, I just happened to get on FB recently and have a look back at my own page from the last year. Reviewing the pics, the short discussions, the funny or random articles, I realized what a great scrapbook FB is. That is, in the current solipsistic age (or blog post, as you deem) FB may stink as a medium for engaging friends, but it makes for a nice record of activities.

So here I am, back on FB posting pics, submitting comments, and, yes, linking to my blog. I have considered the price that I have to pay for being myself, and it seems worth the trade — at least for the moment. I cannot promise restraint or lack of controversy or that I won’t offend you, personally, dear reader.

But I will be myself. And I sincerely hope that is something you end up valuing, too.


[T]rust is a measure of how much a person can be relied upon to safeguard other people’s well-being.

Sam Harris, The Moral Landscape, p.81