Dane Cook is to Comedy What Benny Hinn is to Christianity

In regards to our own religious beliefs, or lack of them, it all ultimately comes down to the classic case of choosing to either overlook or focus on the best or worst of extremes and using that viewpoint as the unchangeable standard to support what we believe.

When it comes to my involvement with facebook, I’m more of an observer and less of a participant.  I’ll comment on people’s pictures and random status updates (as a way to “stay in the loop” with people I haven’t seen in years, because sometimes, there’s nothing really new to say to them, just “hey, how are you doing?”).  It may be safe to say that I tend to get the most enjoyment by reading the controversial status updates that at least 20 people comment on.  It’s just funny, if nothing else, to see the original “status updater” provoke that many people to argue with him or her, or other commenters.

In the last few weeks, I’ve seen several occurrences of this scenario involving religious sorts of proclamations.  The status updater makes a statement that at least in some subtle tone indicates that people who belong to any sort of religion (typically Christianity is specifically targeted) are gullible and naïve.  Then all those who are also non-religious and outspoken jump on the “no god wagon” which in turn provokes those who are religious to either defend themselves or their beliefs.

Benny Hinn, saying his famous catch phrase, "Be healed!"

By being a silent spectator of these events, I get to learn exactly how those who are disgusted by/apathetic towards religion became that way.  It seems a lot of the time the reason they stopped believing in God has to do with other people they saw who were in some way hypocritical.  Or televangelists who make money by telling their listeners they can become rich and blessed by giving money to the church and/or buying his book on “abundant living”.  Or judgmental church marquee signs that try to be cute by scarring people into church: “Without the bread of life, you’re toast!”  (A reference to Holy Smoke). Or because they visited a church one time and were either really bored or ignored by everyone.  Or because they never got a satisfying answer to this question: Why Do Bad Things Happen to Good People ? (Click that title to read why.)

Or any other of the thousands of reasons why the concept of God coming to Earth in the form of a Jewish man to die for the sins of the entire world (who was raised back to life after three days, then 40 days later ascend to Heaven) because He loves them and wants a personal relationship with them and will give them eternal life yet will cast them to hell if they don’t believe doesn’t seem logical, practical, or coherent.

And here's your host for "Your Best Life Now", superstar Joel Osteen!...

There are so many reasons not to believe.  I can see how it could be pretty easy to focus on any of them.  But just like the way nonbelievers focus on any of those reasons for a basis for not believing, I overlook all those reasons and instead focus on all the other thousands of reasons to actually believe.

At the end of the day (and more literally, our earthly life), we will have had the free will to choose which reasons why we do or do not believe.  I won’t get into all the details here, but the whole reason I exist ultimately goes back to a scam in 1973 involving some shady tent revival “preachers” who convinced my grandparents to sell all their belongs (and give the money to the church, which in turn went to the preachers) and move from Buffalo, NY (to avoid a prophesied national famine that never came) to Fort Payne, AL (the “Promised Land”, safe from the national famine).  Ultimately, my parents met as teenagers, both being forced to go to that weird church.  They got married four years later, then four years after that, I was born.

What, is it a sin or judgmental that I don't think this guy is funny? Dane, if you're reading this, sorry- I'll buy you lunch. Email me.

If anyone had a reason to be bitter or disgusted or simply just “through with” organized religion and/or God, it was my family.  But instead, they chose to recognize that they had been misled by deceptive people who claimed to be following God.  They chose to trust in God despite of other people, not allowing faulted human beings to get in the way with their relationship with God.

Of all the reasons not to believe in God, the one that I understand the least is the fact that hypocrites and less-than-perfect Christians exist.  To judge an entire religion because of the worst specimens seems unfair to everyone.  I love comedy and comedians.  I’m not a fan of Dane Cook or Larry the Cable Guy, but I don’t denounce comedy in general because of what I perceive as poor example of what a comedian is.  But ultimately sometimes it’s much easier to judge an entire group by picking out the worst examples as the mascot for the whole team.

Yes.  Greedy, selfish, hateful, people are all around who call themselves Christians.  But there are also the ones that don’t make the headlines.  The ones who demand less attention.  The ones risking their lives to help starving and dying villages in the poorest parts of the world.  But instead, Christianity is often judged by our worst examples.

And as hard as I try to be a perfect Christian and try to be a good example for everyone, I will constantly miss the mark in some way.  If I personally was the only example of Christianity for the whole world to see, it would be dangerous for Christianity.  The world would see my sincerity, my love for others, my time in prayer for so many people, my humility in my constant trusting in God for all the unseen and the future.  But they would see me mess up too.  My pride, my selfishness, and my shame.

Multiply that concept by the hundreds of millions, to symbolize all the Christians of the world.  What would onlookers choose to see?  Just the good?  Just the bad?  Both?  Whatever the answer is, that’s most likely how you see God, or don’t.

Free will is a complicated and dangerous thing.


The Blog Sniper (or, The Classic Case of the Compliment Intertwined with Condescending Criticism)

Um… thanks?

I’m convinced there are certain people in the world who truly can not (or will not) simply compliment another person- they feel they are doing the person a favor by also incorporating some sort of condescending criticism which picks at a minor detail to negate the positive vibes of the compliment itself.  Sort of like the way certain people can not (or will not) truly apologize, by saying something lame like this: “Well if I did something to hurt your feelings I’m sorry…”  That kind of apology translates as “I’m sorry you’re such a baby and sorry that you’re trying to make me look like the bad guy.”

Just last week when I published What Not to Say If You Want People to Like You 101, one of the points I touched on was “Knowing How to Actually Compliment Someone”.  Then ironically yesterday a random stranger acted out exactly what I had just mocked a few days before.  Click here (healthnutshell: Ketchup Vs. Mustard) to read a post I wrote which contrasts the types of food that ketchup and mustard are generally paired with.

In case you didn’t click on the link and haven’t read the comment I’m referring to, here it is again: Bahaha… you make a good point, but I doubt that by avoiding ketchup, you have succeeded in eating healthily. XD This is good stuff to know, but I also feel that it is a little fanatical. Thanks for the information, though!”

Here’s a breakdown of that comment:

“Bahaha”- A condescending laugh which translates as “that’s ridiculous”.

“You make a good point.”- An honest compliment.

“But I doubt that by avoiding ketchup, you have succeeded in eating healthily.” – A correction of my quirky lifestyle.  Totally missing the point, since I didn’t write the post in a tone of absolutes: “Because ketchup, in most cases, is paired with unhealthy foods that are either processed or fried.” Throughout the post I downgrade ketchup, yes, but I never say I refuse to eat it or that I don’t ever eat it.  Nor did I say that I am trying to eat healthy by simply avoiding ketchup.  Instead, I said: “So my general rule of thumb is, I stay away from foods that are enhanced by ketchup.”

“XD”- A slang symbol meaning “big smile”, an attempt to lighten the mood back.

“This is good stuff to know…” Another compliment.

“But I also feel it is a little fanatical.” – A call to put me on the defense.  Really?  I’m a fanatic just because I made an observation that typically ketchup is a condiment for less healthy foods, namely processed and fried?

“Thanks for the information…”– A expression of gratefulness.

“…though.”- In other words, “Thanks for the info, despite how laughable most of it was.”

Looking through each line of the comment, it is interesting the way this reader used the pattern “negative, positive, negative, positive…”  In fact, this may be the most perfect example I’ve ever seen of the classic case of the compliment intertwined with criticism.  That takes talent.

I literally laughed out loud when I read the comment.  Because it’s so tacky.  I think, “Make up your mind, either insult me, or compliment me, but don’t do both at the same time.  Commit.”  I totally respect someone’s opinion if they truly disagree with mine and don’t have a subtle motive to undermine my efforts.  But they have to be cool about it.  Etiquette still exists.

Otherwise, like in this case, it just becomes a joke to me.

But it’s evident from that comment that the person probably makes a daily habit of correcting everyone else, likely with a sarcastic tone, in an subconscious effort to feel in control.  Similar to the case of Some People Like Being Offended and/or Taking Advantage…

Be excellent to each other.

This event also reminds me of an excerpt of Christian Lander’s book, Stuff White People Like.  He is explaining that some white people let a little bit of positive feedback go to their heads too easily and that it eventually can get out of hand.  Therefore, he gives this advice to prevent that from happening:

“Do not dole out your praise like pinata candy… it is best to tease them with little bits of praise, balanced with a few barbs: ‘I have to hand it to you for putting KRS-One on that party mix.  I mean, you went with a pretty well-known song, but still, good job'”.

It’s just funny that in the Internet world it’s somehow more acceptable to go around criticizing people for the sake of trying to sound smarter than someone else who was creative enough to invent.  But I guess with the wave of online writers come just as many online critics.  And my guess is that the critics aren’t themselves inventing any original content- just looking to start a sophisticated food fight about ketchup and mustard.

I say let your “yes” be “yes” and your “no” be “no”.  And when possible, find ways to truly compliment people, not find perceived fault in their creativity.  There’s not enough of sincere complimenting going on in the world.  Especially when “compliments intertwined with condescending criticism” are so popular.

Sammy sings praises, not pious put-downs.

Self-Depreciation and Self-Denial are Forms of Self-Help

Help yourself to telling the world how inadequate you are.  Evidently, it’s good for you.

When I see a person make a habit of letting all their friends and acquaintances know (in general terms) how unpopular, unappreciated, and unloved they are, I look at it as a subconscious method of helping themselves feel popular, appreciated, and loved because they are unable to feel those ways otherwise. 

Facebook is currently the most fertile ground for this to take place.  Like people using their status as a way to tell everyone how “Yet again, another date gone wrong.  I guess I’ll just be single forever…”  (I’m assuming the guy or girl they went on the date with is a facebook friend and will pretty much immediately read the comment.)

And “Tell me this.  How could someone actually say that to another human being?”  (This vague sort of comment opens the door for people to ask, “Hey, what happened?” and “What did someone say to you?” and “Who’s doing this to you?”)

Both of those status updates of course are soon followed by 13 comments.  And jackpot, the plan worked.

While I’m generally an upbeat and positive person, I definitely get into ruts just like everybody else.  And I don’t fake being happy when I do.  If someone asks me how I’m doing, I tell them the truth.  But what keeps me from broadcasting my gloom to others, publicly?

I learned the hard way a few years ago (2005) on Myspace and I hated the way it made me feel: I admitted in a “blog” that I was feeling “depressed by all the winter weather”.  It didn’t take long for Myspace friends to come “rescue” me by leaving positive comments.  So even though it was just an off-hand thing I wrote, I realized it could be perceived as “help me feel good about myself”.  Like I was fishing for compliments. 

Not that I wasn’t grateful that those people cared enough about me to show their concern.  It just felt weird and unnatural for me.

In public, I have to feel like (and know) I’m helping myself get out of the funk.  I do ask for help, advice, and encouragement- but I do it all in private.

So now when I write, I am always reluctant to present a personal problem without finishing the post by providing the solution or how I will help myself get through it.  And most likely, to get that solution, behind the scenes I’ve already asked for advice from a trusted friend or family member.

I don’t assume that the way I deal with feelings of inadequacy (privately) is the superior way- it’s just the best way for me.  All I can assume is that people who publicly deny themselves are doing what’s best for them, and that’s why they continue to do it.

On a different token, however, self-depreciation has made Conan O’Brien’s career.  In every monologue, he makes fun of his pasty, lanky, 6’ 4” body and his own off-beat style of humor.  His confidence is shown in his ability poke fun of himself.  But when this comes from a place of confidence, a person can totally put themselves down and have it work for them.

So self-depreciation and self-denial definitely work for certain kinds of people.  Those who gain their confidence from a public array of encouragement and those who already have confidence yet ironically bring attention to the very things about themselves that others may find cause for low self-esteem.

Is There Such a Thing as a Wrong Opinion?

A behind-the-scenes look at writing with authority.

I spend a lot of time reading articles online (movie reviews, political blogs, etc.) every day and I always make sure to read the comments that other people post below them. The majority of comments tend to agree with the writer. But a good third of them have the polar opposite view of the topic. To me it’s funny when they disagree, because ultimately what they are saying (especially when their comment is emotionally charged) is that the writer’s opinion is wrong.

In a way they are the treating the writer’s opinion as a fact, by questioning it like it is a fact. Because only a fact can be wrong. An opinion is completely subjective.

And what that points out is the importance of the natural assumption of credibility in a writer. A convincing writer is able to supplant this idea in the reader’s head: “If he’s saying it, it must be true.”

No writer is completely right-on and in-tune all of the time. Even if a writer was, they may just not simply be right-on and in-tune with the exact same perspective as the reader.

Writers must present their information in confidence, in a way that says, “This is unquestionable truth”. When executed correctly, the reader subconsciously puts their trust in the writer, assuming that if the writer says something that seems a little off, it must be the reader that is out of touch and off-sync, not the writer.

I know this is true for the writers that I follow. Even when I read an article from one of my favorites and I don’t thoroughly enjoy it, or it just doesn’t grab me, I still come back the next day or the next week for more. Because despite their shortcomings, they have instilled a sense of reverence in me through their talent. A sense of belonging, even.

That’s my opinion, at least.