Tuesday, June 30, 2015

[Time Relevant] Selection Bias and SCOTUS rulings

To be honest, I'm not particularly fond of writing anything relevant to current social issues, and I feel the need to add some additional caveats to this post.

 Politics has long been a frustrating source to me because my experience has mostly been negative. And usually I wouldn't post something like this, but though this is not specifically programming oriented, I think this still falls within my technology parallels method.

I as a person exist as an object that has many labels ascribed to it: Christian, tech worker, occasional blogger, and citizen of the USA to name a few. Though we usually choose to have a primary identifier, all of them are accurate. So with this recent ruling to expand the legal definition of marriage to include two persons of the same sex, I find that the Internet has exploded in vitriolic cries of "you either agree with me or you're wrong!" These are not helpful, nor are they isolated to one particular side of the controversy.

I read through some of the ruling, and I particularly liked this line from the Opinion of the Court:
"The petitioners in these cases seek to find that
liberty by marrying someone of the same sex and having
their marriages deemed lawful on the same terms and
conditions as marriages between persons of the opposite
sex." [NPR with SCOTUS embedded]
Now again, I am not particularly well versed in legalese, so I am likely to use terms in ways that aren't correct. But I'll continue in the hopes that the spirit of what I am trying to convey is shared, and as always with difficult subjects, God is made known through what I write.

That's a critically important thing to understand with this. Let me repeat it: I am human. I sin. I pursue my own selfish ends more than I would prefer. My intention and desire is to point to God and share that good news, but I could fail. What I hope and pray is that regardless of my success, you (the reader) see God through this and learn to go to Him for clarification, not another flawed person like me. [It is reminiscent of Philippians 1:15-26.]

So with all of these conditions in mind, I find I am not troubled by the decision of the court to deem that same-sex marriage is legal. From a legal stand point, it is giving the same financial and medical benefits to couples. That is exactly what I think the government should be doing. It should be ensuring that people are receiving equal treatment. I personally may disagree with the practice because of many reasons, but the religious stance on the topic should not influence law. This is why separation is in place.

Now, what I might want is for the laws to mirror what is best for people, but let's look at the history of the law that God gave us. The law was imposed after we had already fallen, to try and help us understand that no matter what the set of restrictions, we will never be blameless under the law. We've sinned, we might be sinning right now, and we will most likely sin in the future. Jesus' death by taking on sin was necessary because we suck at following laws. These laws were good, they set up fundamentals for how we should live, how we should help each other, and how we should avoid dangerous scenarios. (At the heart, the goal was always to pursue God, but again, that's a bigger topic.) But under a limited one, we got caught up in the details, looking for edge cases to why "I was in the right and they were in the wrong," much like the moral law that C. S. Lewis spoke of in Mere Christianity. So the Pharisees expanded the law, gave stipulations, put boundaries and restrictions and rulings on it, not for some intentionally nefarious purpose, but like what I expect most people would do is to help others. But in that, you've enabled exploitation of a system. The more complex, the more room to slip through.

So let's look at this current legal state. What has changed in our spiritual battle with this ruling? Nothing. What is and isn't permissible by the culture has changed, and will always change, but the heart of whether we are pursuing God has not moved at all. We are still failing God's law, and we are still in need of Jesus' sacrifice, God's mercy and grace, and the Holy Spirit's guidance in the present. What the laws of the land do, which are lower in my priority hierarchy, is tell me how I need to act as a citizen of the nation I'm in to remain compliant.

Oddly enough, two sections I find very helpful on this topic of conflict between our spiritual and social obligations are from the same chapter. 1 Peter 2. The first half discusses being set apart and different, so we're not doing the same as others, but "Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul. Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation." [1 Peter 2:12] Which is followed by "Be subject for the Lord's sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good. For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people." [1 Peter 2:13-15]

I bring these up because I think there is entirely too much focus on the arbitrary line of "the laws we had before made us a 'Christian' nation and these new ones don't." When really, none of this is. There are lots of things that are legal that are immoral. Pornography is legal and it's oftentimes more sexually deviant than just two people of the same sex. But why is that being legal not destroying the state of our Christian nation? Probably because we allow people to make decisions, but we ought to be helping influence them to see why just because you can doesn't mean you should.

But by making it illegal, by not giving it the same footing, we set it apart, making it somehow special, and being human, we crave the forbidden fruit. I mean, think about it, the common phrasing for wanting something you're told you can't have is taken from Genesis as the tangible fall of humans! It's so ingrained in our sin nature that we refer to these things we are compelled to try as the source of our mortality, and it's usually an endearing term!

So for this ruling, I don't see anything as different, and as a citizen, I respect it as the legal state. As a Christian, I disagree with it, I think it's harmful to the participants, but I don't think it should be illegal. Like with alcohol, prohibition kept honest people honest, but those who would disobey the law only went further out from the law, causing more harm, breaking more laws, giving rise to other issues, all for us to realize that the battle is not won with a legal ruling in a court, but by God softening our hearts, and us being lights in the darkness, helping, feeding, lifting, and loving our neighbors, regardless how far they've strayed. We also strayed, so we know how difficult it is to come back, and we know how great it feels to finally be home in God.


I'll separate this visually because I don't want it to detract from above. There are a few other bits at work in this I think are worth noting. The best way I can describe the next one is that is it some sort of selection bias. My social feeds have been mostly very aggressive statements about "with us or against us" responses to this news. I feel this is some strange culmination of selection bias, survivorship bias, and "the squeaky wheel gets the grease" rolled together. I have seen a handful of well-phrased calm writings on the subject, and a few inclusive statements to bridge gaps. But the majority of the reshared articles, the lengthy posts, and the curt hashtags are designed to divide. If "#LoveWins" then who lost? If this is what ruins the nation than was it perfect beforehand?

The rehashing of the same divisive messages is not doing anything to build the case for Christ. If love wins, then maybe we should be using this as an opportunity to share when Love really did win, and Jesus was raised from the dead by God to show that mortality and our sin nature were no longer the masters of our lives. Love set us free, not just to be with a person, but to have eternal life. Let's emphasize that kind of love, and instead of drawing lines, look for commonality, build on what we're all seeking. We want someone who will care for us forever, and marriage is our attempt at getting that here and now tangible representation of that. So it's not surprising we'd adapt it to how we think we ought to do it.

The number of "unfriendings" on Facebook over those who agree and disagree are another good example of the survivorship bias. Who will you read if you only keep those around who repeat your own thoughts? What will challenge your positions if you hide within the walls of comfort? The "bumper sticker politics" that Facebook now provides by resharing tag lines and cleverly-captioned pictures is only reinforcing the bias.


And perhaps most frustratingly to me, there is little space for dialogue and discussion when people assume a dissenting point of view is an argument. If I disagree, it does not mean I am fighting you. I am expressing my worldview, and explaining how it is. As entities surviving in the same space, throwing up an arbitrary wall against people who disagree is counterproductive for the secular, and sinful for the faithful. If we're called to be light in the dark world, and we withdraw because someone didn't do what God wanted, we'd never have any conversations. In fact, we'd likely need to find some way to kill ourselves or enter into an induced coma, because I know I'm disobedient all the time. Romans 7, where Paul expresses his frustration at this difficulty of the law showing him how sinful he is, and sin continuing to flare up in him and counteract his desire to emulate God.

Paul battled with the same thing I do, how does remaining in this broken state help others? Because it is not our power that saves us and others, but the Holy Spirit doing His work in us that redeems our actions, guides our hands for good, and can breathe life back into this heart of stone.

So now, if power and strength come from God, and the gospel is to share the Glory of God to other broken people, the only way we can convey it is in our broken state. He is not waiting for us to be perfect, because that's not going to happen this side of Heaven. Therefore, for our human parts, it looks like we need to compromise, be willing to yield our presumed superior position, and be the servant Jesus acted like, who washed the feet of the people who would abandon them, who spent years teaching them even when not all of them would believe. I have to preach this same encouragement to myself every day, to remind me that it is never "us and them" but "we." And this we should only have a distinction between those who are pursuing God and those who aren't yet pursuing him. Remember, every tongue will confess at the end, so what we ought to do now is be the hands and feet here now, wherever we are, doing whatever we can.


Here's a song to help: "Oceans" by Hillsong UNITED
"Spirit lead me where my trust is without borders
Let me walk upon the waters
Wherever You would call me
Take me deeper than my feet could ever wander
And my faith will be made stronger
In the presence of my Savior"