Saturday, July 26, 2014

Who Do You Follow, and Why?

— Cowboy Bob Sorensen 

This is a partial rant, and may seem disjointed at first. But stay with me, things will fall into place.

I've been having a rough time lately (cue sad song on world's smallest violin). Although my previous two articles here met with mostly favorable responses ("Hell, Creation and Side Issues" and "Side Issues Part 2 — Information and Discernment"), some antagonistic responses bothered me. Two annihilationists were going after me regarding what I said, dismissing the main points of the articles and inadvertently proving me right: People elevate a pet side issue to primary importance, and will act in a very unchristian manner (including fallacious thinking and ad hominem attacks) to promote it. I took exception to this treatment, and one of the people said:
"...Play the ball and not the man. From my website - I encourage you to check out the video message on the fundamentals of mental and emotional health because you're doing sick-thinking by taking offense here rather than correction (or accepting the possibility that you could be wrong on the traditional view of hell)."
He promptly went to an ad hominem attack, all the way to judging me further and thinking he was qualified to diagnose my mental health — based on how I did not like his actions and attitude. (Oh, and a self-serving plug for his site, which I assume that he considers a repository of wisdom.) Yet he "threw me a bone" with a condescending remark that my creation work is good, but...

People like this misuse Scripture (such as Romans 16.17-18, which is about heresies and heterodox ideas being brought into the church). For that matter, one went as far as to imply that we cannot trust our Bible translations because they do not support the annihilationist view! That is cultic thinking, such as when Mormons say that we can trust the Bible as far as it is translate correctly, or other cults who say that the Trinity is unbiblical and was added to the Bible. It is rather frustrating that I was castigated by prideful Christians, and I was emphasizing that we should examine teachings in light of the Word of God. Who are they following?

Another bothersome thing was that someone I have admired turns out to have some heretical views about important things and acted in a very childish manner after losing a debate. I am undecided about whether or not I can continue to associate with him. He has followers. The guy that won the debate? I have disagreements with some points of his theology, but have a high degree of respect for him and my disagreements are on nonessentials. No, I'm not naming names. Yet.

Don't go yet, I'm still laying things out.


Pixabay / Hans
Now a bit of a repeat something regarding what I have called "bandwagon convictions". Too many people "think" with their emotions and believe something because it is growing in popularity. Sometimes they will accept the utterances of celebrities, whether they are in the entertainment industry, Christian teachers and debaters or something else. I believe that many atheists do this as well, being bedazzled by atheist celebrities and accept their alleged wisdom without serious thought. Movie stars pontificate about politics, and sheeple will follow them, influenced by their utterances.

In a similar way, people are influenced by Christian rock stars (literal as well as figurative). Many years ago, I was partially taken in by Kenneth Copeland. He has a good personality, tells interesting stories, makes funny remarks, and there are some things he says that are true. Fortunately, the deception was slowed by the Spirit of God and my skeptical attitude of "Where does it say that in the Bible?". Others are taken in by Joel Osteen's big smile and Rev. Feelgood message, and fall for his heresies. People will follow Joyce Meyer, Matthew Vines, T.D. Jakes, Mark Cahill, Edward Fudge, Beth Moore and others. It may be your local pastor. Or your friends. They may have winsome personalities, give persuasive presentations, use persistence and have other things going for them — until you slow down and examine what they say with good hermeneutics, and then their teachings often fall apart. If you're following them — why?

Many Christians who are interested in philosophy and apologetics like the work of William Lane Craig. He shreds atheist arguments quite handily and has influenced many people. Unfortunately, he holds to an odd belief called Molinism, and his celebrity status may influence people to accept that position. Worse, he disparages biblical creationists. Craig accepts some of the anti-creationist positions of Hugh Ross and has made some reasonable-sounding arguments against a literal reading of the creation account in Genesis. In so doing, he also has made statements that are biblically unsound but seem good to people who follow what he says without further investigation. In fact, some more serious exegesis and argument is in order. I strongly recommend that you read "William Lane Craig vs Creation" for a good understanding of the bad eisegesis that he presents.

Let's make sense of these things. I was pommeled by proud Christians for not accepting their heterodox views. Someone I admire turns out to have heretical beliefs. People are influenced into accepting bad teachings because of who does the presenting and the way they give their sales pitches. There are Christians who will go so far that they will act like angry atheists and attack Christians who uphold the Bible.

All of this comes down to something that I keep saying, that we need to think critically and examine what we are taught in accordance with the Scriptures. It is good to be corrected with sound doctrine. But to be judged by people who call themselves Christians for standing on God's Word can be disheartening. Christians are to be about the business of proclaiming the gospel and presenting reasons for the hope that is in us (1 Peter 3.15), not tearing each other down over nonessentials and pride. God is the one I want to please, not them. How about you?

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Side Issues Part 2 — Information and Discernment

— Cowboy Bob Sorensen

In Part 1, I defined theological "side issues" as things that are not essential to salvation, but are varying in importance. Some are extremely important, some not at all, and some are not important but vital in the eyes of adherents. One of my main points was that creation science is a side issue, but it is extremely important because Genesis is the foundation of almost all major Christian doctrines. This article will draw from some of my own experiences (some recent) and observations to emphasize the points I am making.

Some people are so focused on their prize nonessentials that they elevate them to supreme importance. Many put aside instruction in sound doctrine, glorify themselves (which sounds to me like, "I am so clever because what I believe is a vitally important truth") and put others down for disagreeing.

As I have discussed here before, one of the reasons that I put aside the Christian faith for about fifteen years was because Christians often do not act like Christians. (Naïve of me, I know, since we are supposed to look to Jesus, not other people.) Because of the previous article, I was saddened and even angered because I felt that I was attacked. It led to a loss of fellowship with someone who had been a co-laborer in Christ in one case, and astonishment at the pride and arrogance of someone else. I felt that they acted in an unbiblical manner when they slapped me seven ways from sundown. Ironically, those people proved my points in that article!

Seeing Their Point of View
When we are asked to consider the evidence for a position, that is a reasonable request. There are some drawbacks to it, however:
  • Too many Christians are not grounded in the Word (2 Timothy 2.15) and are easily swayed by a convincing presentation (Ephesians 4.14-16). Ever notice that Jehovah's Witnesses, Mormons and other cultists try to convert Christians to their way of thinking? They succeed far too often. As many of us keep saying, Christians need to know what and why they believe.
  • As a sub point to the above, some of these people indulge in Scripture twisting like the cultists. It may not be intentional and may have come from how they learned what they believe. A presentation of their views may seem convincing at first (Proverbs 18.17). I believe that my recent critics were motivated by pride. They decided that their views were of vital importance, and that I was misrepresenting God by rejecting their heterodox beliefs, but the Bible is my final authority. Although I did not name anyone, someone decided, "He's talking about me, so I'll use that to give me the right to give him a public shredding, and anyway, Paul did that to Peter in Galatians 2". (Those were not the actual words, but that is my perception of the attitude.) The use of Paul's confrontation of Peter had no relation to the issues that my critics had with me, yet this was Scripture twisting to justify their actions.
  • People who emphasize side issues and aberrant theology often misrepresent the position that they are trying to refute. Sometimes it is because of ignorance since they themselves were sold a bill of goods.
  • Emotional manipulation is a frequent problem. One of Satan's biggest tricks is appealing to pride (it was Lucifer's downfall, Ezekiel 28.12-19, Isaiah 14.12-15). He used pride back in Genesis. Again, people "think" with their emotions, and are easily manipulated by emotional appeal and provocative wording.
  • Lack of logic. This can come from Christians who are being confused or even deceived, but also from the ones presenting aberrant or heterodox theology. In the fallout from Part 1, I was accused of some logical fallacies. To do this, my words were twisted (as well as Scripture), then their accusations of my use of fallacious were fallacious! As I have said many times in various places, too many people "think" with their emotions, and are subject to manipulation by those who are unscrupulous, are deceived themselves or simply over-enthusiastic about promoting their special doctrinal views. I think it is far worse when people who identify themselves as Christians do this (Matthew 5.12-14).
In a similar way, like other creationists, I believe that our children should be taught about evolution. Adults should know about it as well. Simply saying, "Evolution is false" is not enough. When providing children and adults with critical thinking skills, a biblical foundation and solid creation science education can help people see the bad science of evolution, and that creation is affirmed. When people can think for themselves, they can refute many evolutionary claims rather handily.

Tradition or Orthodoxy?
The fallacy of Appeal to Tradition applies here. Just because a doctrinal view is held by your denomination, family, community, your persuasive clergyman or whatever, that does not mean that it is right. Christian beliefs should be Bible-based. The authority of Scripture is of vital importance. Many doctrines are in place because they have been examined and found scripturally sound for many years and measured against Scripture. Something that is heterodox or unorthodox should be approached cautiously and compared with the Bible, as the Sword of the Spirit is the Word of God (Ephesians 6.17 NASB), and this is spiritual warfare.


Katana / FreeImages.com / sardinelli
Beware the Bandwagon
I have long maintained that people will support a view because it is popular in their circles. Rebellious teenagers may want to choose atheism as a worldview to please friends or a romantic interest. When becoming a Christian was in vogue, people were "asking Jesus into their hearts" for similar reasons. Some believe viewpoints because Reverend Feelgood preached it, or they liked a presentation by Dr. Psych on afternoon television and besides my friends are doing it too and I don't want to be left out you know? This bandwagon mentality can happen for all sorts of reasons that are primarily based on emotions and not rational thought or scriptural exegesis.

New Revelation
Another fallacy that comes to mind is the Appeal to Novelty: This must be good because it's new and not apart of established traditions (you don't really want old stuff anyway). Use caution whenever someone claims to have a "new revelation". Joseph Smith started Mormonism by saying that God the Father and Jesus Christ appeared to him and told him that everyone else was wrong, and he was going to start a new, correct church. (People who knew the Bible would see that his visitation was false because of John 1.18, 1 Timothy 6.16 and so on.) Similarly, people can claim that they have special understanding of the Bible that has been lost/hidden/suppressed. While organized religions can suppress the truth, Scripture reveals it. The Roman Catholic Church has a history of suppressing salvation by faith and the Bible itself, but they could not keep the truth hidden. There is no new Scripture being given to man, so be careful when someone has a special message that is new or rediscovered, or a minority viewpoint that has been allegedly suppressed.

Some people falsely claim that biblical creation (Young-Earth Creation, YEC) is a recent phenomenon. This is disproved from the Scriptures and the church fathers, as is documented in Dr. Sarfati's Refuting Compromise. Liberal Christians had compromised on YEC and mixed old-earth views with the Bible to appease "science" since Darwin, Lyell and others were gaining popularity, and Old-Earth compromisers display considerable hostility toward us. But what if biblical creation was a new view for the church? Just because something is new does not make it good, nor does newness make it bad. When some new or lesser-known idea does not match Scripture, watch out. Biblical creation upholds Scripture and its authority. If the claim that YEC was new to Christianity was true, its support of biblical authority would be an important point for consideration.

Edit: At the risk of flogging a deceased equine, annihilationists will sometimes say things like, "If eternal torment is not correct then it is creating an unnecessary stumbling block for evangelism - it is often mocked by unbelievers as contradicting the love of God and being cruel and inhumane." That is an opinion stated as fact. Also, we hear similar things from old-earthers who insist that biblical creationism is a hindrance to the gospel, which is the opposite of the truth.

Corruption of Scriptures?
Mormons believe the Bible is true as far as it is translated correctly. The Jehovah's Witnesses have their own spurious translation to fit their own worldview. Old-Earthers tell us that the Bible does not mean what it says, and we have to interpret the first eleven chapters of Genesis according to the current trends of science philosophies. Some Annihilationists not only say that we have been misunderstanding Hell all along, but that Hell is a pagan doctrine which has crept into Christianity, and Bible translations also have this error. Great, now we cannot trust the Bible, but we can trust what they say that it says? This kind of talk should make any Christian proceed with caution, whatever the doctrine.

Passionate Devotion
Many of the people who emphasize heterodox beliefs, heresies, side issues, "new revelations", compromisers and so on have certain characteristics, including:
  • Pride. I need to re-emphasize the pride issue. I have encountered and read the writings of people like this who think they are totally right, spiritually enlightened, more complete, have a better understanding than the rest of us — because of their different view of the Bible.
  • Interrogation. "What research have you done on this topic? Have you watched any debates?", and so on. When someone gets "in your face" and puts you on the defensive, that is a time to wonder if the topic is worth discussing any longer. I have had Calvinists reject me because I refuse to accept all of their views, and vice versa with Arminian teachings.
  • Personal. If you take a stand against something that you consider erroneous, be ready for people demonizing you in addition to what you stand for. They will also act like atheists in joining with other people ridiculing the person with whom they disagree.
  • Proselytizing. Not content to simply let you believe your way and they believe their way, they want to convert Christians to their way of thinking. Cultists do this as well, since they have the One True Church™.
  • Arrogance. Some of them are so obstreperous, you cannot tell the difference between atheists and them. Going back to my experiences with Part 1 of "Side Issues", the one who said (in essence), "He's talking about me" though I had not given names had identified himself and somehow that gave him the right to rip into me. (I had an atheist do the same thing, where I left names out of the article, and he came around and identified himself! When I pointed out his foolishness, he deleted the comments that he left on that site!) Both of those articles were more about attacking me to justify themselves, one of which was very vituperative (it read like it was written by an angry atheist), both were unchristian in their attitudes and approach.
  • Obsession. Some of the "major on minors" people are so enthusiastic with proclaiming truth as they see it that they bring up their pet topics inappropriately. Many believe that they are promoting and defending truth as well as refuting error, but are unwilling to admit that they may be in error themselves.
  • Lack of Christian love. This is summed up above, really, but I felt that it needed extra emphasis. Unbelievers take particular joy when Christians attack other Christians and do not show John 13.35. Like I said, I felt slapped around. It was not Christian disagreement or instruction through biblical love, and made very personal.
Showing off my pet cactus, Zane Green
People who do not have a grasp of logical fallacies will undoubtedly be accusing me of various ones again, including appeal to motive. Some things may have that superficial appearance, but they are clearly offered as speculations and possibilities for the reader to consider; unlike some people, I do not claim to know the hearts and minds of others. But these people who act like atheists and cultists would do well to examine themselves, since they react strongly and negatively to principles that they do not like and the people who hold them.

Should we hear people out who have differing views? Sure. But be certain of what and why you believe what you do. Scripture is the highest authority. If they are obnoxious and push you to "convert", that should be an indication that what you are hearing or reading is quite possibly not from God.


Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Hell, Creation and Side Issues

by Cowboy Bob Sorensen
Edited 1-11-2017

This article will undoubtedly upset some people.

Do creationists have any business complaining about others who emphasize theological "side issues", when creation science is one of them? Absolutely! There are different kinds of side issues, some marginal importance and others with tremendous importance.


Do creationists have any business complaining about others who emphasize theological "side issues", when creation science is one of them? Absolutely!
Ancient of Days / William Blake, 1793

What is a "side issue"?
People have their own opinions about and definitions for the term "side issue". One frequent connotation is that a side issue means something is not important. People are offended when they are told that the item they brought up is "just a side issue" and dismissed. For me, the best usage of "side issue" means that the subject under discussion is not essential to salvation. For example, belief in a literal six-day recent creation, belief in annihilation as opposed to eternal punishment in Hell, social concerns, speaking in tongues, forms of baptism and so on are not essential to salvation. The importance of those and other topics can be discussed.

Whom do they glorify?
Sometimes nonessentials become elevated in people's minds so that little else matters. People may gravitate toward those things because it makes them feel good. The foundations of the Word of God, preaching the gospel, sound doctrine and so forth are pushed aside in the pursuit of the "cause". (Note that there is nothing wrong with giving emphasis to learning about a new topic for a while, as long as things do not get out of balance.) There is often an element of pride where people want to "be right" and look down on others who do not believe the way they do. The principle of, "In essentials, unity. In nonessentials, liberty. In all things, love", is absent. This also goes for Calvinists who act like cultists, trying to convince other Christians that the Reformed view is the only correct one. Angry Arminians who condemn all Calvinists to Hell are also guilty of unchristian attitudes. Above all, we are to be glorifying Christ, not ourselves.

Division in the Church
People lacking discretion are known to give undue emphasis on unimportant side issues, creating strife and division. While truth is divisive by nature (Matthew 10.34-39), dividing over unimportant matters and pride is unchristian (John 13.35).

My father was a pastor in the liberal (and now thoroughly apostate) United Methodist Church many years ago. He was strongly opposed to people speaking in tongues in the church, since he had seen them get so wrapped up in it that the issue divided churches.

A Note of Hell
The subject of Hell has been coming up lately. It had been put aside by "seeker-friendly" and liberal churches and by people who are simply uncomfortable with it. While it is good to preach the love and forgiveness of Jesus, that is an incomplete gospel. All have sinned (Romans 3.23), and all deserve death (Romans 6.23, Matthew 13.41-43) and need to repent (Luke 24.46-47 NASB). We need to tell people why Jesus died on the cross and bodily rose on the third day (Ephesians 5.6). Hell is real (and some of my atheist critics wish that it is real enough for me to go there — which is not possible).

Some people are teaching the heresy of Universalism, where everyone is saved anyway. Others teach the unbiblical doctrine of annihilationism, which says every condemned sinner is burned up and consumed. This minority viewpoint flies in the face of the plain reading of the Scriptures (for example, Luke 3.17). Instead, they use amazing eisegesis and hermeneutical gymnastics to finagle ways around what the Bible says (i.e., it is cultural, symbolic, a false doctrine that infiltrated the church &c). So, their special interpretations tell you what the Bible really says and means. Annihilationism is considered by some to be an outright heresy. Personally, I believe it is heterodox.


Fallen Angels in Hell / John Martin, ca. 1841
I am not into "guilty by association", but there are some things to consider. First, annihilationism has always had a minority viewpoint throughout Christian history. Second, cults like various Adventist groups, Armstrongites (the former Worldwide Church of God), Jehovah's Witness and the like hold to this view, which I though should give someone a reason to pause before embracing this view. Also, many cults that hold to annihilationism also believe in another heterodox item called "soul sleep".


Some are abrasive and do not even have their false doctrine correct.
I have yet to see convincing evidence that Hell is a Roman Catholic invention
that is not based on "guilt by association".
They believe in the Trinity, should we discard that, too?

Kind of pushy, this was posted at The Question Evolution Project, of all places.

It is distressing when people will promote annihilationism and leave their original calling. I have seen people who were doing apologetics and evangelism lose their focus so they could argue with other Christians and try to "convert" them to their point of view. Some people are primarily known for arguing annihilationism with Christians, and doing little else.

One annihilationist said that it's important to "have a right view of God", or "proper understanding of the Bible". To me, that implies, "I have the right view of God/the Bible because I believe in the annihilation of the wicked, and your view is wrong". One Christian was saying how annihilationism was ridiculous and simply did not make sense (a sentiment I agree with), and the annihilationist tried to make the other guy look like a faulty Christian. The annihilationist was accused of acting like an atheist. Well, he did use atheist tactics of turning the subject around, avoiding questions put to him, and trying to put the other guy on the defensive.
 
EDIT: People sometimes use the word "torture" when discussing Hell. That is wrong, misrepresenting Hell and also God. Torture involves sadistic pleasure at the pain of someone else, and God is not like that. Hell is eternal punishment and justice, not a matter of God getting thrills from inflicting pain.

Commonality with Old-Earthers
Theistic evolutionists and other old-earthers compromise on the integrity of Scripture and elevate the current trends of science philosophies above it. That is, "science" interprets Scripture. They, too, require eisegesis to force their views into the Bible, and want to get biblical creationists to compromise and embrace old-earth views. Things that old-earthers and annihilationists have in common include efforts to recruit others to their viewpoint, eisegesis, pride, and requiring acceptance of their understanding of the Bible because humanity now has the wisdom of science.

Cultic Attitudes
Several marks of cults can be found in many evolutionists and some of the people who hold to side issues. The ones that stand out are:
  • Belief in having the only correct view
  • Anger at having unimportant side issues kept as unimportant
  • Exclusivity, where people who do not agree are "not as good as us"
  • Special revelation or new understanding of the Bible
  • Persecuted minority, their view is right but has been suppressed by Christianity for many years (this does not mean that just because a view is commonly accepted that it is right, since organized religion suppressed teachings of the Scriptures for many years, and opposed making the Bible available to the people)
Edit: I posted something on my "public figure" Page about the bad argument for tongues that says, "Jesus never changes, so tongues are for today". I linked to this article that refutes such logic, and had people insisting on converting me to their point of view. One acted distinctly like a cultist, complete with eisegesis and bullying. These attitudes help prove the point of this article.

How is Biblical Creation Science Any Different?
For the most part, biblical creationists hold to the authority of Scripture. Creation scientists will disagree about the interpretations of facts and about their models of, say, Flood geology or explanations for the distant starlight question, but they uphold the Bible.


Genesis is the foundation, as all major Christian doctrines are found there. Creation science, the global Noachian Flood, the age of the earth, six-day recent creation, death entered the world only after Adam sinned — these are indeed side issues because they are not essential to salvation. They are, however, extremely important to understanding Scripture and avoiding the domino effect of compromise.

Also, you do not need a code book or massive eisegesis to make sense of Genesis. There are resources available to make our understanding more complete, but unlike the annihilationists, old-earthers, cults and so on, biblical creationists appeal to the plain reading of Scripture. There is a follow-up to this article here.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Images on the Web: An Appeal to Caution

by Cowboy Bob Sorensen

People like to use images in articles, posts and so on. Some feel that it is essential, especially since readers are attracted to an article with an image on Facebook or other social media. Unfortunately, some are risking serious trouble. Mixed messages from image owners complicate matters; is it available for use, or not, and when?

None of what is written here should be construed as legal advice. What I am doing is recommending that we act within the law to the best of our abilities using better information, reducing assumptions, minimizing mistakes and carelessness, and putting aside arrogance.

You may want to stop and get a snack and soda, this is not one of my short articles.


Sunset over clouds on Lake Superior / freeimages / Archbob


Wrong Beliefs


Let's dispel some of the myths and excuses, several of which I used to believe.


Images on the Web are like butterflies: they're free
That is completely untrue, but a common assumption. Just because something is posted does not mean that you or I have the right to use it. When an image is posted, the owner is not surrendering it to public domain, it is immediately copyrighted, whether formally filed or not. Are you certain that you have the right to use an image any way you see fit? The safest rule of thumb is "when in doubt, go without".

Weblogs, Pinterest, social media, forums and so on are replete with posted images that technically are stolen from the copyright holder. Some sites confuse the issue by giving you buttons so you can share the images to social media, so they have no business complaining if people use those share buttons. But the sites reserve the right to revoke sharing. How they could get possibly thousands of shared images taken back down, I have no idea.

Christians using images from pay-for-use stock sites like Shutterstock, iStock and so on without payment, complete with the copyright watermark, are way out of line! Yes, I have seen pictures like this one on Christian sites, and I'm distressed at the ignorance (arrogance?) of the people posting them. That is theft, cheapness and bad testimony. However, I admit that on rare occasions when I cannot find the actual image owner, I will occasionally use an image that I just can't live without, or that it is scattered all over the Web.


They don't care. Besides, I'm giving them free advertising. 
It doesn't matter. You can't assume that they'll just let it go. It may very well be true that if you give credit, the image owner will be happy as a clam. But you may be sued. Of course, lawsuits are a hassle for both parties, and the plaintiff would need to show how s/he was harmed by your use of images, but paying a defense lawyer, even if no harm was done to the plaintiff, can be expensive and time consuming. However, I really don't think many people care if you download an image for your own use, such as a desktop background picture, social media profile image, or to e-mail to a friend.

When I began Piltdown Superman (which usually links to other articles), I used images from the article to which I was linking. After all, I'm sending people to their site. Wrong! Very often, the images they have are their own, or purchased from stock sites. The contract is not with me, and I did not have any rights to those images.
 
It's non-commercial use.
What does that mean, exactly? I have sites for education and information, and I do not make money (my creation science ministry actually costs me money sometimes). When looking up "non-commercial use", I found some vague and conflicting information. Someone needs to explain it to me. In simple terms.
 
I'm not making any money on it.
This does not matter either. If it is not explicitly free to use or if you do not have permission, drop it and get it from someplace safe.
 
It's not uploaded, I hotlinked the picture.
That's even worse. Hotlinking is bad for several reasons, including bandwidth theft because you're taking a free ride and costing someone else bandwidth (and possibly even money). There are times that it is acceptable, such as when when a site has an "embed" or similar option.
 
Nobody said I couldn't have it, and it's a public upload site!
Many sites allow users to upload whatever they wish. In the Terms of Service (does anyone read those, really?) users promise that they have the right to upload the image. If you look at some sites such as imgur, there is a "Report" button for the copyright owner to get the image taken back down. This linked image is quite likely copyright infringement. You need some common sense, experience and investigation in these matters. No, the Fox network may not take action about all of those Simpsons images strewn about the Web unless someone is making money from them. But do you want to take that chance?
 
I distorted it so the owner isn't losing money.
That was one of my self-deceptions, of which I have repented some time ago. I would take an image, creatively alter it so the owner wasn't losing a sale, and use it to decorate my posts. Later, I learned that this was still stealing because I really had no right to use it. Someone found one of his images and sent me a simple take-down message. I immediately complied.

There's a tricky area where something is changed so much, it's a "derivative" and considered a new piece. I suggest you fully understand the concept before trying it.

There are millions of sites on the Web, and millions of people posting on social media. They won't catch me.
Wanna bet? Like I said, it happened to me. Once. And I got out of that one easily. But there are people who will report stolen images on social media, or simply complain about it. I saw a creationist use an image, and an atheist who is known for trolling and looking for things to complain about pointed out that the image was the property of National Geographic. This was probably due to the Page owner's carelessness and assumptions such as the ones we're going through now. Sure, National Geographic may never know, and may not even care, but Christians need to be more careful so we do not damage our testimony. If mistakes happen, apologize and take down the picture if you find out that you do not have the right to use it. If you're surprised by a challenge, "Hey, that's mine and you can't have it!", they do have to give reasonable evidence that they are indeed the owner of the image in question. This can be minimized by using safer sources, which we'll discuss later.
 
They'll just have it taken down.
Yes, and you can have your site suspended until a DMCA dispute is settled. That's where the image owner says, "Hey, cut it out! That's mine and I didn't give you permission to use it!" I have had my own images stolen and uses for libelous purposes, and filed such claims myself. Depending on the site hosting service, the results are mixed.
 
The heck with that, it's Fair Use!
Yes, that's often a preemptive strike that people will use. (It's amusing in a way, because this is an American principle and I have seen some Brits consider themselves experts in international copyright law.) People will take it to mean, "I can do whatever I want because it's Fair Use". Dead wrong, Reginald. There are several criteria for Fair Use, and grabbing an image for the purposes of libel and ridicule are not among them. Also, Fair Use is not an excuse, but rather, it is a defense that is decided in a court. Do you need that expense and expenditure of time?

News items and publicity photos often fall under Fair Use laws, but you need to use caution on those as well. Here is an example. I am not confident that it applies to what I'm doing, however, so I leave it alone.

Fair Use applies when you go to a manufacturer's site and grab their image of a product that you're reviewing, for instance. I have used screenshots of my own computer and software for instructional purposes, that's Fair Use, too. I strongly recommend that you read "Copyright Fair Use and How it Works for Online Images".



Safe and Possibly Safe Sources

Before I get to the safe spots, I want to urge caution in a few things. 

Screenshots of videos.
That can be risky. Use caution, since those are copyrighted as well. It may depend on the age of the video and the attitude of the owner. By the way, embedding videos that are posted on YouTube or elsewhere should not be a problem, especially since they have ways to share and embed them. There have been times where I embedded videos that have been taken down at the source, so I did not have any repercussions.

"Good faith".
This is a legal term. When you use an image in good faith, it is because you thought you were not infringing on anyone's rights. Especially if your source claimed that it was available for anyone's use. It is often used in defense, and if there is a mistake somewhere (or something was misrepresented to you) and you are notified of a copyright infringement, by all means, take it down. I suggest that you tell whoever notifies you that you used the image in good faith, but you've already removed it.

Be careful about using images of people, especially children. Some sites post free-to-use images, but there is no promise that a freely-uploaded image has a "model release" signed by the person in the photo or their legal representative. Unless you are absolutely certain that the picture is public, steer clear. I've used public images that had people in them and still distorted them. Nobody is identifiable, and there's an "artsy" feel to the picture.

Get familiar with "public domain" laws for your country.
This is not as difficult as it sounds because there are some basic guidelines that you can look up.

The sites themselves.
Some sites are glad to let you have their images, and have guidelines in their use.


Government agencies can be an excellent source. 
However, "dot gov" is not a guarantee. In the United States, material from federal agencies is usually public domain. State agencies are not, and you need to check the copyright and use policies. Also, watch for image credits, as government agencies will obtain copyrighted images from outside sources. For instance, NASA will post images provided by non-governmental employees, and you do not have the right to take those. If it says, for example, "Image credit: NASA.gov", it is probably public domain. They do want credit, however.

I resize images so people don't have their bandwidth clogged with high-resolution images, and give them a link. It is not often required, but some are trying to get exposure (heh, picture joke) and a link back can help them out. There are some people who will try to sue because, although the subject in the picture is old, they took the picture and did their digital manipulations. This is a controversial area (see the information on this William Blake image). So if you resize a 300 dpi image down to 96 dpi, there's less of a chance for someone fussing about it.

Pay-for-use.
I do not use these, but some organizations pay for images. It can be a real time saver, and they have various plans that may or may not fit your budget.
"Meme" generators.
Pictures with captions, many with a common theme. People use them in various ways, however. Yes, I use them, too. With caution. Anyone can upload something, that does not mean it is up for grabs. Some people think that they can confiscate any picture, run it through a meme generator, put an insulting (or even libelous) caption on it, and that makes everything right. Worse, someone else comes along, finds the image and makes a new caption — and the image was never legally used in the first place.


What I recommend on these things is to use memes that are established. You can do a search in a meme database (be ready for extreme profanity, however), or see if there are many on the Web already. If it has a name, you can search for it (such as Kyle, "Bad Luck Brian"). If I go to a meme generator and the image is new to me or not one of their main stock images, I'm likely to pass it by.

One thing I like to do with the generators is to leave the credit on there ("made on imgur", "imgflip.com" and so on). Although I run them through my photo editing software and add a "watermark" when I want to stake a claim for my captions, I leave their credit (if they put one on the image) for a couple of reasons. One is that I think it's only fair. Second, it's a way of showing "good faith", that I believed (along with thousands of other people) that the meme generator was offering something legally in their stock images.

The most common and established memes often have blank templates. Those can be useful if the meme generator does not meet your texting needs, and you can make one through your own photo editing software.
Clip art.
Sometimes something cute or a simple illustration will take care of things. Clip art can be your friend. Especially if it is contributed to public domain. If you feel like being creative with photo editing, you can have fun with it. Or keep it simple. Open Clip Art and clker have been helpful to me, especially when I want low image file sizes.
Public domain image sites.
There are several of these, and some have been disappointing to me. Perhaps it is because of my special interest areas. However, there are some that can give you interesting items. I like to be different, and will occasionally use very old pictures or even fine art in my posts and articles.
  • Totally Free Images is one I use. It runs slowly at times, but there are a lot of images there. It has a search engine, and higher-resolution images can often be downloaded.
  • Wikimedia Commons is a mixture of public domain and shared but licensed images. Also, Wikipedia itself has many public domain images in their articles.
  • The Library of Congress has many images, but they won't guarantee any of them, even if they were from 1910.
  • This article from the Ithaca College Library has several links to public domain materials, and not just images, either.

Free-for-use image sites. Always read the terms of use.
Remember, there is always a risk for error or misrepresentation. That is why I keep mentioning "good faith". Many of my images are linked back to the source. Not only does linking show "good faith", but may help researchers in the science articles. Also, when using some of these freely available materials, a link back is not only helping out the photographer, but informs him or her know that it was used in a Christian article. If you go to this link, then click on the picture (which already has a credit caption), you'll see what I mean. (If you're familiar with editing HTML, you can add target="blank" in the "a href=" area.) Many do not require a link back or even credit — but why not? And if you want an illustration in, say, Facebook, you can easily include a link to the image. In this case, I edited the credit onto the image at the upper right.

However, when you post a link on Facebook or use a "share" button, an image often comes along for the ride. That's not what I'm talking about.

Some of my main sources include:
Take and make your own.
I don't know that they're really supposed to be called, but when people make an image that is just text and background, I call it a text image. The reason those are so popular may be due to the fact that many social media sites do not allow formatting on text.


I made that one. It's a JPEG, and not a large file (a TIFF of this image is many times larger, and the PNG is somewhat larger). You can take some of those free-to-use images and caption them as well.

When you go for a drive in the countryside, a trip to the zoo, the evolution propaganda history museum, hiking, whatever — bring a camera. These days, they are not nearly as expensive, and you can take quite a few, deleting the ones you do not want. Just remember to reduce the file size and resolution before uploading. Although you don't have to, I like to let the world know that I do own the copyright to my images


Ask people.
Usually, I am hurrying to complete an article or post, so I use the previously mentioned services. But there are times when I can contact someone and ask if I can use an image. To protect their rights, I "watermark" the image like I did here. Some people don't care about that. Also, you may be able to contact someone on the Web: "Hey, I really like your picture of a moose eating corn chips, can I use it in a post? I'll link back to you, of course". The photographer or artist may be glad to use the image in return for the publicity. Or you may be charged a fee, that's up to you and your budget.


The End of the Matter

These principles can apply to Weblogs, sites, social media and so forth. Christians are called to a higher standard. Some will arrogantly disregard the rights of others and the law, but those seem to be in the minority (I've seen atheists justify their lawbreaking, we don't want to be like them). Others act in ignorance and on assumptions, freely using anything that catches their fancy. Think, people! We are ambassadors of Christ, but with intangible things like electronic images, we may be dishonoring him out of ignorance. 

Yes, there will be mistakes and careless slip-ups, and maybe some things will be misrepresented to us (I'm still learning and making adjustments myself). By acting in good faith and taking down genuine requests if we've done wrong or been misled, we can be good examples. Using the safe photo sources will help tremendously, and we will not give our critics a valid reason to criticize us (1 Peter 3.16 ESV).