Posted by: dswerling | August 8, 2008

Being Born Again

Considering I’m not Roman Catholic and go to a Protestant Church, any reader might be surprised that I’m saying that one of the founding doctrines behind my branch of Christianity, “sola fide” (faith alone) is incorrect. My title may be misleading, so let me elaborate. It isn’t that the doctrine of sola fide in and of itself is flawed. I do believe that only the grace of God which is given only through having faith can achieve salvation. This is the only perspective that truly makes sense, because any alternative results in a nonsensical relationship with God. If it were through good works alone that we were saved, it would destroy the value of altruistic and selfless behavior, because such behavior would not be altruistic or selfless. Thus we would basically be “buying our way” into heaven, which is surely not a desirable way to get into heaven. Therefore it only makes sense that, at some level, it is through the gift of Grace from God which can only be attained by having faith which will save the sinner.

However, my beef with Martin Luther’s famous theological foundation is the modern conception we have of it. Luther originally created the concept of “sola fide” because of the incredible amount of debauchery within the Roman Catholic Church at the time. The point of this theological pillar was that going through the motions is not enough to achieve salvation, which is still true for any earnest believer. Receiving absolution after an insincere confession is worse than simply not going to confession in the first place. The Eucharist will do nothing for you if you have not freed yourself from Sin. We cannot achieve salvation simply by going to church or simply by passively being a nice person, we must go out and actively seek a relationship with God the Father, actively seek to help others. This is how we achieve salvation.

This is my chief objection to modern “Born Again” theology. Other than its complete ignorance of Church history (which is substantial) and inability to agree on the finer points of Biblical coherence, Born Again theology seems to adopt a very vague definition of a “conversion experience” and declare it completely adequate for salvation. This is, quite simply, misled and rather foolish. In the Gospels there are many more references to doing good works than to simply having faith. The most prominent “faith alone” passage ever stated is when Jesus tells Nicodemus “Amen I say to you, unless a man is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” This is the passage often cited in support of born-again theology. However, there are two problems with this passage. First of all, there is no good reason to support the idea that Jesus was talking about anything besides baptism when he made this statement. He certainly does not mention some other different born-again idea anywhere else in scripture, in other instances he is usually cited as referring to baptism. More importantly, this idea is flawed because of discrepancies in scripture. For instance, Saint Paul’s conversion experience on the Damascus Road is probably the most powerful in the history of the Church! I mean really, if Jesus suddenly appeared to you in a vision, told you to stop persecuting His followers, then blinded you, wouldn’t you say this was a “born again” conversion experience? Born again theology would say that this was sufficient for imparting grace on Saint Paul, and he would have been saved through his faith alone. However, as soon as Saint Paul meets up with Saint Peter, the first thing he does is he gets baptized. Similarly, all of the early disciples who knew Jesus would have (according to born again theology) had grace imparted instantaneously, indeed almost thrust upon them! However, they are all told to be baptized, and Jesus never mentions any special sort of born-again ritual to them. This is one large problem with born-again theology.

Furthermore, Jesus’ statement here is not saying that if we only believe we can do whatever we want, and frankly that is what it is often taken to mean. First of all, what is the definition of “belief?” Pascal’s Wager states that (in an abbreviated form) it is more advantageous for us to believe in God because then if we die we are guaranteed salvation, while on the other hand we would not be if we were Atheists and happened to be wrong. However, most Christians would probably consider anyone who believed in God just because he or she wanted to be safe and avoid hell, but didn’t really care about having a relationship with God, a hypocrite. Belief does not seem to only be some arbitrary choice made in the logical mind, it is rooted deeper than that. On the other hand, belief is not (as Atheists often contend) simply irrational feeling, merely feeling something is right and refusing to change your opinion no matter what the cost. The problem I see with born-again theology in practical terms is that born-again Christians very often seem to assume one of these two extremes. Either they seem to make a purely intellectual choice that is without true depth or meaning, or they make a purely emotional choice that is closed off and cannot develop anymore. Neither of these extremes seem right to me.

It makes me sad honestly, to see this process happen. I do believe that when Jesus refers to Nicodemus having to be “born again,” he is speaking about a very deep, beautiful, important experience that people have which does confer grace upon them. However, in my own (very humble) opinion, this experience should be deep, sincere, and life changing. It should be located between the two extremes, the extreme of emotion and the extreme of intellect, a balance of both. I met a born-again Christian once named Chuck, who was a nice boy but was far from being an orthodox Christian. He never attended church and frequently behaved irresponsibly, particularly sexually. I asked him if he could kill someone and would still be saved. He said as long as he believed, he would be saved. However, I think this is an honest misunderstanding of the practicality of the issue. The point is, if someone truly was “born again of water and the spirit,” they never would kill someone in the first place. If a born again Christian did murder someone, we should not assume they are saved because they said they believed, we should assume that they didn’t mean what they said.

I do not mean to marginalize the experiences of many born-again Christians or claim that somehow they’re “living in sin” or they are in danger of eternal damnation. A true conversion experience which contains grace given freely by God is a wonderful thing, and would very likely constitute strong evidence of salvation. However, we should not be quick to jump to conclusions. Merely claiming we believe and then living our lives as if nothing else happened is not enough. The stakes are indeed higher for “born again” Christians. All of our lives are a journey and a struggle to receive salvation. For the Born Again Christian, they should display more fervor and enjoyment of this journey than the rest of us, and more desire to see God and do good for the sake of God than anyone else.

Posted by: dswerling | July 9, 2008

The Jeremy Hall Debacle

I just saw this news story about this Army guy Jeremy Hall. According to the story Hall was brought up as a believing Baptist Christian, said grace before meals and read the Bible every night before going to bed. After two tours in Iraq he became an Atheist, and was insulted and threatened by his fellow soldiers, and eventually forced to return home early. Now he’s suing the department of defense and the Government because his constitutional right of freedom of religion has been infringed upon.

Let me be honest here, although I am a believing Christian, it sounds like the guy was discriminated against. They told some story about him being driven away from a table at thanksgiving, and his fellow soldiers said some pretty bad things to him. I have to feel for the guy, especially considering all that he saw and all the service he did for my country. Especially since he’s not suing for money, I doubt that he’s doing this for one of those selfish get rich quick schemes that people sometimes pull. It sounds like he was honestly discriminated against and doesn’t want it to happen to anyone else. I would concede all of that to any atheist who came to me whining about Christians still persecuting non-Christians.

However, I also would like to say that I doubt this is some sort of universal conspiracy in the Government, and I’d be willing to bet Hall’s lawsuit isn’t going to do anything. You know what I think happened to Jeremy Hall? I think he came from pretty Americaland where life is easy and everyone’s (relatively) happy, and it was easy to have faith. I think he went into a warzone where he saw death and chaos, and watched his comrades and innocent people get blown up day after day after day, and I think after seeing all that it was pretty difficult for him to still have faith in any supreme, ultimate goodness. I can’t blame him for that. He knows a certain amount of pain I will never know, and has seen things I hope I’ll never see. Nevertheless, I think that Jeremy Hall was stuck in an environment with a lot of tough, gung-ho men who are not being encouraged to question ideas and to be thoughtful and open minded to other viewpoints. I think that he was different, and that like a bunch of schoolboys his fellow soldiers picked on him for it. I can hardly blame them either.

Jeremy’s lawsuit isn’t going to do anything because his experience is another tragic consequence of human nature and warfare. It has nothing to do with religion. It has nothing to do with God, or Christianity or ultimate reality in general. What it has to do with is how terrible war is, and the depths of our own animal nature. In war soldiers are taught to kill one another with no regard to whether it’s “right” or not. The only way to do this is to bury their humanity. A soldier’s job isn’t to be open minded and thoughtful, it’s to fight and kill and listen to orders. A unit’s job isn’t to be diverse and blended, its job is to be one united fighting force. Why is it any surprise then, that you would find discrimination in this organization? When men bury their humanity, nicey-nice things like tolerance and acceptance go out the window. The department of defense and government aren’t going to change that unless they stop fighting wars, which isn’t going to happen. I feel bad for you Jeremy, but your lawsuit is utterly pointless.

I’d be willing to bet Jeremy’s a nice guy who just wants to do the right thing. I’d also be willing to bet that the men who discriminated against Jeremy never would have done that if they weren’t sorrounded by death and killing and seeing the worst humanity has to offer every single day. This big debacle is a great example of how war brings out the worst in people, how burying our humanity is never a good thing. Unfortunately it won’t be remembered that way. In a few days the “blogosphere” will be buzzing with articles praising Jeremy as some martyr for Atheism and showing why those nasty Christians are all stupid, mean pigs. It will become another big conflict to be had, another war of thoughts the same way we’re fighting a war on the battlefield. The same way all governments seem incapable of holding themselves back from fighting, Atheists and Christians will probably be incapable of holding themselves back from fighting over this issue, and in doing so won’t even see the sad reality of their meaningless conflict.

We humans are a very stupid race. I think the greatest miracle that shows there must be some divine reality is the fact that we haven’t managed to kill ourselves off yet.

Posted by: dswerling | July 2, 2008

Upon Visiting the Grave of a Good Friend

I’d been forgetting about the loss of my friend Ally lately. Isn’t it funny how that happens? It’s amazing how easily humans can put away thoughts and emotions. Maybe things work out better that way. After all, it can be difficult to keep thinking about the loss of a good friend. On the other hand, we quickly forget our new years resolutions and the things we swore we learned. It’s unfortunate that this forgetting happens, but I realized today, upon visiting her grave, that it does.

The cemetary her grave is in is beautiful. It’s up on a high hill that looks over the whole town, and its sorrounded by a nice forest on three sides. Looking down you can see a country road with lots of homes stretched out, and the big blue sky seems to stretch out endlessly in front of you. When I first arrived there, I reflected on the cemetary’s beauty. Some cemetaries are inherently threatening, you walk in and just feel like the place is haunted (and here I’m not making a comment on whether or not ghosts actually exist.) This one is different. It’s a calm memorial place, where you can see the tragedy of every lost person, where you can tell that they are still loved and deeply missed. Perhaps my own loss forms this conception for me. In any case, I found the cemetary aesthetically pleasing.

I reached Ally’s grave and found she had no headstone. On top of the six feet of earth that covered her coffin were massive boquets of yellow flowers (yellow was her favorite color.) A humble little stand behind the flowers stated her name. I was dissapointed that there was no headstone. Perhaps her family cannot afford one? I do not know. In any case, there I was, staring down at her grave. Six feet below me, in a big metal box, lay the body of my friend Ally. Ally, the girl I drove to a friend’s party not three weeks ago. Ally, the girl who was in my van on the Kentucky Missions Trip last year. Ally, the girl who I got into an embarassing fight with at my girlfriend’s house and had to revise my understanding of forgiveness. Ally, so full of life an energy, gone forever, lying six feet below me in that big metal box.

I felt no more sorrow. The sorrow had been purged from me by long hours spent crying with my friends. I did not worry about the theological implications. I know there’s a God. I know Ally’s with Him now (she was a very devoted born-again Christian.) I know she isn’t suffering anymore. I know I’m going to be ok. Standing there, over the body of a friend I had loved and cherished, I was overcome by a feeling of absurdity. This girl had been vivacious, excited, and alive. Now she is dead and cold. Of course I believe in God. Of course I know that one day I’ll see her again. But the simple absurdity of this entire situation is overwhelming. It’s like she left. She just departed on another fantastic journey, and I have no contact with her, no way to know her except in my memories. She’s just gone. I can’t even explain how it makes me feel. It isn’t painful really. It doesn’t hurt me, it doesn’t make me mad or angry at God or myself or anybody else. The best way I can describe it is that it’s just plain absurd. It just doesn’t make any sense, and I know that if I stood in front of that grave, staring down at that patch of earth for a thousand years, it still would make no more sense to me than it does now.

The realization was humbling. I walked away from the grave, reminded that there are certainly things I cannot and will not ever understand, and that there are times when I must just trust, whether I’m trusting God, nature, or myself. However it was a strange realization to come to, to see the limits of my own thoughts. As I walked by other graves, I reflected on how for every person here were many more that had to come to the same realization I did, that had to miss those they loved the way I miss Ally. Now I’m just left to wonder if others reach the same conclusion I do. Do others see the idea of death as simply absurd? Do they try to make sense of it, or do they regard their attempts to be futile as I do? Do they immediately jump to not thinking about it, without even recognizing the whole situations’ absurdity? I guess I’ll never know. None of my friends wish to discuss it, and no one ever does. I suppose we all reach our own conclusions about this concept. However, seeing a good friend’s grave is to me an important reminder of how absurd our very existence in this natural world is, and how we must always be humbled and awed by the natural processes we constantly observe. As for the rest, I guess I just don’t know what else to say.

Rest in Peace Ally, rest in Peace.

Posted by: dswerling | June 20, 2008

“Interpreting the Bible Literally”

Since Ally died I’ve been focusing on reading the Bible and getting a better understanding of Holy Scripture. I’ve dropped much of the apologetic/philosophical work, so this is kind of a paradigm shift for me. However, entering into this new dimension on my Christian journey, there is one thing I’m noticing, which is that everyone is saying “well you can’t take the Bible literally,” and “that’s literal,” and “do you think that literally means that?” As Richard Dawkins once pointed out, “by what standard do you evaluate a passage as literal or non literal?!” I find the expression “literal” when combined with anything having to do with the Bible positively frustrating.

The way I see it, the Bible isn’t really literal or not literal, it just sort of is, and we have to make do with that the best we can. Talking about “interpreting the Bible literally” seems similar to “interpreting the United States Constitution literally” or “interpreting the Declaration of Independence literally.” If you’re wondering about whether God really created the Earth in seven days or Moses really writing the first five books of the Old Testament, then you’re wondering whether or not the Bible is historically accurate. Admittedly, that’s difficult, because the Bible contains both a lot of poetic literature and a lot of history, and figuring out which is which can be a problem. However, there’s no need for this silly nonsense about “interpreting the Bible literally” because that doesn’t mean anything.

I think when people want to know whether or not to interpret the Bible “literally,” they’re asking whether or not the Bible is complete. People want to know whether or not the Bible speaks in all circumstances for all times and situations. I can understand peoples’ concerns more in this regard. For myself, I do not hold the Bible to contain every truth ever revealed, or to speak on every possible situation and circumstance.  I think that trying to base all judgments in all situations off the Bible is not possible, because the Bible itself admits that it’s imcomplete. For instance,  “With many such parables he began to speak to them…”, “He began to teach them many things…”, “Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples which are not recorded here…” and finally “But there are also many other things Jesus did, were every one to be written, I suppose the world itself could not contain all the books that would be written…”. In all of these instances, we see the authors of the New Testament clearly saying that the Bible is not complete in its account of what Jesus said and did and what happened during His Ministry. This doesn’t mean that what we do have is irrelevant or shouldn’t be carefully studied and paid attention to, we should just bear in mind that it isn’t the whole story.

But how can we do this? We are confronted with many difficult questions, and have certain answers to them with regard to our faith. How do we justify those answers? The Roman Catholic solution to that problem is Sacred Tradition. I am not Roman Catholic, and I admit that I am somewhat averse to Sacred Tradition (and I know there are a thousand or so Bible verses that can be interpreted to support it so please don’t send any of them to me.) I think that keeping Church history in mind, and remembering the former answers to the questions we are confronted with is very important. We may find meditations on a difficult question from a Saint that lived many centuries ago, or be able to glean the feelings of early Christians with regards to the divinity of Jesus. For me, the only objection I have to Sacred Tradition is that I think it can lead to unecessary rigidness when it comes to Church practices. For example, after the early Church became centered in Rome, for a century or so Priests could marry (even the Popes had wives!) This practice fell by the wayside, and since is maintained through tradition. Personally, I object to this practice. I think it’s difficult for Priests to act as true spiritual advisors when they aren’t being confronted with many of the spiritual issues that arise from a very big part of most peoples’ lives. How can a Priest have a true appreciation for the sacredness of marriage if he has never had a real relationship with a woman, let alone been married? It seems like unnecessary complication to me. However, I think keeping Church history and lessons in mind is certainly worthwhile.

But as for “interpreting the Bible literally,” either interpret it or don’t, but don’t talk about it being “literal” or “not literal.” The Bible exists as both history and poetry, as moving and unmoving, as perfect and imperfect. In other words, the Bible exists as humans exist, with different focuses on different things, at times harsh, at times gentle, at times speaking, at times learning. We must keep this in mind, but to merely say the Bible is “literal” or “not literal” really doesn’t sum up the issue.

Posted by: dswerling | June 18, 2008

On the Death of a Good Friend

My friend Ally died on Sunday. She had a migraine while driving and blacked out and her car hit a telephone pole. She was nineteen and full of life. She was a born again Christian, and we had a lot of theological disputes. She cared about everyone. She worked hard to improve the world around her. She was a much better Christian than I’ll ever be.

Losing a close friend put my theories of why we suffer to the test. I’d always thought that we suffered because that’s the only way to grow stronger and love more deeply, but I knew that in the midst of the agony from terrible emotional loss or heartache, I might find those theories thoroughly debunked. What happened then was strange, considering the circumstances. When it came to the theories, I found them entirely correct. I see the way that my fellow friends and I, and our families and community, have pulled together in love and fellowship. Ally was a good friend of my girlfriend, and I know this will further deepen my girlfriend and my relationship. I know it will make me stronger, wiser, and a kinder and more compassionate person. These things were revealed to be true to me in several days. However, it was more interesting to me what was revealed the moment I learned of her tragic death:

I simply know now that there is a God.

It probably seems like a ballzy claim. I’m not surprised if you feel that way. In my defense I’d like to say that this knowledge brought no relief, only guilt. It was less of a revelation like “don’t worry, God will take care of her” and more like “There’s a God. Deal with it.” That night when I finally returned home, I looked at the shelf I have in my room that has about a hundred dollars worth of books by Christian apologists. I could have thrown them all away right there. I suddenly had no doubts anymore, her death had completely emptied me. I didn’t care what Hume’s critique of the Cosmological argument was, or whether or not modern science proves or disproves the Teleological argument. I had no interest in what Dawkins or Dennett or Stenger or any of the others had to say on why faith was irrational. I think I felt the way Saint Thomas Aquinas must have felt in Church that day shortly before he died, when he suddenly fell into a trance, and upon coming out of it said “I have just been witness to so much knowledge that all I know and understand suddenly seems without value” (or something like that.) When you’re faced with something so absurd and large, you suddenly realize your own inability to articulate anything meaningful. When true meaning slaps you in the face, your pathetic attempts to create it are simply flushed down the toilet.

My Christian journey is far from over. I had to think long and hard about conceptions of life after death. I had to wonder about the resurrection. I had to wonder about the problem of evil. But I realized in that moment of revelation that all of these concerns were just me figuring myself out, not me figuring God out. How could we ever figure God out? We can’t even figure out what justice is. We can’t figure out love, or honor, or truth, or even know we ourselves exists. How can we even begin to figure out God? It’s a futile guesture, and I have no interest in the matter anymore. My only interest now is to help other people, with the help of God. Understanding what “this” is, trying to figure “this” out, it’s hopeless. And who cares really? What good will it do me to figure “this” out? By the time I figure it out my chance to help others probably will have passed me by. I would rather help others. Curing pain and heartache such as what I’ve felt these past few days is a much worthier goal. My journey isn’t over, but I’ve reached a critical turn in the road. I intend to meditate on true meaning, on scripture, and on myself here now, and nothing more.

If you’re an Atheist, or a Hindu or Muslim or Buddhist or Jew or anything else in this world today, I just say good for you. Please just help me to help everyone else. That seems like all that’s ever going to matter at all.

Rest in peace Ally+

Posted by: dswerling | May 30, 2008

War is Never “Justified”

“But I say to you, do not resist an evil person; but whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also. “If anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, let him have your coat also. “Whoever forces you to go one mile, go with him two. “Give to him who asks of you, and do not turn away from him who wants to borrow from you. You have heard that it was said, ‘YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR and hate your enemy.’ “But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.”

“This you know, my beloved brethren. But everyone must be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger;
for the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God.”

This post has been coming for a long time, and since I saw a similar post on a fellow Christian’s blog I decided that it couldn’t wait any longer. I am often amazed by the conduct of Christians, not even in history because I think learning morality takes time, but especially today. Christians are willing to bicker endlessly about faith and works or abortion or homosexuality, and all these things certainly pertain to the Christian faith in some way or another. However, none of them receive such clarification as this one, violence, does. Jesus clearly tells us that we are to forgive, forgive, forgive, no matter what the cost. We are to be kind and loving and always ready to present this forgiveness, no matter what the cost. We are told to be peaceful and to avoid conflict, but as Christians we should grade ourselves on how well we follow through. How often do we react with anger and “wrath” because of some insult? How often are we willing to fight and bicker, or become angry and bitter rather than give a person the benefit of the doubt? What truly mystifies me of our ignorance to this issue is how incredibly important and central it is to Christianity. The concept of constant, unending, unconditional forgiveness is a uniquely Christian ideal, one that the martyrs of the early Church subjected themselves to with great zeal. It has its philosophical implications, since the only way to avoid an unending cycle of conflict is to forgive. Why do we so often ignore this concept?

This concept is particularly true when it comes to the behavior of countries, especially countries considering going to war. Now it’s odd that a Christian would feel this way, since it was the early Church fathers who came up with “Just War theory.” So allow me to set myself apart from two thousand years of history and tradition and the notions of many Christians by saying that, quite frankly, I think Augustine and Thomas Aquinas and the other church fathers were wrong. I don’t think that war is ever “justified,” period. I think that the Church father’s problem was how they defined “Just war” and I think that erroneous definition has created problems in our post-modernist age.

War cannot be deemed “just” or “unjust,” because war is the absence of such classifications. Warfare is violence, chaos, the epitome of suffering and evil. War is the practical implication of a failure-a failure of communication, politics, negotiation and policy. War is what most poignantly reveals our human nature, animalistic “original sin” side. Therefore, just by its own definition, to deem war “just” is simply absurd. Furthermore, who can ever justify a war? The country who instigates the war? How convenient then, that the country who is going to war (almost always for natural resources or land) determines that this is a “just” and “good” war. International agencies like the United Nations? The United Nations is not objective; it is made up of the very same countries that it tries to regulate. It is a diplomatically convenient way to determine what is just and unjust, but history shows its justice to quite often be off the mark; the citizens of Cambodia, Somalia, Ukraine, Rwanda, Bosnia, and Darfur could all tell you about that (all of these countries have experienced genocides since the creation of the UN.) So does God justify warfare? Obviously not everybody believes in God, and it is possible that there are religions out there with doctrines that advocate warfare. However now we have this religion where God tells us never to fight, to always be forgiving and never struggle with one another! What is the implication then? Perhaps the idea that war is never just! Maybe, just maybe, we’re just making it all up when we say we fought a “just war,” because such a war has not ever, and never will exist.

The problem isn’t specifically with the warfare. The problem is with the term used for it, the term “just war.” A war is one group of people killing another group of people. This implies that justice is therefore whatever a larger group of people decides is right. If we accept this definition, it means the Holocaust was justified, because the majority population of Germany decided the Jews should be killed. This definition obviously doesn’t make sense. In our American justice system, the idea is that one person’s actions are judged by a jury of (hopefully) objective jurors to determine whether they broke the law or not. Certainly there are many problems and imperfections within our justice system, however, to me this seems to be closer to the right idea. To me, “justice” suggests that an outside, objective authority has examined your actions based on an objective, accepted standards, and determined them as right or wrong. However, as I pointed out before, on the global scale, no such outside authority exists, and there is no objectivity. For this reason, I believe no war can ever be called “just.” To me, suggesting a war is “just” is like suggesting a “fair tax” or “fair government,” no such thing can ever exist.

I’ve spent this entire time talking about how there are no just wars, and you’d be liable now to ask “but what about the holocaust or the other genocides? Sometimes fighting is necessary. If you never fight for what’s right, then all that’s good will inevitably be destroyed.” Certainly this view is true, but this does not imply a “just war.” This implies that sometimes, war is “necessary,” it is the lesser of two evils. If we look at World War Two, we see two options: a war that will destroy all of Europe and cause tremendous death and destruction, or a totalitarian regime that attempts to eradicate an entire group of people and exert an endless, almost Imperial control. Neither of these options are good, it is only obvious that the second one is worse. Therefore, in such a case, fighting a war to prevent the worse result is necessary. This does not mean such a war is “just” or “right” or any other ideas, it only means that war is a necessary evil. We may find sometimes that our only option is to fight, lest all that’s good be destroyed. However, we should not be overeager for this to happen.

“What’s the difference?” you may ask. “Why does what you call it matter?” It matters because it shows how often humans are quick to cry foul when we feel we’re the victims of “injustice,” but are very quick to commit “injustice” upon others. I do not believe we should ever be happy to go to war. We should not be excited; war should not be seen as this glorious, wonderful, unifying thing that it so often has been thought of in the past. War should be, if anything, thought of as a terrible consequence, a national chore or punishment for lack of communication. We should not fool ourselves into thinking we’re somehow doing a good thing by fighting any war, because we aren’t. All we’re doing is preventing the less-evil thing from happenning, and this course of action may be necessary, but it certainly is not desirable. It saddens me to see how often all people seem to forget this now, and it is another reason that makes me consider the Gospel so very important. Two thousand years ago, a humble carpenter in Palestine knew that violence was never just, and never desirable. Why does it seem like even now, in our age of great intellect and brilliance, we still can’t figure this message out?

Posted by: dswerling | May 27, 2008

God, Ethics, and “Star Trek”

Sci-Fi apparently ran out of things to play on television for Memorial Day, because they were having a “Star Trek: Enterprise” marathon running today. Rather than keep on debating in my mind whether consciousness is immaterial or not, I decided to just watch the show. Now honestly, I don’t care very much for “Star Trek: Enterprise.” I sort of liked the older ones (though I found them tedious at times) because they often had good social commentary, but I often find “Enterprise” to be very modern, in the sense that it has what seems like a lot of fighting and a lot of sex with the old boring “meaning” sucked out of it. However, I observed something in one episode today that made me think a lot. You’ll have to forgive me if this isn’t the exact layout of the episode (if you happen to know what the real exact layout is feel free to let me know) but this is how it went to the best of my understanding.

Some star system in some distant part of the galaxy is being ravaged by a disease that the inhabitants are unable to cure. Starship Enterprise shows up with technology several centuries ahead of this star system, including warp drives that will provide for inter-star-system contact and a known cure for the star system’s ailment. The captain of Enterprise at first intends to help the sickly citizens of the star system, but is convinced against it by Enterprise’s doctor, who reminds him that natural selection must take its course. He says that “nature must be allowed to decide who lives and who dies” and he reminds the captain that some other race (I think it was the Vulcans) “held back” the humans after their discovery and during their fledgling efforts to reach interstellar travel, and it’s best to let species evolve or die off on their own. The Captain changes his mind, leaves some drugs that will ease the symptoms of the disease, and departs in hopes that the system will be able to heal itself before all of its citizens are destroyed.

Now I find this episode interesting because it really seems to epitomize an American viewpoint of ours. I think this viewpoint comes from all the movies we see where people are given tremendous disadvantages, and are somehow able to work over them, whether it’s a black woman in the south becoming a college professor, or a mentally challenged northerner finding his way into living a normal life. We Americans love those stories of triumph of the human spirit. We love it when the underdog is able to win. We love it when the big hulking crowd favorite is defeated by the guy everybody counted out, and we all get a message about how far determination can get you. Now I’m not going to say this belief is all bad. I certainly appreciate the value of hard work and determination and I think it’s great that our American culture puts such high value on these things. However, quite frankly, I believe these stories make something that’s incredibly rare look very common. For every southern black woman who overcame segregation and became a college professor, there were a dozen more who were beaten and fire-hosed back into their place at the bottom of society, and for every mentally challenged American that finds his way to a normal life, a dozen more get stuck in an institution. I appreciate the value of hard work, determination, and courage, but what I’m saying is that if the majority of people who made the minority of people require that hard work, determination, and courage in the first place were a little more thoughtful and open minded, we wouldn’t need people to “overcome.” If people had been thoughtful and recognized their own bigotry, we wouldn’t have had segregation and that black woman becoming a college professor never would have had to worry about “overcoming” in the first place. If Americans were more compassionate and didn’t often view the mentally challenged as stupid or to be laughed at, then mentally ill people wouldn’t have to worry about making their lives “normal.” It just amazes me sometimes, how we can all go to inspiring movies where some person overcomes great hardship at the hands of his fellow man, applaud this as upright and American, and then go out and be that “fellow man” whose hardships real people out there most overcome. Jesus said “First take the stake out of your own eye, then recognize the splinter in your brother’s eye.” Aint that the truth!

So recognizing this particular episode of “Star Trek” in context of a greater American mentality, I would like to now point out what I saw as philisophical problems with the Captain (and the Doctor’s) logic. First off, I would like to point out that the Doctor’s advocation to “let nature choose who will live and who will die” seems like the reification fallacy to me. “Nature” is a term that is abstract, similar to “God,” so to say “nature must choose who lives and who dies” is foolish, nature cannot choose anything. Furthermore, if the Doctor advocates letting the inhabitants of the star system die off by saying “nature is taking its course,” he is contradicting himself, because humans and aliens alike are all part of his “nature.” Therefore, in reality, if “nature” really were to “take its course,” then Enterprise’s captain should feel free to act on his compassionate instincts, because Enterprise’s captain is just as much a part of “nature” as minerals and rocks and atoms and elements are. To say that the Captain’s intervention would be “against nature” is either asserting that nature somehow has a will or doctrine (similar to religion, which is often what naturalists proudly state their belief is free of) or that humans are somehow “above nature.”  In either case, the Doctor’s assertion is appealing to the supernatural, so by its own standards the “nature taking its course” defense does not preclude the Doctor or the Captain’s moral responsibility to act in this circumstance.

Furthermore, there is a moral difference between the two options the captain of the Enterprise has with regards to helping the sick citizens of the star system. The Captain can help the citizens build a lightspeed reactor which will allow them to reach other civilizations, hopefully providing a cure (to clear up one concern, the assumption in the episode was that somehow this disease cannot spread to other species, I’m not sure why.) The Doctor also develops a cure for the illness, which the Captain can leave behind to cure the alien race, and then allow them to continue living. I can see where the “non-intervention” policy holds in the first case, but not in the second. I do have a certain amount of belief in the “prime-initiative.” Using an example from today’s world, I would like to compare and contrast the oppressive governments in the Middle East with the situation in Darfur. In my view, there is a practical difference between destroying a country’s government and taking over from preventing genocide. I believe governmental systems must evolve to the best of their ability, and we cannot insert our views and our knowledge into other cultures. However, I do believe that invervening to stop genocide is worthwhile, because the lives of hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians is more important than the abstract implications of cultural revolution. Also, stopping a genocide could be much less extensive than complete takeover of the government. Returning to Star Trek then, I believe this rule holds true in this particular situation. Granting the citizens of this more primitive star system warp-drives could lead to uncontrolled warfare and an “over eager” reaction from a civilization not quite ready for such technical advances. However, preventing a civilization from extinction by granting them a drug seems different to me. The lives of hundreds of billions of living beings, be they human or not, is surely important, and it seems strange to imagine it ever being moral to let hundreds of billions die for pure philosophical speculation.

My final two arguments apply primarily to the Doctor and the Captain. I believe they are both human, though I do not know, but let us make the assumption that they are both human. It seems that in this particular advanced age of Star Trek (and right now, incidentally) we are being told to “leave our emotions out of [it]” and a Vulcan crew member as well as the Doctor say the Captain must “put his compassion aside.” However, I would like to point out that for the Captain to put aside his compassion is to immediately ignore one of the central things that makes him human, to ignore one of the central things that defines him from the exotic animals he finds running around on planets that he visits. Certainly for the Lion in the Jungle, he cannot be compassionate, because only by being merciless and bestial can he survive. However, for the human in today’s city or the Captain on the deck of a starship in a distant time and place, an extremely important defining trait that identifies him as human is to act compassionate, act in accordance with what he feels is right. In ignoring this call, the Captain acts against his own humanity, and against his place in nature. Were the Captain somehow a Lion, or a Tiger or Grizzly Bear (and a very intelligent one at that) he could feel perfectly fine acting “naturally” by simply ignoring the suffering citizens for help, but as a human, to act “naturally” is to act compassionately, and the Captain ignores his own natural instinct to do what is good for some abstract concept of “nature.”

Finally, in context of what the Doctor tells the Captain, I feel that this is a great example of the Christian doctrine of “original sin,” better explained in secular terms as “human nature.” The Doctor informs the Captain that somehow this particular species of aliens might have the biological fate to simply die off, and that allowing them to survive might cause lasting problems for humans in the future. Besides being guilty of the reification fallacy again, this is remarkably good rationalization and justification if you ask me. How convenient, that humans could be gifted with the knowledge of nature so that they can act in accordance with its will! How convenient that this will would interlock perfectly with the hypothetical best interest of humanity far in the future! I understand that the same argument could be leveled against God and theism, but what I’m saying is just that this urge to justify and rationalize things we know are fundamentally wrong manifests itself in every belief, whether the belief be supernatural or natural, religious or atheist. Humans are on an eternal march of justification, and until we realize this, little real progress can be made.

I found this episode of Star Trek very thought-provoking and interesting. However, I must admit that at the end of the show I was very dissapointed with the Captain’s judgment. I find it disturbing too, that this viewpoint would be expressed in “Star Trek,” because I believe that the values shown in many of our pop-culture shows and cultural literacy items represents the common cultural values of our nation today. I sincerely hope that were any situation like this to arise, no matter how great or how small, any human would be sure to keep these things in mind, and I hope act on his or her compassion, not on desire.

Posted by: dswerling | May 24, 2008

Mathematics and God

I have never been and never will be a math person. I was confused by everything from division to algebra to probablity to trigonometry to calculus, and have stuck with it all this time merely to fulfill my obligations. However, I was thinking the other day about Math, and started wondering whether it counts as something we discover or something we create. I remember a funny yet extremely irritable Algebra teacher I once had walking in on the second day of class and saying “now all of you remember that these numbers you hate so much aren’t even real. They’re just concepts to describe abstract quantities.” The implication she gave us was that numbers don’t exist, it isn’t as if somewhere out there the number three is hanging in space just waiting to be discovered. The idea is that we have three of something, three apples or oranges or protons or electrons or born again Christians or Atheists or any other “thing” that can be described as a quantity, and then numbers like “one, two, three, four…” are just names to describe how many of these things there are.

However, Mathematics seems unique to me because we’ve invented these things we call numbers, which are abstract and don’t actually exist, and yet we can discover patterns in them that have led to math as we know it. After all, what are advanced forms of math such as calculus or differential equations except descriptions of extremely complicated and unexpected patterns in these numbers that we’ve invented? And what about the things we can’t describe? I laugh as I imagine the frustration of the first mathematician to discover that no equation could describe the pattern of prime numbers. How irritating it must have been to realize that these numbers and abstract concepts that we ourselves created could take on a life of their own! Most machines people invent or other creations are designed with the expectation that we can control them. Besides the occasional science fiction horror story, we don’t often here of an invention designed not to do what we instruct it to do, and yet we have invented math and numbers and they very often do not work out the way we would expect or desire them to. After all, imagine how much easier my math homework would have been if I could have simply invented equations that achieved the desired results! Math could have actually been fun! Yet numbers seem to live apart from us, but we have given them life. How could this be?

This then struck me a lot like the creation story and the idea of man choosing his own will over the will of God. Certainly numbers cannot “choose” whether or not to obey us, however, it is interesting to note the similarity of how we create these abstract things that suddenly achieve a “life” of their own, the same way the Bible says God created us and we achieve a life of our own. And yet the same we cannot force an equation to yield any answer we want (force 2+2=5 for instance) God cannot force us to do His will. Of course, we could all simply agree that from now on 2+2=5 and 4x+5=23 when x=7 and so on and so forth, but then what would be the whole point of mathematics? Math would become useless for all of its applications in science and business and life in general. Similarly, maybe if people couldn’t make a conscious choice about whether to love God or act righteously, our decisions would inevitably be worthless to God, and worthless for God, worthless for whatever purpose we are intended for.

On a side note, this question also makes me think about this one common objection I hear sometimes to God, the idea of whether values like charity and good behavior are rules set by God, or whether they are independent rules that God is the mere overseer for. The idea is that if God set the rules, then there’s also the idea that He could just as easily have set rape and murder and lying as good values, and we would live in a much different, much more horrible universe. If God didn’t set these rules, then that means God isn’t the ultimate high authority anymore, there are rules even he must abide by. However, I think both of the explanations miss the point. I think the point is that God is the rules, God is all those good values and good things that we associate with religious law. It isn’t that God sat back and was thinking one day “now…should I have all these little squirts be nice to one another? Or should I have them all be total jerks?” I think it’s just that thought never occurred to God, because I think that’s just how He is, and that’s just the way it is. It isn’t as if God had to decide what was good and what was bad, it’s just that what God is is good by definition. Becuase God is the be-all end-all of existence, it really isn’t possible that murder or rape or dishonesty ever could have been “good” values, because that just isn’t what God is, and God could never possibly be anything else. I don’t know, I’m having trouble articulating the philosophy today, but to me this suggests such beautiful hope. Maybe the idea is that somehow all this growth we see, both in nature and in us, is good, it’s positive. Maybe the final trend of everything is beneficial, not just abstract or bad the way we often think it is. Maybe this good trend is simply the final option, the only option, and while we can decide not to recognize it, our recognition can’t change it any more than our recognition that 2+2=5 can change the reality that 2+2=4.

How strange! I would never have expected to have so many revelations about God revealed from a school subject I was always so lousy at, and always disliked so much. My final thought is just that numbers are clearly only abstract concepts, but they have patterns, follow laws, and describe real, tangible objects. Similarly, to me it seems like God is quite an abstract concept, but He seems to have patterns, set laws, and has created real, tangible objects. What a strange parallel, don’t you think?

Posted by: dswerling | May 23, 2008

Relativism: Relatively Stupid

Whether you be Christian, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, member of any religious faith or no faith at all, chances are that you’ve run into a moral relativist, someone who believes objective moral values do not exist. Moral relativists assert that all ethical or moral claims reflect particular societal or cultural standards depending on time and place, but do not reflect any universal moral standard. Certainly you can understand how this would be a problem for any religion or philosophy claiming to support a position with universal rights and responsibilities for all people. However, moral relativism often seems to have this certain prominence in academia, this arrogant air that is assumed in high-gloss “civilized” society. Quite frankly, it sometimes seems “cool” to be a moral relatvist, as if “all the smart people are doing it.”

I have detested moral relativism all my life, but I will grant that a certain amount of relativism is always necessary, especially when looking at history or other cultures. For instance, imagine if we held the founders of the United States to the same standards we hold one another to now. Thomas Jefferson owned slaves for instance, and I think that for most people in our country now, if you knew a person who somehow managed to own slaves, you probably would not think of this person as the most moral person. You might think they had very little appreciation for human life, or that they were being oppressive, and that slavery is evil and cannot be tolerated. I would of course agree with you, but if we held Thomas Jefferson to this modern standard, he would immediately be written off as a “bad” person before we could even look at all the good he did for our country. From a more Christian perspective, while the writers of the Bible certainly do not condone many of the actions in the Old Testament, they certainly seem very uncivilized and unjust to us. We must keep our cultural relativism in sync with this, and not pass unecessary judgment on people from a less learned time.

However, I am always baffled by this ultra-intellectual movement I sometimes see, where apparently moral values are all a matter of personal opinion. Apparently we can all just have different moral values and not worry about anything being “right” or not. Some terrorist blows himself up on a bus filled with school children in Israel, but we don’t have the right to judge this as wrong because “there are no absolute moral values.” This is what I call thinking yourself into a hole: paying so much attention to the intellectual, empirical side of things that you lose touch with what you feel. I suppose that I have the heart of a rationalist, but I simply feel that too much of either position is a bad thing. Certainly trusting only what we feel to be important cannot lead us to success, it would reduce us to being animals. However, trusting only what we think to be important is not the answer either, because when we only think and do not feel, we become machines. It’s the happy medium that yields success, and I think that medium can be lost both in the emotive services of evangelical churches and in the arrogant circles of intellectual criticism.

But when it comes to relativism, I have three main points against it. First of all, relativism assumes a blatant hypocrisy that any person could test quite simply. If you ever run into a moral relativist, and manage not to run screaming in the opposite direction, listen to what he or she has to say, then punch him or her in the face as hard as you can. Make sure that you hit them hard enough to break their nose, hopefully causing them to fall on the ground, blood pouring out of their nostrils and mouth and covering their face. I would be willing to bet that the relativist will indignantly ask you why you would do such a thing, and reply that whenver you disagree with a person, you have been taught that you are morally obligated to punch the person in the face. This sums up my first argument against relativism: its hypocrisy. I’m sure the relatvists wouldn’t be happy to dismiss the actions of terrorists if it was their children being blown up on Israeli school busses. Of course, the subjective feelings of humans cannot change objective truth. I only mean to point out that our intellect can often fool us into thinking we’re much greater than we actually are. This leads me to my second argument, which is that relatvism cannot ever be used to criticize anything else. If a moral relatvist criticizes me for thinking of the mujahadeen as rather barbaric and says that I’m ethnocentric, I can merely ask the relativist what standard he bases his assertion on. What if I come from a culture where ethnocentrism is taught as the highest moral value? If moral relativism is true, than not only can the actions of savage fighters in different parts of the world be criticized, neither can my ethnocentrism or pre-conceived judgments. Moral relatvism immediately makes all attempts at justice or equality completely worthless. As I said in the beginning, events from history or in different parts of the world certainly should be interpreted with a somewhat culturally relatvist lens. However, that does not mean we have to simply accept these other practices as “right.” Relativism makes itself worthless, it means that moral judgments don’t even matter. This is non-sensical. A case could be made either way about whether objective meaning exists, but in a pragmatic world, we can dispense with the notion that somehow moral judgments don’t matter. Our civilization wouldn’t last very long if suddenly everybody stopped caring about anyone but themselves.

My final argument against relatvism comes from a disagreement I have with much of my own culture. Way back when we were all in second grade, when we first got to write our opinions about issues, we were all told that “these are your personal opinions, there are no wrong answers.” Apparently that viewpoint has never faded from the psyche of much of academic America. It appears that any opinion any person has cannot be criticized because it’s only an opinion. I would like to say right now that this is nothing short of bilge. The reason Mrs. Friendly told you that your opinions couldn’t be wrong back in second grade wasn’t because her and some other big group of second grade teachers got together and decided to make a solemn decree that opinions could never be wrong, it’s only because the nature of opinions isn’t a nature of right vs. wrong. Opinions are subjective stances on issues created by information that may or may not be correct. While the opinion itself can’t be wrong, the information backing it up most certainly can be, which essentially can equate to the opinion being wrong. I’m merely reacting against what I see in our culture sometimes nowadays, where every crackpot who comes up with some far-out idea can’t possibly be wrong just because he has an opinion (I am fully aware that that very same criticism could be applied to me, but if you will just bear with me for a moment I’ll show you where I’m going.) If you didn’t live in America but wanted to know what other people thought of this country, you could ask a highly educated Saudi Arabain diplomat, or you could ask Osama Bin Laden. They both have an opinion, and neither of their opinions are wrong. However, Osama Bin Laden is a radical terrorist who lives in caves plotting to blow up skyscrapers, while the diplomat has studied international history and politics. Which one has better information? Whose opinion is right then? Our opinions grow and change based on learning and experience, they are not always valid. The opinion itself may never be wrong, but situations can very easily arise where it might as well be.

If we tie this back into relativism, we can see where the philosophy clearly doesn’t hold up. If morals are really nothing more than subjective beliefs about right and wrong (otherwise known as opinions) then those subjective beliefs can be wrong, which means that there are moral absolutes. Relativists are often quick to point to large groups of people oppressing women’s rights or having multiple wives or partaking in other practices that we would call “immoral.” The implication is somehow that because some big group of people have all agreed that something isn’t wrong, it isn’t. Where does this conclusion come from? Relatvists have indignantly asked me if I’m implying that entire cultures can be wrong about their moral values, and they’re right! That’s exactly what I’m saying. Just because some big group of people says something is right doesn’t make it right, because it’s completely possible for a big group of people to be thick-headed and immoral. Don’t believe me? Let’s take the United States as an example. Most people here now would hold that slavery is an evil, immoral, terrible thing. In the year 1830 however, many people would have thought slavery was completely justifiable. How did this change in opinion occur? It took a tremendous war that cost hundreds of thousands of lives and completely destroyed the industry of the south to finally get the message accross. Cultures, like people, are perfectly able to grow and change, and will often endure suffering. Only through this suffering can knowledge be gained. Our country had to learn that slavery was wrong, nobody gave us the memo beforehand. I see no reason why this principle shouldn’t still be acting now, and in fact, I think that’s exactly what’s going to happen in the Middle East and Asia. For many centuries those countries were ruled over by the west, but now that they have started developing independently, I believe that they will go through their own trials and tribulations, and have to endure their own suffering in order to learn. I only pray that their learning will not come through nuclear warfare or other global catastrophes, but I believe they must learn if our civilization is to ever continue growing as a whole.

In terms of other cultures, it is completely possible for them to have their morals messed up and incorrect. If you have a country with limited education and oppressive government where people are more concerned with how they’re going to eat tonight than the fundamental nature of right and wrong, of course you’re going to have a messed up system of values. This doesn’t make the messed up value system right, only an unfortunate reality that must be grown out of, the same way a child must grow out of bad, adolescent habits. The only way for cultures to grow out of these bad habits is for them to learn through their own suffering. This is how the United States became the great power it did, and how much of the west rose to its former glory, and this is the only way the Middle East will ever come forwards too. I am just interested to see the way entire groups of people can agree to do the wrong thing. I remember when I was in Spain, I noticed that the first few days we were there, our entire tour group could easily walk by vast groups of homeless people without even a glance. There seemed to be this subconscious agreement to ignore the plight of these poor people lying in the streets, even when their conditions very obviously weren’t their faulgs. However, in the middle of the trip, two of the young men began to give money to all the poor people the group would walk by, sometimes even running back behind the rest of the group. By the end of the trip, every time our group ran into a cluster of homeless people, we would all give them money. Once the subconscious, cumulative agreement to ignore our call to do the right thing had been overcome, people immediately reverted to doing the right thing. It seems that what is necessary then for a group to act “morally” is for people to be properly educated in what is morally right and wrong, and to have that one brave soul to get the movement started. After that, the process can spread, like a disease of hope.

My final comment is only on what I consider the dying breath of Relativism. Relativists will often give several people a question, usually something abnormally morbid like “A train is heading for a group of twenty people. You can pull a switch and the train will not hit the twenty people, but it will hit and kill five small children. What is the right thing to do?” Multiple people will give different answers to these questions, and Relativsts often assert that this means that everyone has different moral values. I will concede that certainly we may disagree on the specifics of what is right and wrong, depending on the situation. However, this example does not mean there are no objective moral values, only that we disagree on what objective moral values are more important. What would be disturbing for moral values would be if someone could read the question above and write “Who cares which group the train hits? It might as well kill them all.” This is a complete rejection of morality. As soon as a person takes the effort to figure out “what the right thing to do” is, the person is admitting some amount of objective morality. He or she is only unable to initially figure out which objective moral value is more important.

Nietzche said “God is dead- and we have killed Him.” While belief in God is certainly not a prerequisite for moral behavior, I believe the opposite to be true: “Relativism is dead- and we have killed It.” Nietzche and the relativists contributed much to philosophy, and I do not mean to insult the work of the masters. However, Nietzche’s philosophy and the idea of subjective moral values lead to World War II and the Holocaust. We have thought ourselves into a terrible hole in the past. It is my sincere hope that we can learn from the suffering we endured, and not make the same mistake again.

Posted by: dswerling | May 13, 2008

The Problem With Belief (and a Prayer)

I believe in God, the Father almighty,
creator of heaven and earth.
I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord,
who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,
born of the Virgin Mary,
suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died, and was buried;
he descended to the dead.
On the third day he rose again;
he ascended into heaven,
he is seated at the right hand of the Father,
and he will come to judge the living and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the holy catholic Church,
the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and the life everlasting.


I was reading this creed and reflecting on its content. Of course, not all Christians agree on the nuances of the Apostles’ Creed (the communion of saints for instance,) but for the most part, we can agree on these things. We may bicker about faith and works, but no one bickers over the Trinity or the crucifiction or resurrection, these are common to Christian theology in some interpretation or another. We all believe these things, but I realized a problem I had with the creed itself, it’s excessive use of the word “believe.”

What does it mean to believe something? It isn’t that I don’t think “believing” all of the things in the above creed is important, it’s only that word “believe” that is the problem to me. We believe in God and Jesus and the Bible and all the main points of our faith, it’s only that the word “believe” is such an insignificant word for such important ideas. We may believe in God. We also may believe that the world is flat, or in fairy tales, or that our country was dragged into a war for any reason besides natural resources. We believe a lot of things that aren’t true, but we feel that our faith is true, shouldn’t we make this distinction known?

Belief just seems like such an incorrect expression too. For example, you could read this creed and go “yeah whatever, I believe it,” and does that really matter? Does passively agreeing to “believe” something because you’re too lazy to think about it really count as faith? This is one time when I agree with the born-agains and the evangelists, I don’t think so. I do think there is a way of “letting Jesus into your life,” and having true faith, true thought. It’s only that I resent the sectarianism that seems to result from this belief. I think there are a lot of Catholics out there with a sincere committment to their faith and belief in Jesus Christ as their only savior, and I think there are a lot of fundamentalists out there who only profess extreme faith because they’re too terrified to figure out all of their moral problems for themselves. I think that Jesus is the focus point of peoples’ lives regardless of denomination if they truly feel His presence. Shouldn’t this be the deciding issue of our salvation?

But then again, sometimes I wonder if people even have to be conscious of Jesus’ presence in their lives. Can the Holy Spirit of the only living God affect people without them knowing it? Faith and belief are important, but again, it doesn’t seem right to imagine some person who says “yeah whatever, I believe in Jesus” and yet is in no way moved to act on their “belief” and sees their belief as just another thought, like all the other things we go through the day thinking. How does this sort of person compare to someone who is truly driven to do good, for some inexplicable reason? Does it count as true faith if you don’t know where the faith is coming from?  I guess that’s one of those things Christians should just keep in mind for the future.

This is an intercessory prayer for the citizens of the world who suffer, especially for the people in Myanmar and China.

In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit+
Heavenly Father, you have promised to hear our prayers through your Son our Savior, Jesus Christ. We pray now on behalf of all people who suffer in mind, body, and spirit, especially in Myanmar and China. May they receive all the guidance, comfort, and strength they now need. May the leaders of those countries be driven to act for the justice and good of their people, and may aid from other countries soon arrive. For the deceased, we pray that Your will for them may be fulfilled, and that they may share with all Your Saints in Your eternal kingdom. For the sake of Your Son Jesus Christ, have mercy on us, Heavenly Father, and help all those now in their time of need.
In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit+


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