Posted by: dswerling | May 2, 2008

Christianity and Violence

A few months ago I was at a party at my beloved girlfriend’s house and we were all watching the movie “Gladiator.” Her parents happened to be there at the time, and her mother made a comment about how she couldn’t believe that people thought such real, despicable violence was entertaining. My response in my head was about how unbelievable it is that people still enjoy watching such extreme violence, only that the medium has changed. This is such an obvious pleasure that is considered sinful by Christianity (and for good reason) but we very often ignore this very obvious sin and focus more on other things, like sex. Why is this? Why does man have this unquenchable thirst for violence and bloodshed? This is always what makes me think of Christianity as truly divine, because the idea of “turn the other cheek” is such an unnatural idea for us humble humans. That being said, I will concede to the Atheists that “turn the other cheek” has been remarkably ignored in both Christian and world history.

In terms of people having once “thought” that terrible violence was entertaining, we very clearly still do. We love gory, violent movies like Rambo and Apocalypse Now. We love to watch auto races where cars crash and explode while desperately trying to beat other people to a finish line. We love to watch boxing and ultimate fighting, where athletes, for the lack of a better expression, beat the crap out of each other for our entertainment. And we’re always creating new videogames, like Grand Theft Auto, or Counter Strike, or Call of Duty, to answer our call for violence and bloodshed (we devote a tremendous amount of resources to making these games ever more graphic and real as well.) We are completely obsessed with violence; we love to hear about it and be entertained by it. We are also very good at justifying our reasons for violence. Gory movies are often validated as “historical” or “classic” movies that are part of our culture. We continue to insist that there isn’t part of us that is fascinated by a terrible crash during an auto race. We tell ourselves that boxers and ultimate fighters are “athletes” who have made their own decisions. And we always insist that videogames have no effect on us, even though shooters like Harris and Klebold were big fans of violent video games. The big difference in our relationship with violence now seems to be that we validate it by somehow maintaining that it’s not real. Violence doesn’t matter if it’s in a fictional movie or video game setting. It doesn’t count if it’s in an official-looking ring or a car with seatbelts. This is our justification for violence, something that I mentioned long ago in my “False Idols” post. We ignore the very real effect that violence has on us by focusing instead of the fact that harm is not intended.

Stepping back to a post from awhile ago, I will also briefly mention that I’m tired of hearing about “just wars.” How can a war ever be “just?” What even is “justice?” We all have different conceptions of justice of course, but to me, when I hear the term, I think of the United States justice system, which at least tries to impartially convict a wrongdoer, then separate the wrongdoer for practical purposes, not only for revenge. But who is this impartial authority on the global scale? God? I believe in God, but many people don’t, and many people that do have very different ideas of God than I do. Do international organizations like the United Nations justify wars? Hardly, because the entire makeup of the United Nations is manipulated by five large countries, all with our own needs and desperate desires for survival. When it comes down to it, there is no impartial authority that determines whether wars are “just” or not, so I don’t think we can really say any war ever fought was “just.” I believe there have only ever been wars that were “necessary,” the lesser of two evils. The Civil War was terrible, but slavery was an evil that had to be eradicated. World War Two was terrible, but the Holocaust had to be stopped. These wars were “necessary” and the lesser of two evils, but I do not believe they were “just,” unless we assume a very limited, hypocritical view of “justice.”

Our animal, natural urge to be violent and to focus on our own survival is a terrible part of our “original sin” that Christianity first sought to eliminate. Whether we validate this or not, our continued focus on violence and the glorification of violence only continues to seperate us from God and cause misfortune. I remember a few years ago watching a boxing match and seeing blood streaming down one of the “athlete’s” faces. I suddenly wondered why I wanted to watch this. Why did I want to watch people hurting one another for sport? People hurt one another enough in real life for greed or pride or hatred, so why would I want to see people doing it for no reason at all? I will concede that the stain of this original sin is hard to wash out. It takes a long time to seperate ourselves from our very human desires for conflict and fighting, and fill ourselves with the eternal love and forgiveness of God (and I will also state here that I am by no means done with the “washing.”) However, we should always remain conscious of this desire, this obsession we have with fighting. We are quick to justify it, to say that we need it, but the cold hard fact is that we don’t. Marx said that religion is the opiate of the masses, but I would say that violence is the opiate of the masses. Like a drug addict or alcoholic, we have convinced ourselves that we need something that we really don’t need, and now will go to any lengths to justify it. I pray that the ever-saving love of Jesus Christ will overcome our very natural, human need to fight and hate one another, because if it doesn’t, we won’t need any hell to go to, because we will create our own.

“An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind.”-Gandhi

“Wherefore, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath: for the wrath of man produces not the righteousness of God.” -James 1:19

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Posted by: dswerling | April 29, 2008

Intelligent Design vs. Evolution…what’s the point?

I’ve been trying to decide whether or not I should see this new Ben Stein movie “expelled.” Ben Stein describes the movie as saying that evolution is most definitely true, only that still no one knows how the entire thing got started. Still, many reviews online describe the movie as “Creationist propaganda.” I’m a Christian, but I want to know what I belief and know how to phrase it rationally, so I’m not that into the idea of being fed false arguments or “propaganda.” The problem is that many other reviews say that it’s true and that “big science” is just hating on the people who disagree with everything that’s come up in light of the subject in recent years.

For me, I hate the entire debate, because (as with many other debates) I think that the issue at stake really isn’t about Evolution or about God, it’s about science and the limits of science. Here’s an example, science can tell us all the components that make up chicken soup, and all the ways in which these components are created and prepared. However, science cannot tell us how chicken soup tastes. Isn’t this strange? We look at all the complicated components of the chicken, or the water in the broth, or the salt or the vegetables, but then something so basic and simple such as taste we can only perceive, we can’t describe with formulas or equations.

Some condescending Atheist once remarked “I think it’s strange how there are all these descriptions of miracles and monsters are in the Bible, but we’re never noticing them today.” Never noticing them today? What do you call UFO’s and alien abductions and ghosts and Marian apparitions and miraculous healings and bigfoots and yetis and exorcisms and other “paranormal activity?” The exact same strange, inexplicable phenomena happen now the way they always have, the only difference is that we often throw the cover of science over this “paranormal activity” to validate it. We can’t make an honest case for anything now unless we have scientific reasoning for it, and it irritates me because some of these things are not scientific questions. Honestly reader, can you imagine a day in which we find conclusive scientific proof of ghosts? Of course not, but can you imagine a day in which inexplicable ghost sitings aren’t going to occur? I know I can’t! These things aren’t scientific because they aren’t SUPPOSED to be scientific, and in fact, whether or not they’re “real” ends up making very little difference. I believe it was Carl Sagan who, when asked about the origin of the Universe, remarked that the universe was “just one of those things.” While I think this is a cop-out explanation for why we’re here, I think it does apply to things like “paranormal activity,” it’s just there. What’s the point of worrying about it?

So we can see that creating science where science shouldn’t be isn’t a good thing, I feel that’s what the real problem with Intelligent Design is. There are problems with the theory of evolution, especially with newer ideas such as “Evolution of Psychology,” which I must admit, does seem pretty flakey to me. However, despite the gaps in evolution, it’s coherent, and it makes sense. Please stop saying it’s only a theory because it’s the “theory of Evolution,” because in science “theory” means a hypothesis that is past the hypothesis stage and is now accepted as an explanation, just under further study. Evolution is true, and it’s a fool’s dream to think it’s not. However, as I said, there are gaps in the theory, and newer ideas such as “Evolution of Psychology” do not seem (in my own, humble opinion) as coherent as good ol’ biological evolution. Evolution is what should be taught as science in biology courses in high school, and it should be taught without having to undergo any admissions of gaps in the theory making reference to God.

That being said, there’s nothing wrong with intelligent design. I know that there are certainly aspects of it that I believe, often aspects that relate to gaps I see in evolution. Intelligent deign is perfectly good, it just isn’t scientific, because how can you test it? There’s no way to experiment with intelligent design, it’s really just a roadblock in the scientific sense. This is what I was talking about before with the whole “paranormal activity” thing, we’re so desperate to now validate everything as some sort of science. What’s the point? Most people believe in some sort of intelligent design, if they don’t believe that the universe was created in some sort of multiverse complex or that something can come out of nothing. However, there are gaps in evolution, and there is the question of what “got the ball rolling” in terms of the universe, life, and our own morality and all the other stuff we often take for granted. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with sharing an evolutionary view with a little bit of intelligent design, it’s just important to remember that ID isn’t science, and it shouldn’t be taught as if it were science. I’m a devoted Christian, but even I would be confused if in Biology class some teacher had said “well, usually this happens, but sometimes the Holy Spirit comes along and…” There’s nothing wrong with intelligent design, we should just admit that it’s not scientific. It’s the focus and admission on what we don’t know, while science is the focus and admission on what we do know. How confusing would it be in a Biology class to only talk about all the things that we didn’t understand? That’s not very productive, don’t you think?

As for “expelled,” I guess I’m going to go see it, but I wish both sides would just drop this politicized stupid issue. All the biology textbooks in the world isn’t going to get rid of what truly religious people feel to be true, and all the extra trappings that we can put on religion isn’t going to make it look like science. The two fields are different, and ask different questions, and I wish that people would be more willing to admit that. I consider myself a sincere person, so I just find it frustrating when I’m really trying to figure out what I believe, and it’s being complicated by various parties with their own agendas. In any case, I hope “expelled” won’t turn out to be “Creationist propaganda.” It will be another one of those things making our cause to spread hope and peace yet more difficult.  

Posted by: dswerling | April 28, 2008

Ashamed of Christian Conduct

I read this article, and it really made me sad.

http://news.aol.com/story/_a/atheist-claims-harassment-in-military/20080428092709990001

Oh Christians, why have your hearts become so hard? Why have you forsaken the forgiveness, the love, and the selfless service that so defined our savior? Are we not all united in Christ? Are we not honor bound to be kind, not pass judgment, and to forgive, even when it’s difficult? Why has this very important part of Christianity been forgotten?

Christianity is a beautiful and historic religion. It is defined from other religious beliefs in many ways and leads to a unique understanding of our place in this world and the universe as a whole. However, the way that we, as Christians, are supposed to be defined from other people is in our recognition of the “arbitrary traditions of men” and our “original sin(s)” of ignorance and selfishness, and our committment to changing these injustices, and serving others. Living this path makes one a true Christian, and leads to a better world. Baptism, born again rituals, confession, and all that crap is great, but it isn’t getting at the heart of what makes a Christian different. What makes a Christian different is a sincere devotion to serving others, to helping people. Consider this passage:

“Love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and all they soul, and all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment, and the second is like unto it, love thy neighbor as thyself.”

These two commandments from Jesus are what centrally noticeably differentiates Christians from other “ordinary” people. All of our history and rituals and scripture is wonderful, but throwing these things at sincerely convinced Atheists isn’t going to get anyone to see things our way. This is my primary issue with evangelism; we can tell people about the message of Christ, but we don’t have to do it by throwing it in their faces. We don’t have to waste our time having stupid philisophical talks with arrogant Atheists that never solve anything anyways. We don’t need to hand out more copies of the New Testament from street corners. We don’t need more loud Christian rock concerts and shirts that say “I’m a Jesus Freak and Proud of It” on them, because while these things may be great in their own ways, they don’t show who a Christian really is. A Christian is “one who follows Christ,” a person who serves others in all respects always the way Christ did. This was an amazing revelation I had when I was in Spain and France. When I received philisophical objections from my Atheist friends, I didn’t bother telling them why they were wrong (which would only lead to a pointless circle of unending philisohpical dialetic,) I simply went on with my faith and continued to serve people, by helping poor people and helping members of the trip who had problems. As they saw the benefits of my faith, it made them reconsider their previous assumptions. By the end of the trip, one of them, formerly an ardent Atheist, professed himself as only Agnostic, while the other had begun to say that he “really hoped something existed after death” (I reminded him that this is the first step in the journey we know as “faith.”) This is the true way to “evangelize” people, the “show don’t tell message.”

But if we tell people how great Christianity is, and they see us acting in such a reprehensible manner to people like this poor soldier, then we will only look hypocritical. And I have to be honest, if this happens, we Christians deserve what we get, because as the old statement goes, “actions speak louder than words.” It would do us well to act in a way that works in accordance with what we say, and I pray that other Christians out there may realize this.

Posted by: dswerling | April 25, 2008

No More Christian Excuses: We Must Follow Christ

What is the meaning of life? This is a question religion often seeks to answer. It is my belief that the meaning of life is, quite simply, to grow. The entire universe is changing, growing, and expanding. Our earth, our plants and geography and environment is constantly changing and growing. Our civilization is constantly growing in thought and knowledge. To me, the only meaning it seems that God would demand is that we should, in accordance with the rest of His universe, grow as well.

In the story “Hamlet” by William Shakespeare, the natural state of man is exceedingly well clarified. The Noble prince Hamlet returns home from the equivalent of college to find that his father is dead and his mother has, in the space of one month, married his uncle. Hamlet is then visited by the vengeful spirit of his father, who orders Hamlet to kill his uncle. However, Hamlet hesitates, he is not able to simply “get the job done” as we might expect. This hesitation of Hamlet is a pivotal point in all of human history, and is highly relevant to Christianity.

Consider also, the ancient epic called “The Iliad.” Two massive armies fight a meaningless war for ten years for the sake of one woman, with only death and suffering as a reward. Consider “Catch-22,” in which we are forced to ask ourselves whether true craziness exists, or perhaps we are all a little bit crazy. Now think about history. Think about why we support governments that oppress their people, like the pre-Castro Government in Cuba, or Al-Queda in Afghanistan during the Soviet invasion of that country, or even supporting our (supposedly) most hated enemy in Iraq, Saddam Hussein, during Iraq’s horribly costly war against Iran. Even today we support many oppressive governments such as Saudi Arabia, and for what purpose? Why do we Americans, the guardians of justice and equality and peace, support these evils and cruel dictators? We do it because we want the “stuff.”

We want gas, and cars, and big buildings and houses and planes and land and all those other things that supposedly give our life meaning. Pay no attention to what we have to do to get these things. Pay no attention to the billions of people it has, and continues, to hurt. We think we’ve come so far, but we haven’t at all, because we are mere humans. Our “original sin” has nothing to do with some distant relative eating a fruit. Our “original sin” leaves a much more real, tangible mark on us. It’s the fact that we are, in all ways and all situations, animals, and nothing more. We want what we want, and we create clever excuses to explain why we deserve to have what we want. It doesn’t matter though, because history proves again and again that our greed and irrational fear of death and desperation to survive leads us down this tragic path.

So back to the tragedy of Hamlet, who hesitates, desperately trying to decide what to do. What is our nature? Think now reader; if you saw this injustice, what would you do? Would you act to kill your uncle? Would you achieve revenge for your “honor” and “justice?” This is what’s natural isn’t it? But two thousand years ago, one man said that wasn’t right. One man took a stand that has, ever since, been the most unnatural stance, and has also proven to be the only way for humanity to make lasting progress. Consider this clear statement from our Savior:

“You have heard that it hath been said: An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth. But I say to you not to resist evil: but if one strike thee on thy right cheek, turn to him also the other: And if a man will contend with thee in judgment, and take away thy coat, let go thy cloak also unto him. And whosoever will force thee one mile, go with him other two. Give to him that asketh of thee, and from him that would borrow of thee turn not away. You have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thy enemy. But I say to you, Love your enemies: do good to them that hate you: and pray for them that persecute and calumniate you: That you may be the children of your Father who is in heaven, who maketh his sun to rise upon the good, and bad, and raineth upon the just and the unjust. For if you love them that love you, what reward shall you have? do not even the publicans this? And if you salute your brethren only, what do you more? do not also the heathens this? Be you therefore perfect, as also your heavenly Father is perfect.”

Is this idea natural? Is this what you want to do, when you have been wronged? Doesn’t it feel so much better to strike back, to hurt a person who hurt you back even more severely? But Jesus makes a clear statement here, a clear statement that we are to forgive always, even when it is difficult. We must always forgive people, but why is this? Is this really practical?

I remember a time when I didn’t think this could be practical, but now I have seen the truth that human history since our savior came is 2000 years of people desperately trying to ignore this fact. Countries ignore it, and they fight wars. People ignore it, and we kill one another. The world as a whole ignores it, and cannot be unified. Hamlet chooses to ignore this clear message from our savior, and he destroys himself. Until humans can learn to forgive one another, we will never make progress. It becomes clear to me that the divisons we create among ourselves, even in our Christian “denominations” have served to further this terrible manifestation of our human nature, our original sin.

God alone knows who is saved. No man or woman on this planet can clearly determine themselves or anyone else saved. However, Jesus to me, appears to be the clear way to salvation, not only for us as individuals, but for the entire human race. We may disagree on Virgin births, miracles, and the resurrection. We may bicker endlessly about the Bible and faith and works. However, all of this dogmatic nonsense is completely meaningless until we live the word of God our Father in heaven. I remember once seeing a sermon by a Baptist preacher who ranted and raved about being saved “through faith alone.” I disagreed with every single thing he said, and was about the close the webpage in disgust as I watched the young teenagers in his congregation scream in elated happiness. Then the preacher screamed “If your rebirth in Christ has not led to a change in your behavior, you are not truly born again.” Never have I felt such immediate respect for someone I disagreed with so strongly. And yet, we find so many new ways to ignore this fact every day it seems. We hear about more sacraments and rituals and endless new definitions of “faith,” and yet we march along like stupid cattle, blindly into the same mistakes we have always made, guilty of the same sins as our forefathers.

Today reader I address you as a Christian, and whether you are Roman Catholic or Born Again, Fundamentalist or Unitarian makes no difference. You have received a personal command from your only Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, the Son of the living God, that you are to forgive in all situations, no matter what the difficulty you have endured. You are to do good always, to never objectify, to never cast judgment, and to love any man or woman as yourself. No church, no ritual, no sacrament, no Priest, no Minister, and no other excuse releases you from this commitment. You have the individual responsibility to live as Christ lived, whatever the cost. Feel free to send me a list of Bible verses that contain more of your excuses, because that’s all they are. You can clearly see the effect that your excuses and irresponsibility will have if you just pick up a history book. Humans will continue to fight, continue to pretend that our fake, invented theories of justice are correct, and we won’t even need God’s Hell to suffer for our sins, we will create that hell ourselves. Jesus Christ alone creates the escape from the maelstrom, and only from following Jesus Christ as a true Christian can you improve the world and hope for salvation; no other way will work.

This is why my faith in Christianity has been restored, this realization that only Jesus has provided us with such a selfless unnatural message. Our two thousand years of education and thought have only led us to invent new ways to kill each other and better ways to justify it, but God Himself told us how to save ourselves. I hope, no I pray, for the sake of all humans, that we will not disregard God’s sacred message. If we don’t, as I said before, we will not even need God’s hell to suffer for our sinfulness. Can people out there repent for their sins, be good people, and contribute to the growth of humanity without Christ’s message? I believe so, but I believe it is extremely difficult, and I do believe Christianity to be the only true way. God Himself decides who is saved and who is not, so I do not presume to pass judgment on anyone as saved or not saved. Nevertheless, living a true, honest, sincere Christian faith is all I see to provide salvation to me and humanity in general.

And now come the tough questions for Christians, the things we may not want to think about.

1.) Are you really saved by your faith? Does your faith lead you to contribute and help mankind to grow? Or is it simply empty theatrics?
2.) Why do you want material possessions? Why do you want a big house or car or boat or any of that crap? Jesus clearly tells us “It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter heaven.” Not only this, but all of your material possessions will be destroyed or passed on to someone else after you die. As the Preacher in Ecclesiastes says, “All is vanity.” Why then, do we care so much about anything we get in this world?
3.) What is the obsession with sex, and with the opposite sex? Certainly we may want to fall in love, but why are we so shallow? Speaking as a man, why do you care about attractiveness in a woman? Today I could go out and find a million beautiful women, none more beautiful than the other. In fifty years, none of them will be beautiful anymore. But if I find a different woman, a faithful and thoughtful one, she will become beautiful and remain beautiful forever. Why then, do we care, about a woman being attractive? Doesn’t Jesus say not to do this as well?
4.) Why are we so obsessed with violence? We claim to be better than the ancient Romans, who liked to coop men up and watch them kill one another for sport (Gladiators.) Now we like to coop “boxers” and “ultimate fighters” up and watch them beat the crap out of one another. We like to create incredibly violent movies, and are always seeking even more graphically violent video games. Why can’t we let go of this sinful, naturalistic behavior?
5.) Why must we always divide, why must we always argue about “faith” and “works,” or the Bible and ignore what really matters? Is this scriptural nonsense really important, or is it just another convenient way for us to justify our nature’s desperate conviction to remain animals, rather than full humans in communion with God?

As Christians, it is time for us to ask ourselves these questions. It is time for us to stop making religious excuses for our behavior, and work as Jesus would have had us work. Before Baptism, before being born again, before anything we do, it is time for us to behave as Jesus Christ behaved. All else is meaningless, nothing else matters. Jesus Christ taught us the only lesson we can know is real, but the question is, will we decide to forget it?

Posted by: dswerling | April 22, 2008

Dissapointed by Tim Keller

http://www.thereasonforgod.com/

I just listened to Timothy Keller talk about exclusivity (the belief that one religion is correct and all others are incorrect) on his homepage. It was some interesting stuff and I wanted to comment on it.

The first thing I’ll say is that he portrays the parable of the blind men and the elephant incorrectly. He fails to mention the part at the end of the parable where the seventh blind man says that it is something big that none of them understand, “all of these things [their descriptions] and more.” The seventh blind man does not presume to understand what the elephant is, only that it is a continuing mystery, so his perspective on the matter is different from Keller’s accusation, which states that we are just creating another divisive perspective if we accept all religious attitudes as truth.

I understand what Keller means by saying this though, and by saying that since religious views in some sense or another will always exist, it’s best to figure out which one helps everyone the most. I also know that for me personally, I do believe that Jesus provides the best way for salvation, a “best results if Jesus is believed in” theology. I think this salvation we note is not even as much about heaven vs. hell but the best way to have a new, better world that can live with God. I also know that I personally chose Christianity because of my objections to other faiths. I do not believe any particular group of people to ever have been “chosen” by the same God who is supposed to be the benevolent Father of us all, so that counts out Judaism (though ethnically I am part Jewish.) Muslims seem to have a lot of issues going on today, so it didn’t seem like the best time to hop on the bandwagon for Islam either. Hinduism appears to accept many different viewpoints which did attract me, but I find the caste system to be a perfect example of Marx’s accusation of religion taking advantage of people. I found Christianity to be unique and I guess I do believe that it’s the “best” religion, and if that makes me biased or close-minded I guess that’s just the way it goes.

However, the problem I had with Keller was his last statement where he said “and if you don’t believe in the message of Jesus Christ, you might consider believing it.” As I’ve said before, I don’t think true religious faith is something you can just decide to believe, so I find this suggestion rather pretentious. Also, I believe that Christianity leads to salvation (in the physical and metaphysical sense) the easiest and best way. I think that Christianity provides unique, unnatural, and preferable moral values to many other systems and has a unique history, and is different from anything that came before or after it. Nevertheless, I am unconvinced that a truly all-benevolent God would care as much about dogma as He would about the pragmatic side of things. While I believe Christianity to be the best and “truest” religion, I can certainly see that it’s entirely possible to have an Atheist or Agnostic person or member of another faith who acts exactly as Keller describes, who dedicates his or herself fully to helping others, who forgives and loves and works for the good of society, and who behaves exactly as Jesus told us to behave, but does not believe in, has not heard of, or does not care about the metaphysical or dogmatic side of Christianity. As I’ve said before, I believe our results are best when we study for the test, but I do not believe our eternal teacher (God) will fail us if we manage to pass without studying.

This is, again, my objection to “salvation through faith alone,” and to Keller’s view of our own salvation. He seems to create a good reason for why we should act as Jesus did, and why we should let ourselves suffer and forgive for the good of everyone, but he gives no good reason why a person cannot do these things and still be an Atheist or member of some other religion. Again, I believe that Christianity is the best way, the easiest way, and the only true way. However, as Saint Augustine said,

“There are many whom the Church does not have who are in the kingdom of God, and also many whom the church does have that are not in the kingdom of God.”

In conclusion, Keller was interesting and insightful, and makes a clear case for why Christianity is different (and he would say superior) to other religious traditions. However, he provides no case for why dogmatic beliefs and traditions or belief in ancient scriptures or other texts can outweigh the actions of a real, God-created living breathing human.

Posted by: dswerling | April 4, 2008

“All Is Vanity” Aint it the Truth!

Yesterday I went on a discussion Forum on Amazon after looking about some books on the website. There was (as is everywhere it seems) another hot debate going on between the Atheists and the Christians, bringing up nasty remarks and past grievances. As is my custom, I stayed out of the fight, trying to fairly observe both sides of the argument, reaching the final conclusion that the argument seems, at its heart, completely meaningless.

One Christian had posted a three-page long post that was an essay along with some of the most popular Philisophical proofs for God’s existence, along with scientific evidence, all cited and made to look pretty and nice. Later on, some Atheist responded (with some arrogant I thought, though I am, of course, biased) that all the evidence the previous poster had supplied was baloney and that “he could easily go online, and within a few hours have a satisfactory rebuttal for all of them.” I reflected on this for a little while, and realized it’s true both ways. If that Atheist had given a long list of evidence against God’s existence in response to the long list of evidence for God’s existence, the original poster could have found more evidence against the Atheist’s evidence against the evidence for God’s existence. Evidence is useless, I realized. The existence of God is, first and foremost, not a scientific question, no matter what Dawkins believes; it is chiefly a question for philosophers. Also, both sides end up being unreliable because they cancel each other out. Alvin Plantinga, CS Lewis, and Immanuel Kant along with a million other theological Philosophers are obviously brilliant men, but so are Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, Sam Harris, and all the other modern Atheists. Though I disagree wtih them, I cannot deny that they are intelligent, and I would expect any Atheist to feel the same way about some of our Christian Apologists (although they do blow it sometimes, I will admit.) For this reason, making a “logical choice” whether or not to believe in God is simply impossible. The debate is unending, as are mathematical patterns or scientific discoveries. At heart, belief in God is really something we feel, the same way we feel love or any other intangible emotion. It’s not something that we can always observe, and it’s not something we can just look into a book of formulas for and scream “there it is!” It’s more subtle, more complicated, than that.

 This, of course, brings up another ethical dilemma. If Atheists do not believe in God, though they may say they don’t because they “know” God doesn’t exist (failing to realize everything we know is taken on faith in the first place,) the real reason they don’t believe is because they simply feel that God does not exist. This could be for many reasons, of which scientific evidence may certainly contribute too. For example, if you are an evolutionary biologist like Richard Dawkins, why would you bother believing in God when He’s not really a big issue? It’s much easier just to not bother thinking about it isn’t it? Also, if a person experiences and extremely terrible event (family death, severe illness or injury etc.) this could destroy their faith in ultimate good. The ethical dilemma here is that it’s not truly fair for God to punish us for something we don’t feel. The same way that I should not be held accountable if a woman loves me and I simply do not love her back, a human should not be accountable for believing in God if he simply feels that God does not exist, because the question of God is a question of pure rationalism. How then, could we be thrown into hell for having no faith?

I think however, that this dilemma can be explained by reading the Gospel, then thinking about the time that Christ lived in compared to the time we live in now. Many evangelical Christians will declare that great humanitarian leaders like Gandhi or the Dalai Lama are burning in hell because they “did not accept JESUS CHRIST as their LORD AND SAVIOR.” I find this particular brand of my religion repulsive, but I understand where the belief comes from. There are many times in the Gospel when Jesus implies that He is the ONLY true way to heaven, and the only person who can save us. How could this possibly be just, considering the ethical dilemma I have just pointed out?

I think that God is pragmatic, and I think that Jesus (along with other great religious figures, I don’t mean to count them out either) “got the ball rolling” in terms of human morality. If you consider this, you’ll realize that at the time Jesus lived and where He preached, belief in him was really the only ethical belief that existed. The pagan gods of the Romans demanded blood and sacrifice, but certainly did not command any code of behavior. The Pharisees and leaders of Judaism had become so corrupt, so obsessed with their own power, that they cared very little for what was right, and more for what kept them in control (the supreme danger of any political system, religious or otherwise.) Jesus’ message is certainly not at all about maintaining power, it’s about service and love. So when Jesus talked about being the only way into heaven, he was right, because nothing else at that time or in that area was going to convince people to behave ethically. Two thousand years later, in the western world, we have reached what I believe to be a truly marvelous time in human history. The morals and values first taught to us by Jesus and other religious figures are becoming “common sense” values, values that we do not even have to think about or wonder about. No one questions whether adultery, or stealing, or lying, or killing is right or wrong anymore, and we now see the phenomenon of Secular Humanism, which affirms the value of all humans, as an increasingly attractive alternative to religion. I have no problem with this. I only wish sometimes that Atheists and Secular Humanists would be willing to admit that even if they believe religion is not necessary now, it was at one point. I think however, that Jesus Christ’s “mission” (if it could be called that) in coming to earth has been accomplished; He has not only reconciled us to God, He has taught us true morality and we have finally started to catch on. For this reason, I think that the ethical dilemma of salvation has been solved. We have now reached a point in our human development where morality and religion grow apart. I do find this part of the solution bittersweet of course. It is sad to see modern Fundamentalists and their judgemental blundering that makes all Christians look like outdated, outmoded buffoons. It is sad to see Atheists talk about how our morality has “evolved” rather than admitting that maybe we did learn something, maybe we have made things better, if only a little bit. I do however, believe in a pragmatic God, a God who will follow what Jesus called the spirit of the law, less than the pure letter.

Following this revelation, this morning I was sitting in class when another student sat down next to me. He had been having trouble in our class and I decided to help him. Later on, I reflected on how maybe this is what we should be focusing on today. Rather than spending more endless hours reading more endless books about why not or why God exists, I might prefer to just go out and work at a soup kitchen, or help build a home, or work in a homeless shelter. Rather than dwelling on the difference between what I know and what I feel, I might just have a little more faith and decide to improve myself in spite of it all. Rather than complain about the multitude of injustices I see around me every day, I might try to fix a few of them, in order to make this world a better place. I think that’s the one way we get into heaven, by making things better, and I do believe that whether you’re Richard Dawkins or Alvin Plantinga, Daniel Dennett or the Pope, it’s what you do that will really count in the end.

Posted by: dswerling | February 18, 2008

False Idols

My beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath: For the wrath of man produces not the righteousness of God.” –James 1: 19 

            As humans, we have created many things. We have created many different values and value systems within cultures that seek to create meaning. These value systems are not limited strictly to religious principles; consider all the things that we are bombarded with and have been bombarded with for ages through whatever form of media has been prevalent during a certain time frame. For example, consider values like chastity, honesty, strength, and bravery. For ages, these values along with traits such as intelligence and confidence were considered the ideal values for a human being to have. We were expected, as people, to always strive to behave according to these values or to search for these principles. Though education was not available to all, qualities such as being a hard worker were also considered highly important. These values make up what I will here call the “honorable” man. By “honorable” I do not even mean to say a perfect man, for surely a perfect person would not truly be human, and one of the traits of the ideal “honorable” man is to be able to forgive others as well as himself. This concept is known by many names in many religious traditions, such as the “Superior Man” in Confucianism, Halakah in Judaism, or Brahmin in Hinduism. For the sake of this essay, the listed values above will make up what we might call the “honorable man.”

  

            Recently in the United States, a tremendous turnaround has occurred in what is considered the “ideal” for a person to be. Chastity is certainly no longer valued, indeed, as young people we are very strongly encouraged to seek out the opposite sex and act upon our lustful instincts, not worrying about whether it’s “right” or not, and not worrying what the cost may be to ourselves and our partners later on. Similar to this, values such as honesty or hard work are becoming obsolete. Our commercials and magazine articles constantly force products into our faces that may be utterly worthless, but that we are desperate to believe will cure what ails us. Consider “Kinoki Footpads” (put them on your feet at night, and in a few weeks your entire quality of life will be improved!) or “Hydroxycut” (diet and exercise doesn’t work, but these pills are guaranteed to cut off 30 pounds within a year!) or even Enzyte (the once-a-day tablet for natural male enhancement.) Now, any reasonable educated person with a brain knows that these products are, frankly, total hoaxes. No footpad can bring you love or true happiness, the only way to truly lose weight is to exercise and be disciplined, and we are born with the penises we have and no pill can change that. However, for some reason now, we are accustomed to being lied to. Even the most uninformed people in the United States know that these products are utterly worthless, but we are so desperate that there may be some other way to success besides hard work, so hopeful that there is just that undiscovered natural remedy for what ails us, that we allow these sponsored lies to be put into our magazines and television sets. The ideal for an American teenager is no longer to live his own American dream, it is to do well in school (not because doing well in school is the “right” thing to do, but because it will help us in the future) so we can go to college so we can get a high-paying job and get all of our “stuff” that will make us happy. Surely this is where true value lies, in cheap thrills with big toys and gorgeous men and women. These are the things that we are told will make us happy.

            This turnaround in the public ideal, the desire to only accrue material wealth, had always slowly developed with the “American Dream,” but we have reached the point in today’s culture where accruing wealth essentially is the American dream. We must ask ourselves  why, after ages and ages of searching for perfection, are we as Americans suddenly just giving up and living according to our whims and desires, not worrying about “right” and “wrong” but trusting our instincts and not our consciences? To me, the only logical answer is that Americans have finally realized that “honor,” and that “honorable man” that I previously mentioned, does not exist. I remember well the time when I believed all of the ideas that are traditionally thrust upon our youth about their country, about how it is perfect, always acting for good. As humans, we may naturally want to believe this, but I believe that in recent years, Americans have woken up, as I have, to some embarrassing truths about their country, and I believe there has almost been a “national loss of innocence,” a disillusionment from the idealism of the old. This disillusionment in and of itself is not such a bad thing, but we are now witnessing this process going too far the other way. As young people, we have finally realized that our elders were not entirely honest about their pasts, and in their own time they made the same mistakes, did the same shameful things, that we may catch ourselves doing now (which is not to say they do not deserve respect, love, or affection, only to say that in their time our elders were equally irresponsible as we are now). The stories we heard when we were little of Knights of the Round Table going off to perform heroic deeds and fighting for what they knew to be right were all fairy tales, and George Washington never cut down a Cherry Tree with an axe. This realization has, I believed, sunk too deeply into the skins of many Americans, and particularly my fellow young Americans. Many Americans feel detached from the policy-making process, recognize the faults of the system without noting the benefits, or genuinely don’t care about the issues because they are so used to a comfortable lifestyle. I can say for myself that most policies passed in my lifetime, even broad ones such as the Patriot Act and No Child Left Behind, have not had a direct effect on me, or if they have I have not noticed them. Americans are content with the way things are, and see thinking about political issues as unnecessary and even annoying.

            Similar to this loss of interest in their country’s politics, many young Americans do not have much interest in ultimate reality, usually for one of two main reasons. Certainly there are a multitude of problems with all organized religions, and some people choose to doubt or to not believe because they make the logical assumption that since religion often looks like a force of evil in the world today, it must only serve bad. For religious people, it is important not to be offended by this view. Religion is a source of division, and like other sources of division, it creates conflict. For us to attempt to deny this fact looks downright hypocritical. The reason for atheism or agnosticism that religious people must address is the reason many young people use to justify their atheist views, consciously or not. Religion, unfortunately, is not “cool.” It is simply not “cool” to think about issues, it is not “cool” to have an eternal judge of standards deciding that what young people do may be wrong, and it is not “cool” to believe in something greater than yourself. The “honorable man” I mentioned before has not died; he has just changed into something different. Today’s “honorable man” is not worried with such inconveniences as morality or reason; instead today’s “honorable man” is more concerned with conquering as many women as he possibly can. It is also exceedingly important that the “honorable man” does not work within the framework of a social system. The “honorable man” serves himself, and does not have time to be concerned with the good of others, or what is considered fair and legal by the state he lives in. Most importantly, it is fitting that the “honorable man” must, “take no shit” in the vernacular. Should another person insult the “honorable man” in any way today, the “honorable man” must make sure to deal with said person, preferably with violence or insult. Therefore, the most important trait of the new “honorable man” is to never lose face, because face is the most important thing now.  Many people complain of this problem of course, particularly parties who suffer at the hands of the “honorable man.” However, culture does not dare to question the “honorable man” in the end, and this is shown by what we are entertained by these days; for example, though rap music and advertisements may degrade women, millions of women still listen to rap music. Though the “honorable man” may shoot up an entire family rather than lose his precious face, we are wonderfully entertained by violent video games and movies such as “Rambo” and “Grand Theft Auto.” Whether or not these video games and movies actually cause more violence is irrelevant; it is only important that we recognize that the fact that we are so entertained by said violence shows that we, in the end, have put our stamp of approval on the new “honorable man.” “You may shock me, offend me, scare me, or even hurt me, but God forbid you ever bore me.” This is the new mentality people seem to live by today.

            But this has made it all very apparent to me that therefore every value we create, everything we worship, is utterly worthless without ultimate reality. I laugh when I hear about someone defending their “honor.” Can’t you see that honor does not exist? Why, in several decades, we have had a complete 180 degree turn around from what was formerly considered “honorable” to what is considered “honorable” today. As humans, we gave our honor such high praise, and we even connected our honor to God and ultimate reality, but I here intend to tear down that false idol. If we can so easily change what honor is, or what it stands for, then we have clearly created it, which makes honor something entirely relative, dictated only by our cultural standards and values. This makes honor a worthless concept that should be ignored, and totally forgotten, because as long as people have conflicts trying to defend their “honor,” there will never be peace. As long as people would rather be hurt themselves or hurt someone else before they would have to forgive someone or admit that they were wrong, lasting progress cannot be made. I believe it is time for people to stop tuning into their televisions and iPods and video games and tabloids and magazines; time for people to stop worshipping the new false gods we have created, the false gods of glamour and beauty and perfection that will never exist. It is time for people instead to turn to the beauty of reason, of learning, of listening, and of finding value in those things that truly have value. For in the end, all the things that you have done here on this earth will truly mean nothing. You may run a four minute mile, a three minute mile, and you may be the wealthiest man to ever live. You may be the most beautiful woman or the most handsome man who ever walked the earth, and you may have created a name that will last forever. But whether or not your name or your accomplishments last, you will not. Your body will pass away into this earth, become the soil from which grass and trees grow, become the food that a new generation eats. Nothing you create will ever have meaning, and nothing you do will ever matter. It is ultimate reality, whether it is God or Yahweh or Allah, or even the monist force that permeates all, that creates meaning. But all the other concepts we create have no meaning. For human beings, we see that the moon and sun create the seasons and tides, and the clouds and air create the weather, but we are powerless to change these things. Similarly, it is ultimate reality that creates meaning, and it is ultimate reality that creates “value.” Humans are as powerless to control this process as we are powerless to prevent a hurricane or earthquake.

             

            In conclusion, I do not mean to convert you, reader, to Christianity, Islam, Judaism, or any other religion that exists. I do not intend to patronize you, or make you consider yourself you are somehow evil for following cultural norms. Cultural norms are completely natural for humans and it is healthy that we create them. I only hope that having read this, you will find yourself open and thoughtful to new ideas. The final irony I will discuss here is how I see that people who hold a rigid view of my own Christian religion and the people who hold a staunch Atheist position seem to have more in common than they would like to admit. Being absolutely convinced that the Bible is the infallible word of God and that it is sin to question anything it says is, in my opinion, very similar to being absolutely convinced that all religion is evil and dangerous and to have faith in any sort of higher power is nothing short of stupidity. Both roads lead to the same destination of close mindedness, dismissal, and rejection, and I feel that this is what the divine wants least for us. Instead, I believe the most important thing for us to do now is to always remain thoughtful, always open minded, always listening to every perspective that we are confronted with, no matter how offensive we may find it, and no matter how much we may disagree with it. If we stop listening, we stop learning, and inevitably we stop thinking. This is the vicious cycle that destroys nations and empires, and I pray that anyone who reads this will remain thoughtful and open and willing to learn, because if we do not learn, we will inevitably have no future.

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