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Make up your mind already…

23 Jan

I was listening to a podcast today that was addressing the Internet’s vitriol with Scientology. Apparently, World Wide Web culture despises Tom Cruise’s worldview because his community believes crazy things and demands a bunch of money. One of the hosts of the podcast immediately noted that all religions are like that so he didn’t really get why Scientology was uniquely hated.

Then they made the statement that every religion has its skeletons. For example, the Catholic Church hasn’t always been best-friends with alternative perceptions of God as characterized by the Inquisition or the Crusades. While I agree with their understanding of these cruelties as cruelties, I can’t help but wonder if they know why they feel that way.

If I were to go into another culture today and accuse that culture of moral failure because of their customs or viewpoints, many would criticize me of something called ethnocentrism; basically that because of my culture and what I was raised in, I am biased against rival understandings of reality. Besides, who gave me the right to tell another person what clothes to wear, or how to worship their gods, or how to prevent their children from reproducing?

That being said, I CAN look back at virtually any culture from the past and freely accuse them of ignorance, savagery, paganism, foolishness, and downright evil without any fear of reprisal. Interesting, no? Because of the Internet age, I can write off the accomplishments of the past because anyone back in the 1700’s was clearly not as intelligent as me. I can look in derision at the moral failures of the Catholic Church, or the history of caste in India without much of any consequence. That seems a little double standard-ish to me.

First off, it assumes a standard in the first place. There has got to be a reason as to why they were savages and we are civilized. What line has been drawn? Did we draw it? Was it drawn for us?

Secondly, it assumes that we are objectively better than generations past, and that can be demonstrably proven by literacy, or morality, or the ease of cat-video dissemination to my neighbors across the Pacific. There’s that line again. Is it set in stone, and has our generation crossed over to the morally superior side? Or has it been tentatively drawn in pencil and each generation is frantically erasing where it was and re-placing it in their favor?

At the end of the day, honestly, I just get frustrated with my generation. It’s like our forefathers built a building called civilization. They got the straw for the bricks. They mined, they farmed, they produced. They worked their fingers to the bone to build up one storey. Then their children worked and built another, and so on. Then our generation comes. We were born on the 21st storey, kicked down the ladder, and assumed that we belonged here in the first place. THEN we accuse those who came before us of being moronic and close-minded. I can’t help feeling like we missed something somewhere.

This reminds me of the importance of the 4th commandment. “Honor your father and mother.” It’s (sinfully) natural to honor yourself above others, but God commands something different. Honor those who came before you. Remember what they taught you. Remember how hard they worked. Remember the grace they showed you when you broke their stuff. Remember the faith they had. Remember their love for God. Remember their moral fortitude. Remember their parents. Remember the generations before us. Remember. Honor. Continue their example.

But then, the question. The question that so quickly comes to mind. What about their example is so worthy of veneration? Why should I continue in their footsteps? Why should I honor them at all?

And this brings us back to that line. That line our generation so vehemently rails against, while simultaneously subverting their reasons for doing so. Is there good? Is there bad? Are there things that are actually worthy of praise and things that are worthy of rebuke? If not, whence all the fervor?

C.S. Lewis said it better than any I’ve heard in The Abolition of Man: “In a sort of ghastly simplicity we remove the organ and demand the function. We make men without chests and expect of them virtue and enterprise. We laugh at honor and are shocked to find traitors in our midst. We castrate and bid the geldings be fruitful.”

We’ve got to start somewhere in order to get anywhere. Objectively morality has got to be assumed in order to condemn or praise anyone or anything. Either way, without this, all discussions of right, wrong, good, bad, ugly, progression, regression, etc. are ultimately pointless. God, grant us faith and grace to be reasonable.

I wonder what the virtual podcasts of the 33rd century will say of the cavemen of the 21st…

Just some days more than others…

23 Oct

Romans 8: 19-21:

” For the anxious longing of the creation waits eagerly for the revealing of the sons of God. 20 For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it, [i]in hope 21 that the creation itself also will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God.”

  As a Child of God, you always know the world is broken. Corrupted politics. Failing economies. YouTube Comments. All of these and more all cry out together in unison, “Something is wrong! We need saving!”

  My own heart is particularly indicative of creation’s current condition. Because of things like this, I always know that we need healing, just some days more than others.

  There was a crisis at my job today. The Lord was faithful, we got through it. But it left me feeling an overwhelming sense of the World’s brokenness, and my impotency to change that. Romans 8:20 says that creation was subjected to futility by God so that we could be set free. How does that work?

  2 Corinthians 3 says that where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. How do we receive the Spirit of the Lord? Through faith in Christ (Ephesians 1: 3-14). How do we know that we need Christ? Because the world is broken (see Romans 8 again) It is crying out for relief! But all of our personal efforts are ultimately futile unless they are redeemed by the Lord. So, in desperation we cry out to the Lord for a Savior, He heals and redeems us from the decay of sin, and we are set free. Through the redemption of the sons of God, creation is being redeemed as well.

2 Corinthians 2: 15-16, 3: 4-6 

“5 For we are a fragrance of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing; 16 to the one an aroma from death to death, to the other an aroma from life to life. And who is adequate for these things?…Such confidence we have through Christ toward God. Not that we are adequate in ourselves to consider anything as coming from ourselves, but our adequacy is from God,who also made us adequate as servants of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.”

  He will make all things right, but He is going to do it in His way and in His timing. Any attempts to circumvent His way will end in futility. God promised an Isaac. We should not make Ishmael.

The same ole’ song and dance

26 Sep

A few years ago, “Batman:The Dark Knight” was released into theaters. In this film, Gotham City was being terrorized by a sociopath named the “Joker”, a psychologically scarred murderer with a penchant for anarchy and clown make-up. He challenged Batman to reveal his identity and “incentivized” the hero by promising to kill someone every day until his demands were met. The villain made good on his covenant, the city responded in fear, and betrayed their once beloved savior, demanding he capitulate to the Joker’s wishes.

In a particularly wise rebuttal to the city’s terrified re-activity, Harvey Dent (Gotham’s District Attorney), called the people to repent. He said that while Batman was guilty of being a vigilante, and will have to answer for that “crime” at some point, that should happen in the due course of the law and not in response to a madman. The people unfortunately didn’t listen and demanded the Batman give in.

It all works out in the end, but this scene, and a post of Jeff’s addressing gun control got me thinking about how we, as Americans, in this day and age (with all the kids and their loud music) decide to solve our issues. These issues can range from the disobedient child in our home to crazed gunmen in our streets or schools, and I believe we often come up with solutions that almost address the real problem, while ultimately missing the point.

In the past few years, gun control has become something much more polarizing than it once was. Increases in (or increased awareness of) public acts of gun violence have begun to swim through the “waves of the cathode rays” in greater frequency and many are calling for increased restrictions on firearms as a result. Some would prefer that privately owned guns go the way of the dinosaur or the Chia pet, but for now, there is too much political opposition for a total public disarmament.

I am not here to say that one is more right than the other. Europeans seem to be happy without them, and they are somewhat worthy of emulation. Then again, we did leave England for a reason and we don’t have to follow their in their footsteps if we don’t want to. I have my opinions about this, but that isn’t why I am writing. This post isn’t really about gun control. It’s about solutions. Notice ours: Gun violence occurs – media coverage – call for action/response – petitions for increased gun control. In other words, increased gun control= solution to gun violence. It does logically follow that no access to the cookie jar means reduced instances of unsanctioned desserts, but overeating doesn’t occur because food is available; it occurs because of lack of self-control. In a like manner, Gun violence doesn’t happen because people have access to guns, but rather because people do not love one another, and that is a problem that increased legislation will never be able to address.

We need to be new people. After all, if all people loved one another, cherished life, and the freedom to protect it, we wouldn’t have gun violence. Many reactions to this thought process would undoubtedly be, “Sure, that would be great. But it isn’t a reality and we need to take steps to reduce the chance of evil happening.” And, therein, lies the real reason I am writing this.

This worldview is built on the premise that people cannot change. When I look at what the Lord did through Jesus, I have to say this is inherently untrue. Jesus didn’t come to give us new ways to avoid the possibility of neutral things becoming tools for sin. He came to make us new people (2 Corinthians 5:17). In short, God’s way of eradicating evil isn’t found in reducing freedom, but rather through showing His people what freedom actually is. God’s method isn’t creating new laws. That was what the Pharisees got in so much trouble for. It’s the same old song and dance.

I see similar patterns in the way our culture handles failing marriages. Oppressive husbands? The proposed solution is often to attack the Biblical command for wives to be “submissive to their own husbands” because that view creates the environment for an oppressive relationship. The real issue, however, is the fact that husbands do not love their wives “as Christ loved the Church.” This is not a post condemning a wife to submit to the fist of a domineering husband, nor is it calling for husbands to sit silently under the constant drip of a nagging wife (I cannot stress that enough. If you are in a bad relationship or are in danger, get to a safe place, and get help.) But I also don’t think the problem is submissiveness, or marriage itself, which is what our proposed solutions ultimately undermine.

Let me put it this way: Some parents are jerks. They may be domineering, or neglectful, or abusive. I do not believe, however, that the answer to bad parenting is the abolishment of the command for children to honor their parents. I believe the solution is found in parents being made new creations in the Gospel, and then teaching them how to love their children.
In short, concerning gun control, bad parents, or unhappy marriages, I don’t have a problem with safety. I do, however, take issue with unbelief. These remedies illustrate an underlying premise of God’s impotence in human affairs.

This hits me close to home in my natural tendencies toward legalism. I very often see myself as sinful, recognize God’s holiness, and immediately try to make myself more righteous through performance and self-legislation. This is futility. The Bible clearly teaches us that salvation is in Christ alone, not in my works (Titus 3:3-8). So while I may have good intentions for self-improvement, I am essentially turning my back on what God wants to do in me through His son; another solution that almost addresses the real issue. When I look to myself for righteousness I am telling God that I don’t believe he can change me.

My issue with increased gun control is that it assumes people cannot or will not learn to love one another, and therefore we need more restrictions. My problem with more accessible divorce is that is assumes that our spouses cannot change; ere go we need an out. Jesus said in Matthew 19 that Moses permitted divorce because of the hardness of our hearts. I think this is what He meant by that. We assume God will not work, and take “precautions”.

Even as I am writing this, I am confronted with the thought that this is very idealistic, and some even may feel judged or condemned by it. Please know that this is not my intention or desire. Lately, though, my heart has been confronted by the fact that following Christ is not difficult; it is impossible. It is the height of idealism. But he came to make the impossible possible through the power of God (Matthew 19:26). If He has a better way of doing things, that’s what I want to be a part of. I don’t want to settle for less.

At the end of the day, if Jesus Christ rose from the grave, what can God not do? My soul, be quick to respond in faith to the God who has never let you down.

There is no one righteous…not even one

1 Sep

A few years ago, I asked my buddy, Jeff, to refute utilitarianism for me. For those who don’t know, an extremely simple definition of Utilitarianism is “the ethical doctrine that virtue is based on utility, and that conduct should be directed toward promoting the greatest happiness of the greatest number of persons.” (Dictionary.com) It is the guiding light of atheistic evolutionary morality, and it can be a doozie to defend against. After all, there aren’t many people chompin’ at the bit to bring down ideals supporting lots of people being as happy as possible.

Anyway, back to the story. He was a philosophy major and a solid believer so I trusted his knowledge on the subject. Expecting a long, strategic answer, I was very surprised when he turned and said in simple, yet authoritative tone: “It’s ugly.” It was a reminder that truth, goodness, and beauty are inextricably intertwined with one another, and ultimately with the
character of God.

This story surged through my mind along with a plethora of other memories and emotions as I processed the Hunger Games trilogy. I read these books recently, and I felt a very strong response to them. It has been difficult to put it into words. Suffice it to say: Utilitarianism is the ugliest thing I have ever seen… And the Hunger Games paints a very good picture of that.
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I am a stickler for spoiler free communication. There are few things I find more lamentable in the world of entertainment than having a good story ruined. As such, I will endeavor to spare you of unnecessary details pertaining to the plot. I will be as judicious as an old farmer at an old farmers market (note to self for writing development: improve similes). With that being said, a brief synopsis will benefit the reader who is not familiar with the series.

The story takes place in Panem, the fictional, future ruins of North America. Wars and natural disasters have left the country a fraction of its former glory. Now split into 12 districts being oppressed by the seemingly omnipotent Capitol, the majority of the county’s people are mired in poverty. The Capitol came to power roughly 3 generations prior to the events of the first book, and it represents the clear antagonist in the story (at first). The government keeps the general populace isolated in their respective districts, and denies them basic supplies needed for survival. It is unjust of the Capitol to be so oppressive- to keep people mired in poverty – but on top of that, to remind the people that any resistance would be futile, they demand a tribute of 2 (1 male and 1 female) teenagers from each district to participate in the deadly Hunger Games, an annual battle royale (imagine Gladiator but all the contestants are people you might find on a cover of Teen Vogue). “Insult, have you met my good friend, Injury?”

​In these types of stories, most people yearn for a protagonist. Enter the main character, Katniss Everdeen. Katniss’ younger sister, Primrose, is chosen to participate in the games, but in a true act of selflessness (one of the few in the series) Katniss volunteers in her place. It’s a long story from there on, but Katniss survives her experience and inadvertently sparks a rebellion in Panem. Once wind of the rebellion graced the pages of the second book, I was relieved. I wanted the Capitol to be overthrown, for people to be free, for goodness to overcome evil. In our day, however, these types of dichotomies are often considered prosaic and un-relatable. The doctrines of utility would dictate that the evil aren’t actually evil and the good aren’t actually good; they just have competing goals, and it depends on what side of the fence you are on. I was slowly, but surely horrified to find the “good guys” were just as willing to do the same things that the “bad guys” were being condemned for, all in the name of victory. This is the problem with the Hunger Games. It generates and calls out to the desire for justice against the Capitol, but then it gives no satisfactory origin for this justice to come from. When you look to Katniss, or the Rebellion, or, just about anywhere, for something better, it is rarely found.

​It is the same concerning Utilitarianism. Preference and cultural expectations have shaped our ideas of right and wrong. While things like murder, theft, and adultery all seem wrong for their own sake, this is mere illusion. Generations of evolution have taught us that working together helps us survive-therefore it’s probably not a good idea to senselessly murder your neighbor. It is not because their life, or my life, or life itself is inherently valuable, but because they are an asset needed for survival. This essentially says that Hitler wasn’t morally wrong because unjust killing is actually bad – he was simply misled as to the best way to assure the survival of our species. His actions weren’t evil, they were inefficient. This view of morality is profoundly ugly to me. There is no truth. There is no beauty. There is no good. There is only the useful and the counter-productive.

​For the Christian, we are taught that there is a truth that exists outside of our goals. God reveals the truth of His existence through the created order, through His Word, and through His Son, Jesus Christ. (Romans 1: 19-20, John 1:1). We are also taught that goodness is inextricably connected to God’s character. In fact, good is simply a word to describe who He is and what He does. If there is good at all, it is Him. If there is evil at all, it is anything that is not Him. With this viewpoint, there are actions that are inherently good because they reflect His nature, regardless of their usefulness concerning human survival or happiness. Thankfully, the Lord does not make a distinction between man’s ultimate benefit and His glory (Romans 8:28). People are benefitted by following God’s laws, but this is a by-product of obedience, not the end goal. I could write a whole ‘nother article on God’s glory and Man’s benefit not being mutually exclusive. Suffice it to say, I believe the Word teaches that if we do what is right, we will be happy (or more specifically, joyful) whereas Utilitarianism teaches us if we do what makes us happy, we will be right.

​Essentially, this is what you get when you come across the verse “There is no one righteous, not even one” (Romans 3:10, Psalm 14)- but then don’t read on to find that Christ is the exception (Romans 3:21-24). ​In a Godless, Christless world, there are none righteous. If the atheists are right about God, than utility, preference, and the vox populi is all that you will find in the marketplace of ethics.

This leads me to why the world of the Hunger Games, and the world of Utilitarianism are both so hideous. We see the injustice of the Capitol, and naturally want good to take its place. But when we look to Katniss and the Rebellion for hope, we find that they are two sides of the same coin. We know we should hope for better than the status quo, but when we look at the barren, philosophical landscape for an alternative, we only find something eerily similar to what we turned away from in the first place. Familiarity breeds contempt, and these mirrored images produce a contempt in me that I find unbearable if it is indicative of the way the world really works. In this type of world, hopelessness and despair prevail. It is futility. It is feeling a deep, cavernous hunger, and being told that not only is there no food to satisfy your emptiness but that your hunger is an illusion, thereby robbing it of any meaning or purpose.

After a while, I found myself wondering why the author first put pen to paper if this was the story she really wanted to tell. ​Typically in dystopian novels, the purpose is to point people in a direction; to show the audience the logical outcome of their current philosophies. The audience puts up with the despair of 1984 to learn that Orwell’s Big Brother is truly hideous. Mockingjay, the last book in the Hunger Games series, makes a feeble attempt at a warning like this, a paragraph essentially saying that no one wins in a society who kills its own children. That may be the case, but the world of the Hunger Games long since abandoned God and goodness and therefore, any objectivity in making that kind of statement. If the Capitol has power, and they see the death of children as a means to an end, then who can really argue with them? They tossed aside righteousness and evil in favor of utility, and murdering children logically followed. Why wouldn’t it?

While I don’t think it was the warning the author intended, that was the warning that I received. A world without absolute right and wrong is truly one of the ugliest things I have ever seen, and I refuse to accept a morality that is not beautiful.

If you are looking for something better, look to Jesus. This is what Christ is like- Romans 12: 9-21.

May The Lord give us grace to know His truth, goodness, and beauty so that we will know how to respond to evil without capitulation. “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”