Pessoptimism

I’m a bit of a critic. At times I’ve felt guilty for failing to be more positive. After reading Oman this morning, I feel a little less so.

A half and half morality always means a hopeless view of humanity; whereas a view of man as involved in a widely organised and radical corruption, always means a high estimate of his possibilities and a universal sense of the moral significance of life. –Grace and Personality

The gospel teaches that we live in a world infested with evil which permeates the hearts of every person. We were made to reflect the very glory of God, but have chosen instead to make our own destiny to our own destruction. These truths hardly call us to “accentuate the positive.”

That last phrase reminds me of a story which Bani, my friend from Albania, told me about living under the totalitarian regime of Enver Hoxha. Bani said that under communism the least mention of a fault in their society could get a person incarcerated. He spoke of a man who went to the store for potatoes to discover that they had run out. Later, that man met a friend for coffee and mentioned that there had been no potatoes at the store. An informant at the next table reported the man and he was thrown into prison. Apparently, the correct response to the question, “Why didn’t you get potatoes?” was, “I changed my mind.”

There is an optimism which hides corruption and a pessimism which reveals glory.

Most pessimistic of all is the teaching of Jesus. The highest morality turns out to be mere respectability, the purest religion mere formalism, and the insincerity is such that the Prince of this world is the Father of Lies. Nowhere, nevertheless, is the Kingdom so real or so near.

Jesus came to convict the world of sin, righteousness, and a judgement to come. He passed that call on to us (John 16:1-11).

Blame You

Christ’s commands us to love each other. It’s such a simple rule and yet we can’t do it without him. This is why he calls it a new command even though it was the one the Jews had heard from the beginning. Christ came to love and he left a community of love which he expected to remain and spread. Praise the Lord it has! On the night of his betrayal, Christ prayed that we would be one so that the Father would be glorified in the Son.

Conversely, this world and its Prince continue to conspire against God’s project by sowing bitterness among God’s people. In Ephesians 4:26, Paul warns his audience to forgive quickly lest they give the devil (blamer) a foothold among them. Nothing arrests our progress toward oneness like bitterness. When a fellow believer does something careless or even malicious (as will inevitably happen), we must at the foot of the cross offer them forgiveness. Why? Because mercy lives at the foot of the cross. In order to harbor bitterness, we must abandon the hope of our own forgiveness and flee the cross for exile in the solitary seat of judgment. In that realm “they” come to offer us aid and comfort as they help us build our case against our offenders and eventually the entire world.

Though this demonic program carries especially grievous implications for the believing community, every person on the planet has encountered it. The animated feature, “Meet the Robinsons,” offers one of the most poignant examples of the dynamics of bitterness and its power to ruin lives. At the end of the clip, the advice, “Let it go and keep moving forward,” is useful if we can understand where we can let it go to and which direction is “forward.” Those answers have been released in the gospel of Christ.

Gallery

What Works

One of the elders of our church used to work for Social Security.  The other day he told me about how Social Security absorbed the administration of state-run disability benefits.  To streamline the process, they sought to automate the system through the use of computers.  An outside vendor was brought in to pitch a system which could handle the massive load.  The only problem was that the vendor didn’t actually have the technology they sold.  The demo unit they brought to their presentations was nothing but a metal box equipped with a very impressing array of buttons and flashing lights.  The vendor believed that if they could just get the money from Social Security first, they would be able to produce the promised equipment.  The decision makers at Social Security had little knowledge of computer systems but didn’t want to admit this fact so they went with the vendor.  This interplay between pride and deception brings to mind the old fable of the “Emperor’s New Clothes.”  Except in this case more was at stake than a leader’s public image.  Millions of dollars of taxpayer money was lost through the debacle.

This story makes me think of the various worldviews that exist.  So many promise much but deliver little.  When people decide what to believe about reality (and it is a decision), perhaps they should consider a worldview that has proven effective.  Check out these observations made about Christianity by an economist raised in an atheist state.

I’m not saying we should choose a belief system simply because it works.  I’m saying that if it works when nothing else does, perhaps a greater Mind was indeed behind its inception.

Faith and the Art of Motorcycle Maneuvering

I’m a new motorcycle rider.  As I’ve been learning to operate my new vehicle, I’m finding that it’s much like faith.  To ride a motorcycle, a person has to trust an invisible principle to keep him up.  He doesn’t have the visible certainty that comes from another two tires.  No one can test the principle until he actually begins to ride the motorcycle.  Such is faith.

Not only must a person launch out beyond his experience to ride a motorcycle, he must also at times violate his intuition in order to operate it properly.  Those who’ve ridden for very long have heard of counter-steering.  For those who’ve not ridden, counter-steering is a technique in which the operator of the motorcycle turns the handlebars in the opposite direction from the way he wants to go.  So, to go left, you’ve gotta turn right.  This is also like the faith which follows the counter intuitive message of Christ to find his apparent foolishness vindicated.  The last become first.  The humbled become exalted.  Those who give receive.  The one who loses his life finds it.

I never imagined I’d be riding a motorcycle.  Financial concerns first led me down this road.  What began as frugality has become just fun.  I came to Christ out of desperation.  I’ve found that following him is the ultimate thrill ride.  I think the risk is what makes it so exhilarating!

http://youtu.be/B8IdTq3_3WI

Starbucks Appreciation Day

I cannot endorse homosexual marriage.  Sometimes I wish I could.  I don’t want to come across as bigoted or intolerant.  I don’t want to erect unnecessary hurdles to people coming to faith in Christ.  I don’t believe that anyone woke up one morning and thought, “I think I’ll be sexually attracted to someone of the same gender today.” That being said, I cannot endorse homosexual marriage because the Bible universally and unequivocally denounces homosexual activity.

For me, the choice is to either denounce homosexuality as one sin among many or deny my faith in the message of the Bible.  I will not choose that latter.  So does that make me a Pharisee or a bigot?  I’m sure there are many who would say, “Yes.”  Because they say it does not make it so no matter how many say it or how loud they say it.  No one’s words can change the truth of who I am or what I believe.  For that reason, I give anyone full permission to disagree with me or to say whatever they like about me.  I would appreciate the courtesy to be allowed to share my convictions, though.

By now, everyone as heard about Dan Cathy’s comments and their repercussions.  I think, though, that most people are missing the lesson to be learned here.  The main issue which the last two weeks have brought to the fore is free speech, or for that matter, free thought.  Mr. Cathy is a private individual who can believe and say whatever he would like to say.  He can spend his money or his company’s money in ways that he deems are worthwhile.  Should his stance be incorrect, those who oppose him have nothing to fear.

I believe in free speech for everyone.  When opinions are stifled no matter how egregious they may seem to our sensibilities, everyone loses.  When we muzzle one person or fail to tolerate dissenting opinions, we narrow our vision as a society and eventually become blind.

I didn’t go to Chick fil A yesterday.  I don’t like crowds and don’t prefer their food.  I do however like Starbuck’s coffee.  So I’ll be there tomorrow morning supporting their CEO’s right to his opinion and my caffeine addiction.

I’ll close with this landmark quote from Martin Luther which I believe applies to the current debate:

Unless I am convicted of error by the testimony of Scripture or by manifest reasoning, I stand convicted by the Scriptures to which I have appealed, and my conscience is taken captive by God’s word, I cannot and will not recant anything, for to act against our conscience is neither safe for us, nor open to us.

On this I take my stand. I can do no other. God help me.

Growing Young

I’m coming to believe that human thought goes through three phases on individual and societal levels.  Humans begin in intellectual childhood.  They believe the things they’ve been told.  They are limited by rules and driven by fear.  Some societies and individuals remain in childhood.  Often they do this because those entrusted to lead them seek only to exploit them.  Whether it’s a communist government or a denominational board, codependent leadership must jealously defend the naiveté (pronounced “orthodoxy”) of their constituents.

Beyond childhood, humans can develop into adolescence.  Those in this stage break out into individual thought and personal gratification.  They rely on peers and mistrust established authority.  They rabidly question assumptions and delight to liberate “children” from them.  While more aware than children, intellectual adolescents have their own blind spots especially to the limits of their own perspective.  For minds to progress they must go through some form of adolescence.  Sadly, some people remain in adolescence indefinitely.  One example would be Richard Dawkins and his sympathizers.

Should a person somehow find the humility to continue learning past adolescence, he or she will move on into intellectual adulthood.  At this level, a person has faced struggles and had the rough edges knocked off.  More than once, he or she has had to admit that much of what they were told while in childhood was in fact true though misunderstood or misinterpreted.  Intellectual adults have discovered a world outside their own minds where others’ ideas and needs disallow the luxury afforded to the critic.

My prayer for all of us is that our minds can grow up.  After all, Jesus told us to love God with our minds as well.

Empty Legacy

photo credit: waycoolpics.wordpress.com

No person should be allowed the luxury of holding a belief while ignoring its implications.  Why?  Because the implications of today’s prevalent beliefs shape the ethos of the next generation.  For instance, suppose I had been born into a culture which had been largely shaped by the belief that the ability to overcome a rival tribe was conferred on me through a rite of manhood.  Obviously, I would go through that rite.  After several defeats I might come to question the effectiveness of the manhood ritual.  I might come to believe that the rival tribe’s practice of cannibalism made them more powerful.  Since cannibalism had not been part of my cultural ethos, I would probably find the idea of eating another human to be distasteful (pardon the pun).  For me, eating another person would be hard, but propagating my ideas would be easy.  Suppose I convince others in the tribe of my position and after another defeat at which I get killed, they decide to eat a couple of the felled rival warriors.  What if after that, my tribe won the next battle?  My tribe would most likely continue to dabble in cannibalism.  Within two generations the buffet would be open.

Lately, I’ve encountered some pretty aggressive anti-theists.  The messages coming from that camp are fraught with what I would label, “ideological dissonance.”  So, just to do my part to help everyone come into personal harmony, I present this atheistic ontological syllogism for review:

P1- Meaning is an interpretive construct of a sentient mind.

P2- Sentience requires interplay between evaluative consciousness and memory.

P3- Consciousness and memory are products of chemical processes in the human brain.

P4- When the brain is destroyed, consciousness ends and memories are erased.

C1- Relative to the deceased individual, regardless of the details or duration, the life that he or she lived becomes retroactively meaningless.

P5- At some point, all brains and their products will be destroyed.

C2- Human life, regardless of the details or duration, is utterly meaningless.

P6- Resources invested in something which is utterly meaningless are wasted.

C3- The attempt to survive or accomplish anything is a total waste.

If you disagree, please tell me why.  If you agree but still choose not to commit suicide, then it’s because you fear the only certainty of your existence.  In short, your life isn’t advancing the human condition or accomplishing anything noble; you are just procrastinating.  So, the most consistent atheist ethic would be “die today” or “eat, drink, and be merry for tomorrow we die.”

If you are living in the West, then you were probably raised with a value system which says that you should value human life.  The basis of that value is, “all men were created equal” or some similar formulation.  Your heart is trying to retain a borrowed ethic the basis of which your mind and mouth deny.  So, feel free to keep going where you’re going, just please admit that you are going there.