Archive for November, 2013
My wife and I were buying a digital camera a few years ago at Best Buy. The salesman was very knowledge and answered all of our questions about the camera and what it was capable of doing. We purchased it and took it home and almost immediately found it did not have the majority of features that were promised. We took it back and there was a different salesperson working. We explained what we were told and what features we expected and the salesperson explained this model did not have those, as a matter of fact, the models that did started at twice the price we paid. He asked who helped us and when we told him, he advised that person doesn’t work in the area and should not have told us those things. It was clear to us he was just trying to make a sale. We were lied to.
There is possibly nothing more infuriating than being lied to. It is not an attack on our physical bodies that we can protect against, it is much worse. It is an attack on our minds and center of value. A lie proclaims dominion over you and determines what should and should not be known by you. It tells you that you are not intelligent enough to handle or would not respond well to the truth. It sets you up to be stolen from or have you hurt in other ways. Lies are egregious evil that can hurt worse than weapons. So why do we accept them as part of our daily lives?
You are being lied to.
The information process in our world has a lie factor built into it. It is almost a form of philosophical entropy. We allow ourselves to be lied to regularly and accept it as common course. We even begin to find value in it and establish it as a different truth. We then create a level of social protection around it and defend it as acceptable because it is someone’s version of truth. Human willingness to accept lies is ingrained in our social DNA so we have begun to form rights for practitioners giving them special status. We forget something though that is paramount to the subject.
We are being lied to.
Issues that affect our social constructs are given life by compassion and then petrified by dogma filled with perspective and viewpoints. Some of these views and perspectives are built on foundations that crumble when challenged but are still given credence. Human rights are a perfect example. The concept of natural law and the fairness to all dates back to Aristotle and describes an expectation that equality stems from a genetic level not a social order. This is supported by things such as the Universal Declaration Of Human Rights which states “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.” I whole heartedly agree and support this along with most of modern culture. The lie however becomes visible when we realize that our modern culture does not really practice this. We remove these rights from an unborn child by redefining them to “fetus”, as if somehow the medical term magically changes these beings to a non human status. In reality we want to support human rights where it is convenient and practical but not at the expense of our current legal rights. The statement is intended to support all human’s rights, the actions however only support some human’s rights. Legal rights are not necessarily human rights, in between them the difference lies.
We are being lied to.
Sexuality is another example. Human sexuality has evolved over the last millennia, not so much is specific practice, but in social understanding. It has walked hand and hand through social evolution from a restricted practice monitored by social mores and customs to the forefront of the civil rights debates. Anthropological studies show the transformation of sexual practice from its roots as a survival mechanism for procreation to a more involved social custom and contract. Alternative sexual practices such as homosexuality are now addressed within the cultural norms and have validity in social settings. The issues quickly cross questions and rather than merely social acceptance, the questions move to individual rights. However, sexuality is not a right, it is a privilege. Whether the intention is for procreation or the intention is for pure pleasure, there are no guarantees because it is not a human rights issue. It is a social contract and not something that can be mandated or regulated. Creating legal rights does not create human rights.
We are being lied to.
Advertising and commercialism are two of the bigger offenders. When you see an ad for a car, you are not given the value involved in the features contained so you can make a decision of personal value verses monetary value. You are given the image of a perfect life with all the rewards and desires a person could seek. None of these things will be in the trunk of the car, but you are sold on the idea they are included. Your wisdom and intelligence are questioned if you do not purchase certain brands and your chance of finding the right mate get less if you don’t where the right cologne.
We are being lied to.
What would happen if we stopped listening to the lies, and started telling and expecting the truth? What would our society look like if we were honest with people about their sexual and moral choices? What would our economy look like if we stopped buying the dream and purchased items based upon actual value?
Are you tired of being lied to?
Christianity is based on the honest reaction of a God telling his people they did not pass muster and needed a scapegoat to take his wrath. He then provided his son as that scapegoat. Honestly, this makes little sense to me. I don’t see how that God can or needs to require this type of sacrifice. I do however see I am not being lied to. He is not selling me his brand or trying to prove his point and he never asked me to sign off on his plan. He is being utterly clear. I think that is where the confusion exists. We are expecting a lie and instead are told what we need to do. I for one can accept not understanding far easier than I can accept being lied to. I can accept a hard truth much easier than a gentle lie.
Stop being lied to, demand truth. Who knows, maybe the world will change one last time.
My first real job after college was on at a bank. I remember speaking to a man who had been denied credit that he felt he desperately needed. The reason he assumed he was denied was that his wife was Vietnamese. As I began to ensure the man that his wife’s country of origin had no bearing on the banks decision he interrupted me and wanted me to know we could reverse the decision because she was not really Vietnamese. She was actually from the Philippines. I wasn’t sure whether to be frustrated with the man’s acceptance of racism in the world or feel sorry because of the tragic damage he must have received to accept that this type of thing could occur. Either way, this man’s dream of happiness was greatly affected by his circumstances.
Urie Bronfenbrenner was a developmental psychologist who postulated the Bioecological Model. It describes how child development does not happen in a vacuum and is affected by the environmental influences around them. In those influences there are many layers of individual environments that each contains their own set of roles and rules that are followed. The concept is basically that our development process is multifaceted and can grow with whichever environmental structure has predominance at the time, not as a whole system but as a sum of the individual systems. I would say this process continues through our lives. The man I spoke with had obviously learned in some environment that racially motivated decision making was acceptable and could be done correctly if the right information were provided. That in no uncertain terms is horrific.
We use this process in all that we learn, even something as simple as being happy. Each person has an internal definition of what happiness is based on their environmental development and whether or not we can achieve those is based upon our individual circumstances. We respond by creating levels of happiness based on what we can achieve at any one given time. We then struggle to achieve that or more appropriately our approximation of that to find this allusive goal of happiness. This is an eternal quest and is greatly affected by the circumstances around us. People with greater resources are more likely to achieve goals centered around resources more quickly but they are not as a group happier for it. This echoes the problem at the core of the definition that can only be solved by understanding one thing.
Happiness as a whole defined by modern thought does not exist. It is an unattainable goal not because we are not able to reach our individual approximations, but because we are. The fact that we reach them and keep looking for more explains that the goal we reached was only a wrung on the ladder and not the destination. It was a step in the journey and not the end. It is similar to Zeno’s Dichotomy Paradox. If each goal attained creates another, the final destination is only arrived at when we stop. Our individual goals may be easier than some peoples and harder than others. Whether we reach them or do not reach them is based upon our actions but the attainment of those goals in and of themselves does not mean we are happy. A person who is unhappy is not suffering from poor goal setting and a lack of motivation. They feel the way they do because they realize the goals have not provided more than a momentary chemical rush of endorphins or electrical activity in our brain and fleeting euphoria, not lasting happiness.
Rather than recognizing that the problem is in the method, we continue to tweak the goals to try and achieve the end sooner. We substitute convenience for rationality and consider it progress. We lower our standards and call it higher thought. We will never achieve what we can not substantiate and we will never find peace without quelling the storm of our desire.
Happiness is a dream we cannot achieve. Joy and fulfillment are real possibilities. If we begin to recognize our method is faulty and remove the constraint of achievement from our thought processes, we can begin to understand that the circumstances affect our responses but not our outlook. This is not a semantic argument. Joy and fulfillment are not synonymous with happiness. They actually counter it. Regardless of circumstance, joy can be understood. It is not centered on what we achieve but what we hold true inside. It is based on value and not perception. It is built by character, not reward.
As a Christian, these attributes are impossible without God. Character is not built without a model to copy. Joy is the fundamental response to God for his promised redemption. Truly achieving these without God is impossible as well, but trying to substitute happiness for them is simply settling for second best and then not even being able to get that.
A man stood on a street corner and waived a bible in the air as if a mug at Octoberfest proclaiming the “eternal truths” of that bible as he saw them. He was wearing the same clothes he had slept in and worn the last several days. He had a story that was full of sorrow about drugs and loss, pain and regret, and sin and consequence. He had given up a home, a wife, a family, and his health for moments of pleasure centered on small crystals and a small tube. He had changed all that but unfortunately it was a little too late for many of those broken things to be fixed. His name was Roger. I felt for him and offered him some food and water; he gratefully accepted and rewarded my kindness with a healthy dose of his beliefs. He said the world had taken so much away from him but couldn’t take away his beliefs.
Humans have an innate ability to hold onto their beliefs regardless of circumstances. They may be strong, they may be weak, they may be caustic or fluid, they may be centered on a god or an anti-god or a god in absentia or even no god at all, but they are held on to like they are the last breath in our lungs. Even when they are crushed, they are soon replaced with more beliefs. They serve as almost a personal accomplishment or validation of a job well done. Once we have secured them, they comfort us by their existence, whether right or wrong. We act as if the belief itself makes us knowledgeable whether or not we have ever studied the subject we believe something about. We present and defend our beliefs attempting to provide them as fact we have proven and at the same time reduce opposing beliefs to rubble offering the superiority of our own. It becomes almost a game. Walt Disney was a master at this. He caused a world of children to “believe” so Tinkerbelle would come back to life when the film already contained the conclusion whether children believed or not.
I used to take my mother to the doctor who was treating her for Parkinson’s and it was almost funny how he would relate to me. I have a 10,000 foot understanding of the neurochemistry involved in that disease so when he would describe how the neurotransmitters Norepinephrine and Dopamine are inhibited when neurons die or are impaired, I would understand. But it was almost like he was asking my opinion on his diagnosis and treatment. I am positive that was just his way of making patients and family members comfortable but it illustrates the point well. Just because I have a small amount of knowledge about that disease my beliefs about treatment and diagnosis are worthless.
Our understanding of belief redefines the word to agreement. We hear something, see something, or experience something that we cannot explain or rationalize in our current belief system and we either agree with it and import it into our system or we dismiss as not being valid enough to be agreed upon. Somehow we gain internal approval by filtering items through our belief system and filing them where appropriate. We do this with God most of all.
But does God really care what we believe?
God is not something we should believe in, he is something we should follow whether or not our experiences, systems, or beliefs tell us we are right. God is really not concerned whether or not we agree with his practice. An assessment of his instruction whether concluding for or against is similar to me telling my mother’s doctor I concurred with his diagnosis and treatment protocols. I could have gone to school, learned everything about medicine I needed, evaluated here test results myself and then offered my sign off but if I had done that, she would have passed away sooner and long before I completed medical school. With God, all lifetimes combined would not be enough time to draw in the education needed to offer a valid opinion.
God does not care if we believe in him; he cares if we follow him. I think I get that. If I am starving and in need of food, a person believing that God will take care of me is far less valuable at the moment than a person doing what God requires and offering food. Tangible action outweighs philosophical belief any and every day. Character is not affected by belief, it is defined by action. I for one prefer a strong character over a strong opinion.
If I were to say that Atheists are stupid, I would be labeled intolerant, disgruntled, biased, arrogant, and many other things that frankly I do my best to avoid. However some militant atheists such as Richard Dawkins feel that I as a theist am stupid, dimwitted, foolish, and many other things that frankly I do my best to avoid. But do they have a point? I mean realistically I am asking Atheists to have an open mind so I should as well. I believe in something that has no empirical evidence, requires me to act in ways that are completely contrary to my normal thought process, asks me to sacrifice myself for the sake of others, and ensures that I will be persecuted to some extent while alive. I have to admit the evidence weighs against me.
Historically my kind have offered responses to this that I would love to grab hold of and swing for the fence against these heinous accusations but I find they leave me empty at times. If Christians are going to respond to views like Dawkins, we need to be able to provide a defense for the hope that is within us. This is not just a theoretical polemic based upon the advent of the Spirit in time of need; it takes thought and preparation ahead of time which Dawkins feels we do not use.
Dawkins argues in his book The God Delusion that “God’s existence or non-existence is a scientific fact about the universe discoverable in principle if not in practice”. He feels that even if we cannot prove for or against the existence of God, we should be able to do much better than a 50% chance of being correct. I disagree with these hypotheses. If human science is able to open the door and find the man behind the curtain, then there must be a curtain, a door, and a place for the man to stand. In other words, if we are using tools common to the human realm, how can they determine something outside the human realm? If the best we can offer is not 100% accurate, than replacing faith with reason is faulty.
Dawkins argues that the existence of an advanced being that is more complex than human beings would require either an even more advanced being to create him or that a more advanced process would need to create that being. This starts with an assumption that all things need to be created or evolved. This is a carefully constructed false alternative fallacy. For a mind to be truly open about God, we need to be willing to accept options that are outside of our parameter set.
He argues that the Bible is “just plain weird”. It is “a chaotically cobbled-together anthology of disjointed documents”. I would have to agree. It was clearly not written by a single author or even complied by one. It has structural elements that span two millennia and was complied over the better part of one. But what does that have to do with God or Christianity. If my intention was to do a Book Review on the text I understand his concerns, but whether the ancient writings are collected in a book, online, PDF’s on my laptop, or scrolls in jar somewhere, that really doesn’t address their information. He says that the God of the Old Testament is “arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak”. That sounds an awful lot like a schoolyard bully trying to control a conversation through an ad hominem abusive argument, not a scholar looking to gain wisdom. I guess my challenge is I don’t see much explaining why my beliefs are stupid, dimwitted, and foolish. I do see an awful lot showing Dawkins doesn’t like them. I can live with that.
There are arguments that have validity that question my views. I am nowhere near arrogant enough to dispute that. But questions do not make me stupid, they actually should help to either reinforce my beliefs or help realign them. I believe in the God who communicated his message for man through scripture. Unless I am willing to say that I have a lock on all scriptural understanding, which I am quite unwilling to do, I have to accept that questions can only help me.
One question centers on Theodicy. It centers on the problem of evil and destruction in our world and the question of how an omnipotent and omniscient God could allow this. It argues against the assertion that God is all powerful, all knowing, or benevolent if he allows these things. This question calls out the same issue with Dawkins original hypothesis above. For us to claim God is not these things that befit the character of God, we are saying we fully understand how God is involved with the world, how he interacts, and we are judging that as not correct thereby claiming dominion over God and reducing his godhood. The question appeals to an outside governing agency to determine that God’s actions are either right or wrong. The problem is that if they are truly able to determine that, he is not God.
Another question comes from the idea that Jesus is the only way to get to God. The idea is that it is narrow minded to require all people to accept this single view point when there are a plethora of religions to choose from. A young pastor I once new felt that this argument had weight. He began to accept the idea that as no concrete scientific evidence exists for the assertions of the Biblical texts, than no religion should be excluded and all ideas should be embraced. He felt this larger more inclusive view better represented a god he would want to believe in and gave up his pastoral role and began to build out his own religion centered on this new god. Redacting the text by virtue of what is popular is nothing more than creating fiction. Calling it loving and inclusive makes it sound nice but does not reduce the fact that it is still creating fiction. The biblical text requires faith in God to be in right relationship with God. Emasculating that God on the account of our inability to reconcile his justice with our desires is rebellion and not faith. We can call it harsh, we can question the purpose, and we can even say we don’t like it. The moment we choose executive privilege to rewrite it is the moment we stop believing in it and elevate ourselves to godlike status.
Many other questions exist but none prove the idea that Christian belief in God is sub intelligent. The answers may be difficult and may not even best represent the God they are meant to represent. But believer are not less intellectual because they exist. If we are unable to openly discuss the idea that God exists outside of our ability to control, we only discuss what we control and that will never be God. It is not wrong to question God, in a lot of ways it makes sense. If we do however, we need to be ready for the answers and not expect they will fit in the boxes we want them to. Abusive rhetoric will not change that. Asking God why makes sense, listening to his answers makes even more sense.
There is an idea in modern pop culture that tolerance is a virtue and that anything that is not supportive of others actions is bigoted and judgmental. This sounds nice and leads rather seamlessly to Universalism. This concept involves a universal reconciliation between all of humanity and God and so the beliefs of all religions even anti religion are acceptable and included. This more inclusive approach is favored by many. It is certainly easier to say “go in peace, be warmed and filled” than to get involved difficult questions. But does that do anything to address the problems in our world today?
There are far too many pseudo philosopher/theologians using religion to try and get rich with half baked pithy arguments. I know that sounds harsh but the world does not need more Joel Osteens, we need to stop caring more about how we can best navigate the quagmire of mendacity and grime in our world to get rich and self satisfied and start finding ways to clean it up. In our desire to be politically correct, we venture down the path of blending all actions into the realm of acceptable in the sight of God. They become baptized in a sense and no longer something that we need to change, or at least change with any urgency. We downgrade evil from horrible to just not preferable. If we just say we are working on it that is enough. That is the problem, if the sum total of our philosophical journey is to claim that evil is not a real problem, we have not changed anything. We still are forced to swim in the sewer we have created. The toughest part is no matter how loud we scream, yell, call it something else, and try to spin doctor it into oblivion, the truth is simple. If we take God out of the picture or reformatted him into our own versions, the world is never a better place.
Good and evil are polar opposites in the spectrum. They are not contingent factors and therefore do not depend upon each other. If one is removed you are not left with the other. In other words the absence of evil does not create good. Good is only created by direct action, specifically direct good action. This may sound circular but it is foundational. Mankind’s actions are neither inherently good nor evil, they are neutral. Christian theology states that all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. This sin is inherited through our genetic makeup basically and traces back to Adam. I understand the theology and where it comes from but it is an attempt to explain a concept as opposed to map the genome. In other words the figurative language is not a viable statement to explain how a newborn is evil or good. The Bible explains that only God is good and thereby good is preexisting to man. The only way to do good is to follow the guidelines that God has set forth such as seek justice, love mercy, and walk humbly before him. By following his teachings we are able to do good. By rebelling against his teachings we become evil.
If we try to take God out of the picture, we no longer have a framework to explain what good is. If we remove the concept of evil, the only thing we have done is put blinders on, turned the music up and yelled out “La, la, la, la, la, la” hoping to drown out the noise of our conscience. Advising others to tolerate is nothing more than seeking approval by consensus. It really doesn’t matter how many people want to do it, it will never be good and the rebellion will always be evil. If we want to make changes to the world, we need to start with ourselves and stop glossing over bumpy parts. We need to seek forgiveness where needed and change. Arguing we are not wrong will never make a bad situation better.