Created Equal

I took my family to our local Six Flags amusement park last night.  I did so because A) we have a season pass and we need to get our money’s worth out of it and B) they were going to have a fireworks show.

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So we spent the afternoon there, having a good time together on the rides, enjoying the good weather.  When it came time for the fireworks, we discovered there was more to the show than just the visual part.  There was an audio part as well.  As the fireworks blasted across the sky, music blared out of the park’s outdoor speakers.  I can’t remember all the musical bits I heard, but I caught Ray Charles’ “America The Beautiful” and the Marine fight song and “God Bless America” (which I appreciated for obvious reasons).  There were some speeches mixed in there as well: Martin Luther King’s “I Have A Dream” speech was one of them (and for those who accuse Christians of being racist or harboring racist tendencies, let me tell you that there were tears in my eyes as I stood there in the dark watching the fireworks surrounded by the many different nationalities and cultures we have in the Bay Area), and something from Ronald Reagan.

And then there was this:

That’s our Declaration of Independence.  I don’t think it was this version I heard (I’m pretty sure it wasn’t, but I couldn’t find the one I heard and I really like Max McLean, so there you go).  And I love that Declaration of Independence.  For me, it is second in truth only to the Bible.  Besides God’s word, there is nothing as logical, factual, wise, and profitable for guidance than this Declaration.

That is particular true of this line:

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One thing I know about this line is that there are some variations.  One version of the Declaration read inalienable.  I think you can still find some people quoting it that way.  Another, more important thing I know about this line, though, is that it is not only “self-evidently true”, as Thomas Jefferson (or perhaps Benjamin Franklin, who may have suggested this phrase in place of “sacred and undeniable”) says it is, but it is also quite theistic.  It presupposes not only a God but a creator God.  It states not only that all men are equal but that this equality stems from God.

And I think that is the important thing for us to see here.  Not just that all men (re: all people) are equal, nor that all men are endowed with the basic rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, but that all men are so equal and endowed because they are created by and thus indelibly connected to a creator God.  Indeed, the truth of equality and the further truth of rights can only be due to such a connection to a creator God.  It cannot come from an evolutionary understanding of the origin of man.  Equality and rights cannot be derived from a materialistic view of the universe (a view of the universe which eliminates the spiritual, which accepts the existence only of the material).  There is no equality in evolution, no basis for equality in materialism.  In fact, is evolution/materialism is true, if this is the correct origin and understand of man and the universe, then all men are certainly not equal.  What, after all, is the basis of evolution?  Survival of the fittest.  And what is survival of the fittest?  Superiority.  One organism being superior to another.  Greater than.  Better.

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Now maybe you’d like to limit this superiority to merely physical attributes, not personal ones.  I can understand why you might want to do that.  To begin to look at some individuals as superior to another is going to result in one way or another to “social Darwinism” (a phrase I first heard from my best friend in high school; he spit it out as if it were the most detestable thing he had ever heard of, taking me completely by surprise) and all the “evils” which follow in its way.  Nonetheless, I’m not sure what basis you have for limiting the concept in this way.  I’m sure none of us like social Darwinism (I’ve never personally met anyone who does, though I know there are people who promote related ideas).  But I’ve never had any non-theist explain why none of us dislike it so much, why it is wrong.  Looking at the “facts” of a materialistic/evolutionary understanding of origin and existence, I can’t imagine what basis they have for disliking it or resisting it.  I can’t imagine what basis they have for continuing to hold to this idea of equality which so obviously does not fit the mechanism of evolution.  I’m glad they do.  Really glad.  I just don’t understand why or even how.

As for me, though, I know the why and the how.  It is because of God who made us and put equal value on all of us.  I not only know that, but I love that.  I love equality.  I plan on celebrating it along with all the other wonderful aspects of the American value system tomorrow (and, yes, America has committed a lot of sins and has a lot of flaws, but its value system is indeed worth celebrating).  I’m sure you will as well.  As you do, though, understand why you are celebrating it (that’s why both practically and philosophically).  Understand that this equality can in no way come from “nature red in tooth and claw” but can only come and self-evidently does come from a Creator.

God’s Limitations

But, “Why?” isn’t going to go away completely, is it?  We are, again, irrevocably human and are going to keep asking this question whether it is the most pertinent or not.

And in my experience, one of the reasons we do this is because we believe God can stop or change anything He wants to.  We believe God can do this because we believe God can do anything, that there is nothing God can’t do.  Since there is nothing God can’t do, so God can (we thing) stop or change anything He wants to stop or change.  He can prevent all the bad things that happen to us and thus at least indirectly if not directly responsible for everything that happens to us.

I believe this is how we think.  I know it is how I think and I imagine that it might be how you think, so I believe this is how at least some of us think and thus the reason many of us continue to ask the question, “Why?”

And what we don’t realize is that this is completely wrong.

The fact of the matter is that God cannot do anything.  The fact of the matter is that there are things God can’t do.  Masie Sparks identified this fact in a little book called 101 Things God Can’t Do.  I read this book when I was fresh out of Bible college.  I found out this week it is has been updated to 151 Things God Can’t Do.

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And strange though it sounds, the premise of this book is true.  There are things the almighty, omnipotent God can’t do.

There are things He can’t do if He is to achieve His goal, that is.  There are things He can’t do if He is going to bring His art to its grand conclusion.  I think of God as an artist; I style myself as an artist (an author; I write or at least try to write novels and stories) and I accordingly think of God as an artist as well.  I think of Him operating as an artist.  I think of the universe He made an not only His art project but His unfinished art project, His work in progress.

And one thing I know about art is that it has limitations.  Art is about choices, and once certain choices are made, they by default eliminate other choices.  Say an artist decides he’s going to make a sculpture, going to sculpt a figure from clay or stone.  That’s great.  Notice what he has immediately done, though.  He has immediately eliminated the possibility of his art being in color. He has also eliminated the possibility of his art moving.  He has opened the possibility of his art having three-dimensions and being touchable, but he has eliminated the other things.

Say he decides to paint.  Now he gets color, but he loses three dimensions.

Say he decides to make a movie.  Now he gets color and motion and sound, but again loses three dimensions as well as touch.

Say he decides to write.  Now he loses touch and sound and color and image altogether, but gains the ability to directly communicate thought.

And on and on it goes.  Once an artist makes one decision, he limits himself from the ability to make other decisions.  And you find that not just in art but in other fields as well.  You find the same phenomena in engineering, by the way; once you decide to make a diesel truck you lose the ability to run it in the Indy 500.

We find these same limitations in God’s artwork, God’s engineering, God’s creation.  Once He chose to make us a certain way, He was naturally limited from doing certain things.  He can’t make a square circle (to use a childish example) because in the medium He chose things have definite shapes.  Maybe He could do that in a different medium, but He can’t do that in this medium.  He also can’t “break the fourth wall”.  If He does that, the work is ruined.  Nobody likes to see the artists in his work.  We wouldn’t like it if Van Gogh painted his thumbs into one of his paintings.  We hate it when we see a boom mike in a movie shot.

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It is the same with God.  There are things He can but can’t do, things He has the ability to do but is kept from doing by the nature of His art.  He talks about this Himself in one of Jesus’ well-known parables:

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“I can’t destroy the tares,” God says here.  “I could, but I’d destroy the wheat in the process.  So I could but I can’t.”

For some of us, this is a disappointment.  For others, it is an argument against God’s existence or goodness:

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Come on, guys.  There are way to many variables here.

The reality, though, is that this is just the nature of art (or engineering or any other creative feat).  And the best thing for us to do is to understand and accept that.  The best thing for us to do is submit to the artist in the knowledge and faith that He is making something wonderful.

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How vs Why

It seems I’ve been hearing the question, “Why?” a lot lately.  Bad things have been happening to people, and they have been asking me why those bad things have been happening to them.

And I understand that question.  I understand the tendency to ask that question.  I have asked it myself.  I still ask it myself.  Often.

Lately, though, I’ve come to understand something about this question, something that makes me in turn question it.  That something is somewhat summed up in the words of The Architect from The Matrix Reloaded:

Like Neo, we are irrevocably human, and thus irrelevant questions are going to be (or at least seem) pertinent to us, more pertinent than they actually are.  The irrelevancy of these questions is going to be far less obvious than it actually is.

And in many ways, the question, “Why?” is irrelevant.  A simple analogy will reveal this.  Say you have a knife wound in your shoulder; you have literally been stabbed in the back.  You might wonder why that happened.  Was it an accident?  Was it intentional?  Did a friend mistake you for someone else and strike you in error?  Or did a friend purposefully turn on you and try to take you down?  Pertinent questions, to be sure.  But not as pressing as the fact that you now have a knife sticking out of your back that needs to be removed, that you now have blood flow that needs to be stopped and a puncture that needs to be stitched.  The “how” in that situation (the removal of the knife, the stopping of the blood, the stitching of the puncture, the saving of your life and healing of your body) is obviously far more pertinent than the why.  Less emotionally pressing, maybe, but far more pertinent.

I believe it is the same in the life of faith.  How, that is, how we react to bad things, how we survive them, how we heal from them, how we overcome them, is far more pertinent to the life of faith than why they happened.  Perhaps no book of the Bible reveals this more than Job.  The first two chapters of Job give us a behind-the-scenes look at what was happening to that man; we know why bad things happened to Job perhaps better than we know why bad things happened to anybody else.  Yet when God finally appears to speak with Job about the matter, He does not give that why to Job.  He does not tell Job why these bad things happened to him, even though He and we know that why very well.  Instead, He just gives Job a lecture on how great He is, a lecture which is probably intended to teach Job to trust in Him.  Job (who as far as we know never discovered the why of the bad thing that happened to him) indeed learned the lesson of trust from that lecture, responding to it in this way:

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I wasn’t as accepting of that lesson at my first couple readings of Job.  I felt rather cheated by than answer in fact.  I thought it was a “no-answer”.  I wanted a better answer than that.  What I’ve realized in the decades since those first couple readings is that this answer is the best answer.  It is the only answer we’re likely to understand.  It is also the only answer we’re likely to accept.

Understanding is one thing.  I know we all think we’re very smart, but the fact of the matter is that we aren’t.  We aren’t able to order the universe as God has, to maintain all the parts that have to work together for life to continue.  We don’t even know what all the parts are.  Even if we did, we wouldn’t be able to conceive of them all in a working way.  And even if we did that, we wouldn’t appreciate them all.  We see a quick example of this every time we watch a science fiction/space-faring movie.  If I understand the universe correctly, most of space is full of radiation that will kill humans quite quickly.  I’ve never seen a space-faring show cover this aspect of space-faring, though, never seen one explain how the characters are faring through and sometimes living in lethal space.  I’ve rarely seen one explain how they have earth-like gravity on their spaceships, either.  The creators of these movies and shows routine miss facts like that.  They are apparently oblivious to them, or, if they aren’t oblivious to them, they can’t figure out who to tell an engaging story around them.  If we can’t do that, which is comparatively simple, how are we going to understand the far more complex matter of why bad things happen?  Even if God told us directly, we wouldn’t get.

We also wouldn’t accept it.  Understanding is one thing.  Acceptance is quite another.  And I don’t think we would accept most whys.  I don’t think we would accept most explanations of why bad things happened, even if they came from God Himself.  Imagine if God had told Job, “Hey Job, you’re about to go through several traumatic events in order to prove that people will love me even when they aren’t blessed.  In the process, you’ll become an icon of faithfulness that will inspire millennia after millennia.”  When you put it like that (which is an accurate way to put it), you can clearly seen that goodness came out of Job’s tremendous suffering.  Great and tremendous goodness, in fact.  Would Job have seen it that way, though?  I wonder.  He might have, but he might also have said, “God, are you sure there isn’t another way?”  I know one guy who said such a thing: singer Chris Isaak.  I saw Chris Isaak on The Today Show (I think) around 2001 (again, I think).  During his time there, Katie Couric (yet again, I think) mentioned that he had suffered during his lifetime.  He said he had indeed suffered.  She then said something to the affect of, “But it made you such a great songwriter.”  To this, Isaak replied, “Yeah, but sometimes I wish I was a mediocre artist and had a swinging life.”  I can’t document that exchange (I have been trying for years, but it was the pre-YouTube era and if it exists out there I can’t find it).  Nonetheless, I heard him say it.  I understand the choice he thinks about there, and I imagine most of us would think about that choice or even make that choice ourselves.  If God said to us, “This suffering will produces this good”, we would most likely answer, “Can’t we suffer less and have less good?”

That being the case, we just aren’t able to handle the answers to the question of why, and God, knowing that, doesn’t try to give that answer to us all that often.  And now that I’ve been dealing with that question via the lives of various people for a couple weeks, I’ve come to the conclusion that we would be better off if we just didn’t ask.  I have come to the conclusion that we would be better off trusting God no matter what we experience.  I have come to the conclusion that we will do far better if we focus on the pragmatic question of how or even what (i.e., “How does God want me to respond to this?  What does God want me to do here?”) rather than the philosophical question of why.  I have come to the conclusion that the best response to this situations is that we find from Habakkuk who, when struggling with the question of why himself, eventually came to this answer:

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The Bible Isn’t What You Think It Is

Religulous wasn’t the only movie in Amazon Prime’s “Recently Added” section that caught my attention.  There was also this:

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I didn’t have any pre-awareness of this one, but I did recommend the type.  I see similar documentaries and shows on the cable channels and news networks every Easter and Christmas.  Most seem devoted to trying to disprove the traditional understanding of the facts and events of the New Testament/Christian history.  I avoid most of these just as I avoided Religulous, and I do so for the same reason: I think these shows are biased and incorrect.

Based on a review of this movie (I know; I shouldn’t read the reviews any more than I look at the comments on news stories), this seems to be more of the same.  Here is that review:

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Based on what this reviewer says, this documentary seems to be saying the New Testament is not the inspired and accurate volume of truth believers think it is but rather an unreliable cobbled-together mess.  The review apparently agrees with this assessment of the New Testament.  He or she also seems to think Christians are not educated about the history of the New Testament; I gather that from the fact that he/she says this movie will be a “shocker”.

And there are two problems in that little review which I couldn’t help noticing.  The first is the accusation that “many Christians” (and where he/she got “many” from, I don’t know; no testable data is given for that volume) are not educated about the history of the New Testament.  Without doubt, this is somewhat true; there are some Christians who don’t know this history.  But it is equally without doubt not as true as the reviewer claims.  It certainly isn’t true about me or my pastor friends.  We’re well aware of the councils and the translation difficulties and textual differences and all that this movie apparently covers.  I personally am very familiar with the documents of the New Testament themselves.  I have studied most of them verse-by-verse at a collegiate level.  I have translated a few of them from the Greek manuscripts.  I have memorized the epistles; I have had them memorized for more than a decade now, and during that decade I have recited one of them every day (which means I recite the entire body of epistles at least once a month and have been doing so for ten years).  If the New Testament truly was the cobbled-together corpus this movie/reviewer suggests it is, I and my pastor friends would know it.  And we don’t know it.  We know the opposite, in fact.  We who have read and studied the text to this degree, who know it back and forth and back again, continue to see it as a unified body.  We do so not out of obliviousness or defensiveness but experience.  So the “ignorance argument” (which is what this is; the reviewer is suggesting that Christians only believe the New Testament is a reliable body because they are ignorant of either the body itself or the body’s history) doesn’t apply here.  I’m sorry.  It just doesn’t.  I don’t think it is arrogant to say that I know the Bible/New Testament far better than any of its critics do (just as Neil deGrasse Tyson knows physics far better than I; he is far more experienced in that field; I am far more experienced in the Bible; it is just simple truth).  And I know the Bible/New Testament isn’t what the makers of this movie and this reviewer say it is.

(Can I throw in another little idea here?  At the risk of being snarky, I have to wonder if the ignorance argument is ever directed against non-believers.  I have seen it directed against believers many times; I have often come across the suggestion that we only believe what we do because we are ignorant of our beliefs or their origins.  But does anyone ever accuse non-believers of such ignorance?  Does anyone ever suggest there is something wrong with an evolutionist’s belief in evolution because he had never read On the Origin of Species?)

The second problem I had with this review was that it failed to mention the indisputable power the New Testament has.  It particularly failed to mention the indisputable power the disputed parts of the New Testament, the parts the reviewer calls forgeries, have.  I imagine the parts of the New Testament this movie critiques are the latter epistles: 2 Timothy and 2 Peter, etc.   What the reviewer fails to mention, though, are all the powerful, beautiful, inspirational statements these parts make.  For example:

 

 

I could go on and on, but I think the point is made.  The New Testament is universally-regarded as containing words which are beautiful if not true.  I have encountered atheists who believe this very thing (in a previous post, I told you about the atheist who accosted me at the gym and asked why he couldn’t just “do unto others” instead of believing in God; he recognized the beauty and truth of the Bible even while denying it).  My subsequent question, then, is, “How could such beauty/power/truth be in forgeries?  Wouldn’t the ‘hap hazard (sic) editing’ have eliminated that?”  Such editing would have eliminated such beauty/power/truth if there had been such editing.  No forgeries could contain such beauty/power/truth (if you want proof of that concept, read “The Gospel of Thomas”; it is nothing like the New Testament’s Gospels or other writings).  That these books and letters, even the disputed ones, have such a beauty/power/truth shows that they can’t be what the movie makers/reviewers claim they are, that that New Testament can’t be what they claim it is.

Let me throw one more idea in here.  It comes, oddly enough, from Isaac Asimov.  He once said this about those who critiqued the Theory of Evolution (or some such theory; not sure exactly which one he is referencing here) as being “just a theory”.  He said this:

Image result for isaac asimov christians think theories His point is well-taken.  Despite the fact that such things are called “theories”, which some interpret as being “uncertain”, a lot of work and thought has gone into them.  Well, the same can be said of the Bible.  The reviewer calls the collection of the 27 books of the New Testament “hap hazard” (again, sic), but this is far from the truth.  The fact of the matter is that people who sincerely believed that God had spoken in some books worked hard to collect those books and reject all other books.  The canon and the text of the New Testament is, like Asimov’s theories, not something dreamt up after being drunk all night.  They are the result of a lot of work and thought from a lot of sincere believers in God.  To call this work “hap hazard” (sic again) and to so easily question its legitimacy is really off the mark.

The bottom line is this: the movie makers and this review want you to believe the Bible isn’t what you think it is.  But I believe it is the other way around.  I believe the Bible isn’t what they think it is.  I believe, from my experience, from the text itself, and from the care with which the canon and text, that the Bible is what I have always believed it to be, what I will continue to believe it is no matter how many similar documents are made and reviews posted.  I believe it is the Word of God and thus the source of the truth I need to interpret and live life.

Irreligulous

I was going through Amazon Prime’s new movies section last night.  As I did, I came across this film:

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That’s Religulous (a portmanteau of religious and ridiculous), a 2008 documentary by HBO’s Bill Maher.

I am aware of this film.  I have been aware of it ever since it was released.  I saw some trailer or TV spot for it back then.  I have never seen the film, though.  I detected its major premise from the trailer/TV spot I saw (something like “Religion is ridiculous”, I suppose; I don’t want to put words in Maher’s mouth, but based on the title and what I saw in the trailer/spot, that seems to be what he is saying) and I accordingly declined to watch it.  I did so not because I was afraid it would shake my faith (which at this point in my life is a very hard thing to do; I know what I believe and why I believe it, so it would take a whole lot more than a film like this to shake my faith).  I did so because I recognized that the logic of this film was terribly flawed.

I was not the only one to come to this conclusion about the logic of this film.  Back when the film was released, one of my church members told me he had a discussion with a coworker about it.  The coworker apparently said that this film really opened his eyes to the ridiculousness of Christians and other people of faith and thus faith itself (which was, I assume, Maher’s hope).  The church member told the coworker that this was not the case at all, that not all or even most Christians were as ridiculous as the one’s Maher depicted (which is undeniably true; I know more Christians than Maher does and none of them are like the ones Maher depicts in his movie).  The church member went on to say that Maher had found the worst Christians he could and put them forward to the world as if they were the best example of Christianity, which is not a right thing to do.

So this church member, who is not overly experienced in Scripture or apologetics, could see the illogic of Maher’s movie, and I could see it too.  Maher did indeed dredge up the worst of all Christians and inaccurately portray them as the representative of all Christians.  He put forth a “straw man”, to use the logical term.

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Recognizing that, I felt no need to subject myself to that illogic or the film it was contained in.  (And if you have a problem with that, consider this: I’ve had many atheists tell me they aren’t going to read “Christian propaganda” like The Case for Christ or Evidence that Demands a Verdict; fair enough, but what is good for the goose is good for the gander; if atheists don’t want to read what they consider to be propaganda, I shouldn’t have to, either.)

I realized there was another problem with this movie when it popped up in Amazon Prime last night, though.  I realized that it was not only a straw man/blatant misrepresentation.  I realized it is also based on an unstated and maybe even unacknowledged but very real premise.  For Maher (or anyone else) to call religion (or anything else) ridiculous, he must be operating from some standard.  There must be something somewhere which he regards as reasonable.  A thing can only by ridiculous if 1) there is that which is reasonable and 2) the thing in question violates that which is reasonable.  The absurd only exists when there is a reality which makes it absurd.

By doing nothing more than calling religion (or, in my case, faith) ridiculous, then, Maher is asserting a reality which he regards as reasonable, a reality which is “the real”.  What is that reasonableness/reality?  I don’t know, and I again don’t want to put words into his mouth.

But I do know what it was for me.  I know that when I was younger, I likewise thought certain expressions of “religion” (and many other things as well) were ridiculous.  I realized I was going to die and I wanted to “go to heaven” when I died (something I now realize is not the core of The Faith, not what Jesus came to offer us), but I still regarded the greater bulk of religion, even my own faith, as ridiculous.   I did so because I thought that religion/those expressions of religion violated “real life”.  This “real life” was the secular lifestyle of the ’80s.  I thought real life was video games, movies, having friends and fun, getting money and possessions (and, yes, we had great possessions in the ’80s): all the things a teenager was attracted to.  That was reality/real life to me.  When I saw, then, that some religious people were sacrificing those things for their religion, I therefore concluded they were missing real life and were thus “ridiculous” (or stupid or any number of similar accusations).  That’s the thought process (if you can call it that) I went through at the time.  That was my (il)logical progression.  It was that simple.  It was that shallow.

That is exactly what I believe Maher (and those who agree with him) have done/are doing.  They have that which they think is reality or prefer to be the reality.  It could be materialism.  It could be what I call “the Starbucks religion”, which is the pursuit of physical pleasures.  It could be something else I can’t identify.  But they clearly have that.  We all do.  And as religion of any committed sort violates that to some lesser or greater degree, so they, like teenage me, conclude it is ridiculous.

If you need further proof of concept, consider the book Out of Africa.  In that book, Isac Dinesen records her conversation with some African girls who will be sold into marriage.  While most Americans would see that as ridiculous if not barbaric, the African girls saw it the other way around.  They couldn’t believe American girls gave themselves away for free, and they were proud of the “bride prices” they would bring.  Their reality (or what they perceived as reality) was different from ours, and they reacted to life and interpreted life accordingly.

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There you have it again: ridiculousness defined by reality; one’s understanding of what is ridiculous defined by one’s understanding of reality.

The crucial question, then, becomes, “What is reality?”  If ridiculousness is defined by reality, then we must know what reality is for us to identify anything as ridiculous. Is materialism  reality?  Is reality nothing other than matter.  Maybe so.  And if it is, then religion or any other spiritual pursuit is indeed ridiculous.  Of course, if it is, then everything else is ridiculous as well.  Not only is religion ridiculous, but fighting against religion is ridiculous.  Why would you waste the time you have, a time which is all you will ever have and severely limited in the grand scheme of things and could possibly end at any moment, to fight something like religion?  Learning is ridiculous.  Why learn anything?  It can’t stop you from dying.  Building is ridiculous.  Doing good is ridiculous.  Pleasure might not be as ridiculous as everything else (there is some value in pleasure; you can actually feel it), but it is largely ridiculous as well.  If the materialistic view of reality is correct, then we are all Shelley’s Ozymandias:

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I could go on about that for awhile, but let’s consider the alternative.  The alternative is that materialism is not reality, that there is a God in heaven.  If that is reality, then the pursuit of such a God (whom I believe to be the God of the Bible, the Father revealed by Jesus Christ) is not ridiculous at all.  Sure, the way some people pursue Him might be ridiculous.  That’s because people are ridiculous by nature.  All people are childish at their core (I think this is what Washington Irving is arguing in The Legend of Sleepy Hollow; if so, I agree with and accept his argument), and that childishness appears in everything they do, even the pursuit of God.  Maher is not going to have a lack of ridiculous people to put in his movie not because religion is ridiculous but because ridiculousness abounds in every area of life.

The pursuit itself is not ridiculous, though.  In fact, if there is God who created us for relationship with Him, then the pursuit of Him is the least ridiculous thing we can do.  It is the most reasonable thing we can do, the most rational response to reality.  And we may realize this one day.  We will, in fact, if materialism is false and God is true.  In that case, we will all one day be like Bart Simpson here:

What we once perceived as “stupid” (or ridiculous) will be revealed to be anything but, and what we once perceived as “wise” (or cool or fun or what have you) will be revealed to be empty.

Or, if you don’t like Bart and Lisa, consider what Paul says about the relative ridiculousness of spiritual pursuits versus material ones:

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I would suggest that what is true of the widow is true for all.  Living for physical/material pleasure, which seems to be what most of us are doing (including teenage me), is a living death.  Not wise, not cool, not fun, not a rational, reasonable, non-ridiculous response to reality.  A living death.

As is so often the case, what we are doing here is arguing about the fifth floor when we need to be examining the foundation.  This is a matter of foundation, of assumption and presumption, and that is where this matter needs to be resolved.  When we address it that way, we realize that it is not religion which is ridiculous.  It is irreligion that is really ridiculous.  That’s how Paul saw it.  That’s how I see it now.  That’s how we all will see it one day.  We won’t see religulous on that day.  We’ll see irreligulous.

Money, Sex, God

I hit the couch to take my Saturday afternoon nap.  I like background noise while I nap, so I turned on the TV.  My wife had left the TV on the Hallmark Channel, which was showing some movie about yet another beautiful-yet-inexplicably-single woman who unknowingly begins a romantic relationship with the prince of some obscure European country.  I couldn’t nap to that, so I switched channels.  When I did, I came across a movie called Big Game.  I had never heard of it before, but it turned about to be an action/thriller starring Samuel L. Jackson as the president of the U.S. who gets jettisoned out of Air Force 1 during a terrorist attack and lands in the wilderness of Finland (I think).

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The movie was actually decent, and it kept me from napping for awhile.  What eventually caught my attention, though, was not the action or the characters.  It was this line, which a CIA analyst (or some such thing) says after being asked how terrorists could have penetrated security by turning a Secret Service agent:

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Now I don’t have much comment on the money or sex part of that equation.  I do have a comment about the God part.  Clearly the analyst was referring to notion that someone’s God or god inspires them to do terrible things.  It is not an uncommon suggestion.  It is not entirely untruthful, either; we know for a fact that some people’s understanding of God/god has inspired them to do terrible things.

it is not the whole story, though.  While it is true that some people’s understanding of God/god has inspired them to do terrible things, it is equally true that some people’s understanding of God/god has inspired them to do wonderful things.

I could make a list of such people (William Wilberforce would probably top that list, followed by thousands of others), but I really don’t have to do so.  Instead of offering such a list to prove my point, I can offer myself.  What I know beyond a shadow of a doubt is that my understanding of God (that is, the God of the Bible, the Father of Jesus Christ as revealed by Jesus Christ) has inspired me to do wonderful things and continues to inspire me to do wonderful things.  In fact, I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that it would be my lack of belief in (and/or concern about) God that would inspire or at least allow me to do terrible things.  I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that apart from my belief in God I would be like this guy:

That’s right.  I’d kill everyone who looked at me cockeyed.  Or I’d at least give them a dirty look, a harsh word, or a little passive aggression.  I’d be a terrible person apart from God.  Not only so, I see no reason not to be a terrible person apart from God.  If there is no God (which is what these arguments are really about; when we’re in this neighborhood, which not talking, “Which God?” but “God or not?”, in which case there are only two alternatives: either there is some spiritual side of life or there is nothing but physical matter), there is no reason to treat people decently.  After all, if “no God” is the reality, then all people are just accidents of random chance, each no more important than algae or weeds or rats or any other vermin I eliminate without mercy when they annoy me.

I don’t treat people that way, though.  I’m not that man.  And I do not/am not because of my belief in God and my consequent belief that all people are created in the image of God and my even more consequent belief that how I treat people matters, that is, that I can treat people in the righteous way God/Jesus did (understand here my motivation is not that God will punish me in some way if I mistreat people but that God has invited me to be like Him in my treatment of people).  The fact of the matter is that I am a far better and superior person by any standard because of my belief in God.  People can offer all the quips they want.  They can hit me with all the sarcasm they want.  They can lay out all the counterarguments they like.  But they can’t deny this one truth which I know far better than them: God has made me a better person.  Period.

At the very least, then, belief in God is a mixed bag as far as actions go.  Has it led some people to do terrible things.  Sure.  Those people most definitely had a wrong understanding of God, of course, but it is nonetheless true that their belief led them to horrendous action.  It is also and equally true, though, (and perhaps more true, as there are certainly more people who have loved their neighbor because of God than there are those who have blown up their neighbor because of God) that it has led me and millions like me to do wonderful things.  So belief in God at the least produces both things.  And since it does, since it undeniably produces wonderful things as well as bad, it can’t be completely dismissed by a little dig in a movie or any other, similar attack.

BTW: Big Game continued to play as I wrote this post.  Yes, I didn’t get the nap I wanted; I wrote instead.  As I wrote, I heard the same CIA analyst say this:

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So I guess it wasn’t God after all.

In God We Trust

I was pulling into the USA Gas Station at the end of Oak Park the other day.  I like that gas station because the gas there is cheaper than anywhere else, so I fill up there whenever I get the chance.  As I was pulling in this day, I noticed some sort of moving truck parked on the adjacent side street.  It was a truck from a local business, not a national one.  And at the bottom, the local owners had printed the motto, “In God We Trust”.

“Amen,” I said as I completed my turn and pulled to a stop at the first open pump.

But as I stepped out of my car, I realized that my amen was more automatic than authentic.  I had said amen because I recognized the owners of that truck to be “on my team”, not because I recognized the truth of the actual statement.

To be honest, I’m not sure I’ve ever recognized the truth of the statement “In God we trust”.  That statement is more a motto, as I called it above.  Really, it is more like a slogan or even a jingle.  At least it is for me.  I’ve heard it so many times that I no longer really hear it, no longer consider what it is saying, what it is encouraging me to do, what it is establishing as right or correct or wise to do.

As I reflected upon that while pumping my gas, I realized that this statement was really saying something profound, that it was encouraging me to is something I should do, that what it is establishing as right and correct and wise and really right and correct and wise indeed.

What I realized is that saying “In God we trust” (or, to make it more individual, “in God I trust”) is more than just pledging fidelity to a team.  What I realized is that it is a confession of a way of life, a healthy way of life.  Trust is basically the same thing as belief.  It is used 36 times in the NIV, and almost every time it is translating the Greek word pisteuo, which is believe or have faith or some variation of that idea.

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As I am not a translator and not incredibly skilled at Greek, I’m not sure why it is translated as trust is these passages rather than believe, which is far more common.  My guess, though, is that the passages in which it is translated trust are a little more intensive some of the others.  My guess is that the belief/faith in these passages is more than just an intellectual assent to something but a more committed reliance upon it.  I once heard it defined in this way: “faith is thinking a guy can walk across a high wire pushing a wheelbarrow; trust is getting in the wheelbarrow”.

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What I am discovering at this stage in my life is that this “getting in the wheelbarrow” is not just what trust is but that it is also an essential element of living life correctly.  The fact of the matter is that I have to get into the wheelbarrow quite often whether I want to or not.  The fact of the matter is that my path involves quite a few hire wires.  The only way across these hire wires (the only healthy way, as I said before, the only way that doesn’t result in devastating anxiety) is this trust in the one who is pushing the wheelbarrow over these high wires, this “trust in God”, this commitment, this reliance, this belief that He can get me over the hire wire and will get me over the high wire.

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So it is a motto.  It is a good motto, and shouldn’t stop being a motto.  It is a signifier of which team you on are, too.  But even more than those, it is a way to live.  It is again the right, correct, and wise way to live.  It is the way I am trying to live.  And I invite you to try along with me.