Judgmental Jesus, Part 2

Last time I said that Jesus was the most judgmental person I know.  I stand by that.  I stand by the assertion that Jesus was always “judging” the people He interacted with, that is, He was always identifying certain behaviors as wrong and challenging those who indulged or were trapped in those behaviors to stop or escape them.  The idea that Jesus was not “judgmental” in this sense, that Jesus allowed people to do whatever they wanted to do without comment or thought, is ludicrous.  He most obviously did not.  While He may not have been critical (that is, making caustic value judgments about people), He most certainly was challenging (that is, He made correct moral judgments about what was right and wrong, what should or should not be done).

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What I didn’t say last time was why Jesus was so judgmental.  In the video I posted, Jordan Peterson says that judgment is a natural result of having an ideal, that “you can’t have an ideal without being a judge”.

This is certainly true.  We see its truth in every ideal our society (believing or otherwise) holds.  If, for example, equality is your ideal, then racism, sexism, and classism are all wrong.  They are absolutely and unequivocally wrong.   So are a dozen other -isms, and even a few phobias.  Jesus had ideals as well.  He had at least one great ideal which He called “the kingdom of God”.

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And, according to the logic Peterson lays out, Jesus’ having that ideal naturally resulted in His making judgments, His judging anything which was anti-Kingdom of God (or, as I like to put it, not-Kingdom) as being wrong, as being something which should not be done.

But that logical reason is not the only reason Jesus was so judgmental/made so many judgments/challenged so many people.  There is another reason, one that is perhaps an even greater reason, one which was perhaps even closer to His heart.  That is the fact that sin (that is, anything which is not-Kingdom, anything which Jesus judged against), is harmful.

I believe this fact is stated repeatedly in Scripture, both directly and indirectly.  One perfect direct statement of this fact is found in James 1:15:

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And there are dozens beside that one.  This fact has also been stated, though, outside the Bible as well.  My favorite extra-biblical statement of this fact comes from Benjamin Franklin.  He said:

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I have given a lot of thought to this idea, and I find it to be true.  There is no sin I can think of that doesn’t hurt someone in some way.   There is, in other words, no such thing as a harmless sin.  The sins we commit always hurt someone else.  They always hurt us as well.  It doesn’t matter if we get away with it (there really is no such thing as getting away with sin, in fact).  It doesn’t matter if we get other people to accept it.  It always hurts us and someone else.

A quick analogy:  let’s say I decide I am only going to eat Twinkies from now on.  No more protein or fiber.  No more meat or vegetables.  Just Twinkies.  You try to tell me this is not healthy; you “judge” my Twinkie diet, in other words.  I may respond to this in two ways.  I may crawl away and eat my Twinkies in secret.  I may also scream at you until you give in and just don’t talk about my Twinkie diet anymore.  In either case, I get what I want; I eat my Twinkies.  But in either case I also suffer.   Whether I hide it from your objections or silence your objections, eating nothing but Twinkies will eventually catch up to me.  I’ll become sick, maybe even die.

It is the same with sin.  It always has a cost.  It always has a price.  It always kills in the end.

And Jesus would accept or endorse or give a pass to that.  Jesus, if He were the loving, caring, compassionate individual we’ve been told He is, would not accept or endorse or give a pass to that which hurts others and hurts self.  Jesus, if He were the loving, caring, compassionate individual we’ve been told He is, would identify such a hurtful thing and try to eliminate it.  To silently watch as someone drives off a cliff (or kills themselves with Twinkies or whichever analogy you like) is not love, care, or compassion.  I don’t know what it is, but it is none of those things.

And it was not the way of Jesus.  Jesus did judge.  He judged because He was indeed loving, caring, and compassionate.  He judged that which hurt us.  And He was right to do so.

What’s So Bad About Hope?

Ready Player One is coming out in a couple weeks.  I probably won’t see it in the theaters; I hardly see anything in the theaters anymore; it is too expensive, people talk on their cell phones during the movie, and now you have to pick your seats before entering the theater (what is that all about?).  I probably won’t even see it when it comes to Redbox.  I’m a child of the 80s and am still a big lover of the era, but it takes more than 80s nostalgia to get me to watch and/or love a movie, and it just doesn’t seem to me like Ready Player One has that more.

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I did read the book, though.  I read it a couple years ago when my sense of nostalgia was a little stronger (and I somehow had more free time than I seem to have nowadays).  I don’t remember the book addressing faith at all, but as I discovered in a recent Gospel Coalition article, it does.  At one point, the narrator/main character says this to himself and his readers:

You’re something called a “human being.” That’s a really smart kind of animal. Like every other animal on this planet, we’re descended from a single-celled organism that lived millions of years ago. This happened by a process called evolution, and you’ll learn more about it later. But trust me, that’s really how we all got here. There’s proof of it everywhere, buried in the rocks. That story you heard? About how we were all created by a super-powerful dude named God who lives up in the sky? Total [BS]. The whole God thing is actually an ancient fairy tale that people have been telling one another for thousands of years. We made it all up. Like Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny.

And then a little later he tacks this on:

She [some other character, apparently; again, I don’t remember this passage from my reading] was always praying for me too. Trying her hardest to save my soul. I never had the heart to tell her that I thought organized religion was a total crock. It was a pleasant fantasy that gave her hope and kept her going—which was exactly what the Hunt was for me.

And there is a lot that could be said of Wade’s assessment of both faith and reality (and faith matching reality) here.  The assertion that evolution is proven by the fossil record is debatable; instead of finding life forms going from simple to more complex in the rocks, we find the Cambrian Explosion.  The “fairy tale” assertion is also debatable; the existence of an actual, historical Jesus is debated by very few people.

But what I really want to focus on is his assertion that “organized religion” (an ill-advised phrase that borders on if not crosses into the ridiculous) is a fantasy that gives people hope.  More to the point, I want to focus on his implication that people taking hope from a fantasy is somehow wrong or lowly.  I want to focus on the condescension he is pouring on people taking hope from a fantasy, and I want to focus on that within the worldview he has expressed.  I want to give him his worldview for the sake of argument, in other words, argue as if the materialistic worldview he expresses here is the correct worldview, the worldview which matches reality.  Because if we do that, we quickly see that the condescension he pours on “the religious” is unfounded, that everything he says here about “religion” is self-defeating and self-refuting.

Here’s what I mean: in Wade’s worldview, life is brutal.  Oh, there are a few people who have things alright for a little while, but everyone (rich and poor, strong and weak, loved and hated) eventually reaches the same bleak end: they cease to exist.  Many of them will cease to exist in a gruesome fashion, but all of them will cease to exist in one way or another.  The universe is, to paraphrase Richard Dawkins, “blind, pitiless, and indifferent”.   And there is no one countering that blind, pitiless indifference, no one fighting the universe on behalf of any individual.  Every person is eventually going to fall prey to the universe.  That is life in Wade’s worldview.

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Not only so, but there is nothing wrong in Wade’s worldview.  There might be things that are incorrect; people might think something is when it is not.  But there is nothing wrong in the moral sense of the world.  There is nothing people can do wrong.  There is nothing they can do right, either.  Wrong and right do not exist in Wade’s world.  There is no way that a materialistic worldview can produce an absolute right or wrong, and there is no way that worldview can produce a reason for people to submit to that absolute right or wrong even if it could.

So  my question to Wade is, “What’s so bad about having hope?  What’s so bad about people who are trapped in a brutal universe finding some way to find hope in that universe?  What’s so bad about people who are trapped in a brutal universe that has no right or wrong getting hope from a fantasy?”  I can’t see any way in which Wade can argue that it is wrong (if you can, please let me know).  I can’t see any reason why Wade should try to prevent people from getting that hope (which, to his credit, I don’t think he does) nor why he should pour condescension on people who get that hope in their chosen way (which, to his discredit, he does in this very passage).

This is particularly true considering two additional facts: 1) most everybody in Wade’s world in finding hope in similar fantasies, the 80s properties they are copying in their virtual reality world and 2) Wade, who says he finds hope in The Hunt, actually has a God-like figure directing his acts to a happy end: the author, Ernest Cline.  Not only is Wade’s condescension inconsistent with his reality, but it is hypocritical as well.

So that’s what I would ask Wade and that’s why I would ask it.  And if you are anything like Wade, if you share his worldview and his condescension of “organized religion”, I’d ask you the same thing.

 

Afraid Of The Dark

Stephen Hawking died this past week.   I was aware of him, and had been for years.  I could probably tell you that he wrote A Brief History of Time.  But I didn’t know that much about him.  In fact, I thought his name was Stephen Hawkins.

I prayed for him when I heard about his death, though.  I do that when I hear about people who die, particularly enemies of The Faith.  I prayed for Christopher Hitchens this way (and truly do regret that he died; I truly am sorry that his life was cut short by a disease).  And I prayed for Stephen Hawking too.  I liked him, actually; I liked his proof against time travel (as you know if you read this post).  So I prayed for him.

And I don’t know that Hawking was as big an enemy of The Faith as Christopher Hitchens was.  I don’t know if he considered himself an enemy of The Faith at all.  But I do know that he once made a statement against The Faith or at least against people of faith.  He did so in a 2011 interview with The Guardian.  In that interview, Hawking said:

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Now I don’t have a huge problem with his assertion that he does not believe in “heaven or afterlife”; I’ve heard many people make similar assertions.  What I have a problem with is how he jumps to a conclusion about people who do believe in them.  He says not only is that they are a “fairy tale” (which is  an insulting way to describe someone’s beliefs) but that the only reason people believe in such a fairy tale is that they are “afraid of the dark” (that is, of what will happen to them after death).

And the reason I have a problem with this statement is that it is an unproven (and probably unprovable) generalization.   It is an “all” or “every” statement, which we try to avoid because they are usually false.  It is also a statement based on knowledge Hawking does not have and can not possible have.

Hawking was a smart guy, as I understand it.  He certainly knew a lot of things I don’t know.  But one thing I know that he does not is why I have faith, why I believe Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God.  And it isn’t because I’m afraid of the dark.  It is because I find faith/Jesus/God to be reasonable and supported by multiple streams of evidence.

Here’s a short list of such reason/evidence (one of many I could post and certainly not exhaustive):

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Honestly, I haven’t considered all of these things.  But I have considered a lot of them (particularly moral law) and have come to believe there is a God and Jesus is His Son because of them.  I have not, then, clung desperately to this belief simply because of an infantile fear of the dark or because I was raised to believe (the subject of another post) or any of these other things that non-believers accuse me of.  I have thought my beliefs out.  I have investigated them.  I have come to conclusions about them.  Just because I came to a different conclusion than you did doesn’t mean I didn’t do those things.  So please, all you intelligent atheists out there, please stop saying I didn’t.  Why I believe really is something you don’t know and can’t possibly know, and making general statements about what you don’t and can’t possibly know is not intelligent.

Reacting To Jesus

I don’t know when I first learned about Westboro Baptist Church and their protests.  It seems like I have always been aware of them.  What I do know is that I just learned they will be in my area.  According to a local ministers’ group, they are planning on picketing a couple local churches.  Here’s is the flyer they are apparently putting out to notify people of this planned picketing:

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The person who made the group aware of Westboro’s presence in our area leads an interfaith group.  Not an interdenominational group (of group of people from different Christian denominations) but an interfaith group (a group of people from different faiths).  He says he is “envisioning a world of interfaith peace”, and he signs his emails with greetings from several faiths (i.e., “Shalom, Peace, Salaam, Om Shanti, Solh, Amani” etc.).

As I read the email about this situation last night, I felt conflicted.  I obviously don’t side with Westboro Baptist.  I don’t want to attack them (I think attacking anyone, no matter how deserving, is wrong), and I probably won’t participate in the counter-protests being organized (I think protesting is lowly, a “weapon of the world” rather than a tool of Christ; 2 Corinthians 10), but I don’t want to be consider of them, on their side.  I don’t want to be considered on the side of the interfaith group either, though.  “Interfaith peace” sounds good on the surface; if by “interfaith peace” or “coexist” you mean not killing or hating people of other faiths, then I’m all for it, but if you mean (as I largely suspect most do) not affirming your own faith or taking it that seriously, then I’m not.  In fact, when I see a list of greetings such as the one this interfaith person signs his emails with, I’m reminded of this scene from The Simpsons:

So I find myself between a rock and a hard place, so to speak.  I find myself pulled between two extremes, both of which are certain they are correct and both of which, I assume, think I’m incorrect in some way.  I know Westboro Baptist thinks I’m incorrect; according to a fellow minister, they picketed my denominations annual gathering in Cincinnati, holding signs that said, “Your pastor is a whore.”  So I don’t have to imagine what their opinion of me is.  I do imagine the interfaith person likewise thinks I am seriously wrong in some way; he might not call me a whore, but he probably calls me “narrow”, “bigoted”, “closed-minded”, etc because I believe that Jesus is who and what He said He was: the only way to the only God.

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And I can live with that, I suppose.  I have been living with it all my life in one way or another.  I’ve always been aware that there are people who find my faith or my way of expressing my faith wrong in one way or another, and I’ve always been told I just have to deal with that.

If I could make a wish, though, or, even better, if I could speak some sanity into the insanity I see coming into my community in the next couple of days, it would be for those people on these extremes to see that I am reacting to Jesus.  The things I do (many of them, anyway, possibly even most of them) I do in reaction to Jesus and the things Jesus taught and the way Jesus laid out.  That, I believe, is the basis of discipleship (as I already showed here).  And that is undeniably what you find in me.  I may not be reacting to Jesus perfectly (I don’t know anyone who does).  I may not be reacting to Jesus as either Westboro or the interfaith group thinks (rightly or wrongly) I should be.  But I am reacting to Jesus.  The decisions I make every day…make that every hour of every day…are influenced by Jesus, by what I think Jesus would want me to do.  Jingoistic though it may be, I truly am a WWJD guy.

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I believe that makes me a disciple.  An imperfect disciple to be sure.  A different kind of disciple or at least different-looking disciple than some others.  But a disciple nonetheless.

I’d like to think the same is true of Westboro.  I’d like to think the same is true of the interfaith group.  I’d like to think the same is true of both these extremes and every other extreme I encounter.  It may not be true of them; I understand that; I know that there are “wolves in sheep’s clothing” among us, “deceitful workman” who are not genuine followers.  But I’d like to think it is.  I’d like to think that most of the followers of Jesus who differ from me in one way or another are WWJD people, influenced by Jesus, reacting to Jesus, true disciples by this measurable definition.

And if we all recognized that about each other, wouldn’t there be more respect?  Wouldn’t there be less protests and counter-protests, less accusations, less suspicions, less attacks?  Wouldn’t there be less extremes?  I think there would be.  I think there should be.

Religion Is The Dumbest Thing On The Planet

I don’t do Facebook much anymore.  The arguments and attacks which came out of the 2016 presidential election made it nearly impossible for me to enjoy the social media site.  I left at that time and never came back.  People still message me through Facebook, though, so I do check it periodically.  When I do, I see the posts at the top of the wall (or timeline or whatever; I’m not hip enough to know what these things are).  Just a few days ago, I was checking my messages and noticed that the post at the top of the wall at that particular moment was asking people to make a controversial statement.  Follow-up posters could not debate this controversial statement.  They could only say if they agreed or disagreed.  Through no fault of my own (trust me, I would have avoided this if I could), I saw this controversial statement underneath that post (I’ve done the best I could to block the statement maker’s identity):

Religion Is Dumbest

 

I did not respond to this statement on Facebook.  I was not allowed to do so, according to the rules of the post, and I would not have done so anyway; social media wars are futile and I stay out of them.

 

 

I do have strong feelings about this statement, though, feelings strong enough that I did want to respond in this (hopefully) more effective platform.  Regardless of the rules of the original post, a response is allowable.  A response is legitimate and necessary.  The statement maker (which is what I’ll call him here) not only laid out an opinion about something this is precious to billions of people on the planet, but he laid out that opinion as if it is fact.  Doing so opens the statement up to attempted verification or, as I believe it is called in the scientific method, “peer review”.  I would therefore like to attempt that verification.  I would like to provide that review.  I would like to test this statement to see if it is actually the fact it is presented as being.

Here’s what I find as I do:

Religion is not the dumbest thing on the planet.  This is the hardest part of the statement to test, as “dumbest” here is clearly subjective.  I would suggest, though, that there are many things which are far dumber than religion.  Sports are rather dumb.  When I was in Cincinnati, a new football stadium was being proposed.  Many locals did not like the proposal (nor the related proposal that they be taxed for it).  Someone wrote a letter in the opinion page of the local paper asking why we were building an open-air stadium in inclement weather territory that would only be used eight times a year to host millionaires throwing balls to each other.  I think there is a lot of logic to the first couple items in that statement, but it is the one about millions throwing balls to each other which really gets me.  That really is what sports boils down to: millionaires (in the case of the NFL, at least) throwing balls to each other or hitting balls with sticks or performing other physical feats.  It isn’t a leap to say watching such a thing, much less being as obsessed with it as we are, is somewhat dumb.  Entertainment, our other great obsession, is pretty dumb as well.  In an old episode of The Simpsons, guest star Mark Hamill sings a song about Star Wars in which he refers to the cast as “all the other puppets”.  That is what many of the characters in Star Wars were.  It is what just about everything we see in movies and on TV are: puppets or models or CGI, that is, things which don’t really exist.  Once again, the obsession with such things seems pretty dumb to me.  So maybe I can’t prove this one, but I don’t think religion really is the absolute, number one, incontestable dumbest thing on the planet.  I don’t even think it makes the short list.

 

Religion is not evil.  This is easier to test.  It is also somewhat absurd.  It seems quite illogical to me to attempt to debunk religion (as the statement maker is trying to do) using a religious term such as evil (which is what the statement maker does).  There is no such things as evil if religion is truly false as the statement maker suggests.  There is no evil in a materialistic or naturalistic universe.  There is no good or righteous either.  There is only is.  That which exists just exists without any moral qualification.  It is not evil for a bull walrus to have a harem of female walruses which he controls.  It is not good, either.  It just is.  The same is true of every reality (murder, kidnapping, slavery, assault, etc.).  If there is no religion (that is, if there is no absolute right or wrong/good or evil which transcends the natural order, as religion suggests there is), then there is no such thing as evil.

But for the sake of argument, let’s ignore the logical inconsistency and consider the claim.  The statement maker says religion is evil.  I say it’s not.  Yes, there are those who say that religion causes violence or oppression or what have you (entire books can be and have been written on this subject, many of which debunk it), but I believe I have far more experience with religious people than those who are saying these things.  Being a life-long Christian and minister, I personally know at least a thousand faithful people and have been in close relationship with dozens or more.  Not one of them was violent.  Some of them were grumpy or disagreeable (which was due more to their flesh than their faith), but not a one of them was guilty of any act which could be called evil (again, murder, etc).  Not one of them was led to commit such an act by their faith.  Not one of them would even consider committing such an act because of or in the name of their faith.  What I have seen are hundreds of believers giving to the less fortunate because of their faith.  Let me offer you just one example: at this writing, my congregation is preparing to give Christmas meals and gifts to needy families in our community.  What I have seen are hundreds of believers working for social justice because of their faith.  Let me again offer you just one example: a missionary came to our church two years ago and showed us a video of a roomful of young Filipino girls saying, “Thank you, Jesus!”; these girls had been rescued from sex slavery by Christian missionaries.  What I have seen are hundreds of believers improved by their faith.  Let me yet again offer you one example: myself.  I sacrifice for and serve my wife and daughter daily, and I don’t do it because I’m a nice guy.  I do it because Jesus has taught me to do it and (I believe) empowers me to do it.  I don’t just do those things or the countless other good things I do every day because I’m good; I do them because of Jesus.  I do them specifically in the name of Jesus.

At the very least, an outside observer has to admit that religion is not all bad.  I think such an observer, if honest, has to admit it is not even close to bad, nowhere near evil.

Religion does not live on only because of the continual brainwashing of newborns.  This part of the statement is the easiest to debunk.  The statement maker suggests the only reason anyone has faith is because they are taught to have faith at a young age (presumably an age too young to “know better” or be able to intellectually evaluate truth claims).  This is patently false.  The indisputable fact is that many people have come to faith in their adulthood as a result of examining the evidence for faith.  C.S. Lewis is one obvious individual.  Lee Strobel is another.  J. Warner Wallace is a third.  Those are names I can pull off my head mere seconds after processing this statement.  If I  put more effort into it, I can come up with thousands more.  I myself fit into this category to some degree.  Though I was raised in a Christian home, I made my own choice to have faith.  I did so through a conversion moment at the edge of twelve.  I made my own choice to be serious about the faith through a similar re-conversion moment at the age of fourteen.  I constantly reevaluate the truth claims of my faith today.  I constantly reevaluate them and constantly find that they (or at the very least something very similar to them) must be true.  What the statement maker says, then, is just plain incorrect.  It is not true that faith lives on only through brainwashing.  It is not true that faith lives on only in the young or unintelligent.  It is instead true that many older, intelligent, fully-capable people have come to and held on to faith via their own thoughtful investigations.

Religion is not “rediculous”.  I don’t know if “rediculous” is a typo or a stylistic choice.  It doesn’t matter either way (and if it is a typo, that’s no big deal; typos do not nullify ideas and should not be picked at).  I know what the statement maker is saying.  He is saying the truth claims of religion illogical and unreasonable, so much so that they can be rejected after a second’s evaluation.  It is an accusation many non-believers make towards faith (one well-known actor, for example, once called the Christian account of creation “bananas” on the record).  I again find this to be false.  There is nothing obviously ridiculous about religion, nothing so obviously ridiculous as to make it unbelievable.   If fact, to me the opposite seems more the case.  Those who hold to a materialistic worldview regularly describe that worldview as “reasonable” or “based on reason”, but I fail to see the reason they are talking about.  In fact, what they are talking about seems to violate reason.  I live on a city park.  That park has buildings, playgrounds, trees, greens, ball fields, and various other items both organic and inorganic.  I look at these items and immediate understand that they all came from somewhere, that someone put them where they are.  Some person or persons whom I don’t know and never met and who may have died before I was born laid out the park and built those buildings and planted those trees.  Not only so, but the trees themselves came from the seeds of other trees, and the grass from the seed of other grass.  Nothing there is without a progenitor if not an actual creator.  Nothing I see when I look out my front window brought itself into being; everything I see was brought into being by something I don’t now see.  Absolutely everything.  There is not one thing I see that does not have a creator.  I know that instantly, automatically, subconsciously.  Why is it “reasonable”, then, to assume that the universe itself, of which my park is just a minuscule part, was not likewise created or brought into being by something/someone I’m not now seeing?  Why is it “reasonable” to think that the only thing which violates this obvious principle of creation-by-creator is the biggest thing in existence, the universe itself?  Why do materialistic-minded people think that such a theory, which violates everything I see and experience, is not only reasonable but obviously so?  I can’t answer that question.  It does not seem reasonable to me.  It does not seem obviously reasonable.  It seems like something a person has to work very hard at believing.  By that same token, I don’t find religion to be ridiculous or rediculous or anything of the sort.  I think it makes perfect sense.  I think it fits perfectly with everything I know about life.

There were several Facebookers who agreed with the maker of this statement.  The only allowable responses were “agree” and “disagree”, and the brief glance I gave the post showed three or more “agrees”.  But I vehemently disagree.  I have to vehemently disagree.  I have to vehemently disagree not because I’m some bitter, brainwashed religionist but because no element of this statement is factual; no element of this statements matches the facts as the statement maker claims they do.  The third one clearly doesn’t; that’s so easily disprovable that it becomes dismissable.  The first, second, and fourth don’t, either.  They might not be as easily disprovable, but there is certainly evidence against them.

People are allowed to say what they want, and always should be.  But if someone says something testable, others should be allowed to test it.  I’ve tested this statement, and I find it to be false across the board.