Sometimes the POINT must be made.

Monday, September 2, 2013

"Which Ones, and How So?"

It was just a simple comment I made about a Facebook meme.  A friend had posted this saying from a Mr. Anonymous: "You don't need religion to have morals.  If you can't determine right from wrong, then you lack empathy, not religion."  And I made the following POINT:

"Religion might be described as man's attempt to explain the fact that we all know the difference between right and wrong and that we agree on the essentials. Some religions do this explaining better than others."

That's when my good friend gave me the headline for this article. I appreciate the sincerity and open mindedness in the question, and I hope to answer here in the same spirit.

The meme is correct.  We don't get our morals from our religions.  We get our religions from our morals.  I believe (When I use the word "believe" am I necessarily speaking from a religion?  If so, then almost every opinion based discussion is religious.) that our religions are formulated by our observations of the moral truths we find inside of us.  We either adopt the conclusions of others when we simply go to our parent's church automatically, when we follow our college friends without thinking, or when we drift into accepting untried ideas because they support, or allow for, the prosperity of our selfish interests; or perhaps we think and study and read and compare, and then settle with a set of doctrines that make the most rational sense.  But in every case, we are each making value judgments on every event we see.

This work might take a person to some seemingly brand new notions that formulate a brand new religion (like the "pastafarian" guy who was allowed to have his driver's license photo taken with a colander on his head).  Sometimes this process leads us to the same place many others have reached, and there we find ourselves, back in the same old pew, but now deliberately.

We are all essentially theologians.  We study God.  Every experience we go through leads us to one spiritual conclusion or another, and we are putting together a picture of God in the background of our thinking.  Those abused by their drunken dads generally learn to resent a Father God.  He is thought to be untrustworthy and hurtful.  Someone with overly strict disciplinarian parents might end up resisting God's apparently onerous commandments with a rebellious fervor. The loving kind-hearted home produces children who are generally the same, and come to see God as a benevolent care giver.  But here is THE POINT:  Note that in each of these cases, the thinking child is evaluating his home by an inborn standard of right and wrong.  They know when they are being wronged by lies, by abuse, by unfair treatment, or even by being spoiled rotten. 

Most often, I think, people are impressed into the religion of their culture either by a strong peer pressure or simply by a dearth of real options (and lack of imagination).  Which explains why there are really only a few major religions on the whole planet.  Once something gets started, and establishes a hold on a community, it becomes hard to resist. 

But it's time I try to answer the question:  Which religions explain our common understanding of what is right and what is wrong, the best?  And how?

Some don't even try.  All religions recognize and admit that mankind needs help, but, in my opinion, the Biblical tale of the fall of man offers the best explanation for what we find today.  To summarize:  God created an original couple and offered them a brand new world to fill and to rule.  He gave them a free will to choose how they would live for themselves, but also told them about where the parameters of safety stood.  They chose to act out of self-interest, and disparaged trusting God's word.  Their physical characteristics have been passed on to every human being since, and so has their tendency to disobey.   Death itself was one of the continuing results, and falls on all of us even today.

Since we were made by God, "in His image" we know right from wrong.  Since we follow in Adam's footprints, we practice more wrong than right.  When we individuals recognize and repent from our sinfulness (and allow the punishment that Christ bore, to cover our own sins), God welcomes us back into His fellowship.

What is a religion except a systematized description of how we might hope for salvation from the doom we expect for our weak and corrupt habits?  Whereas most of the major religions require incredible works to reconcile our faults, only one, Christianity, has made deliverance absolutely free and without any strings attached.  

Hinduism suggests we be delivered from our suffering by attaining a mental state of removing the desire for peace with a God.  That instead, we should seek a self repudiation and simply meld into god like a river joins the sea.

Buddhism suggests we can find enlightenment with a similar approach.  But goes even farther; we should see even the desire for salvation as an illusion, and even come to realize that salvation is ultimately "the annihilation of the illusion of an existing self."

Taoism wants us to exercise a mantra (mind numbing, time wasting, life sucking hum of the magic three syllable word) in order to return us to "the primordial state of non-being."  No thanks.

There may be some attraction to these esoteric notions, but it seems to me that they are simply too impractical and unreal to live with and still enjoy a true life.  My day-to-day observations are more real and sensible than these non-sensible claims can handle.  A Christian not only receives a solid promise of eternal life with a personal loving God, but begins to enjoy His company here and now, and in the thick and thin of real life.

Judaism is of course, the root of Christianity.  Jesus was born Jewish and lived among the Jews.  He was in fact sent to the Jewish people as their long-promised Messiah, but "His own did not recognize Him," and for the very reasons discussed earlier; Jesus did not appeal to the selfish interests of Israel's religious leaders.  Since the acceptance of Jesus' salvation is dependent upon each individual, Judaism was bound to continue in its waiting for the Messiah status, even while so many early Jews found the Messiah in Jesus Christ and, as humans do, formed new associations and developed a new name for themselves.  They began to be called "Christ ones" or "Christians."

Islam makes little sense to me because it was simply made up 5 or 6 centuries after Christ and is comprised of a hodgepodge of  unfounded claims about Abraham, angels, Adam, Jesus, and of course, Mohammed.  It claims that all other religions are false and adherents must be converted or die.  That salvation depends on the works of the 5 Pillars of Islam, which are truly arbitrary and picayune.  Islam teaches that our welcome into heaven (a whole different place in Islam, than one might expect) depends first of all on the 5 Pillars being accomplished correctly, and then, if that test is passed, upon the final tally of our good works exceeding bad, according to the count of the two recording angels we are each assigned.

The dependence on works seems to be carried over into most of our thinking.  It seems natural to believe that we can earn our way into heaven, and so this appeal is found in many (even christian) religious belief systems.  But it does not pass the critical thinking test.  If we find by all observation that we fail to keep even the most basic (10) commandments, how can we overcome such a deficit by helping old ladies across the street?  It is mere wishful thinking that creates such a religion.  We claim to have some hope in the strength of our goodness, but must soon admit that we can not deserve eternal peace with a just God, all on our own power.

God's promise that He and He alone will save us from our sin first becomes clear in Genesis chapter 15.  There He first makes a "deal" with Abram, later to be called Abraham.  God has Abram set up a traditional contract type arrangement with split animals, but God "signs the papers" all by Himself.  He in effect says, "I will provide salvation for you, and you will accept salvation from me."  There is no quid pro quo in God's plan.  No expectations, no demands, no requirements at all, unless you say that opening one's hand to receive a gift is a requirement.

But you are your own theologian:
What does your common sense tell you?  Are humans corrupt?  Do we need a help we can not give ourselves?  Or can we somehow overcome the whelming tendency to hurt each other, and become perfect?  Which religion makes the most sense to you?  Can you imagine a way that such disparate ideas represented by the world's various religions might actually coincide with each other and somehow all lead to the same place?  

Monday, December 3, 2012

Not To Worry. The Packers Won!

I have two cats.  Their food is all gone.  Has been since yesterday.  The Packer game is on. 

Do these sentences relate?  Why or why not?

Jackson is waiting
I always did prefer multiple choice or True/False questions over these "explain your reasons" type questions, didn't you?  What do you mean, "No, because I'm a girl and girls are more verbal blah blah blah"?

Anyway.  Yes.  The sentences relate because...if you have the authority, you have the responsibility.  Even IF the Packer's are playing the Vikings in an important game right now, I must take care of my cats.  Yes, really.   I have authority over my cats (not that they understand that), meaning that if I decide to get rid of them (don't tempt me) I could.  And if I decide to give them tuna everyday (and yes, I did just that before I sat down to make A POINT about this situation), I could.  Or if I decide they will live in the basement (perish the thought), then they must.  But I also have a responsibility to them.

My authority has limits, however, because I am under the authority of God.  He does not grant me ultimate and absolute authority.  If I were delinquent enough to torment my cats (perish that thought too!) I may be free to act that out, but my conscience would rightly declare me corrupt and I would eventually be judged guilty. But THE POINT is that every authority you have comes with an equivalent measure of responsibility.  

Orion expecting more tuna
Do you have a sidewalk?  Shovel it.

Do you have a car?   Always drive seriously (no texting, no drinking, no listening to depressing Bear's games).

Do you have kids?  Your life is not your own (worse than cats!) anymore.  You know that.  Act on it.

Do you have a spouse?  His or her needs come first.

Do you have a body?  Take better care of it.

Do you have a soul?  (Yes, this is a rhetorical question.)  Your soul consists of your mind, emotions and will.

    Do you have a mind (Then why do you have cats?)?  Work it with real problems instead of drivelly TV  shows and pointless games (No, playing chess is not pointless).

    Do you have emotions?  Use them to express your feelings, rather than to badger others.

    Do you have a will?  Use it regularly, otherwise your lazy body will take over!

Do you have a spirit?  Yes, you do.  That's the part of you that relates to the Spirit of God.  The part that chooses whether or not you will obey the voice that is telling you to go shovel the sidewalk, and drive with two hands on the wheel, and stay up all night with the sick baby, and exercise patience with your spouse, and get up and exercise, and read something beneficial, and limit the crying or the yelling, and to put the Packer game on pause while you go get the cat food you've been forgetting to pick up every time you were in the store this week.

Rather than dismiss Him, connect with God; your spirit to His Spirit. And yes, THAT'S THE POINT

"Miller will be at the store for a few minutes, but you can leave a comment now."

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Out of the Miry Clay

I would much rather start a building project with a truckload of fresh lumber and an unopened box of nails at hand, but sometimes you get stuck putting together an old chicken coop. The thing was taken apart by force of crowbar and sawzall over a year ago, and all of its various parts were shipped and left scattered in the yard for the new owner's chickens to explore.  This week the time finally came to pull the parts out of the mud and puzzle the pieces back together into a coherent egg-producing shelter.

The guys and I started with the floor framework, which had been cut in half for transport, and then we lugged the heavy double sheeted and thus doubly sodden wall sections across the yard.  Warped and twisted, crowned and bent they were, but soon stood cobbled and coerced, wrestled and wrangled into working shape like an wild mustang forced late in life to pull a wagon of chicken...debris.  Next we put the old roof framework together again, and sheeted it with steel, while barely risking even one man's weight on its tremulous timbers.

Vinyl siding has its place in this plastic world of ours, but like an estranged cousin, vinyl siding once removed and left in the wet grass for a year does not even deserve to come home to the old chicken coop.  We bought new steel siding.  Not just to make the old dirty storm door feel conspicuous; but to give the rooster something to crow about.  The old shack looks nice.  If I were ever to come back as a laying hen, I would be proud to be seen pecking around the likes of this new chicken coop!

So are you still here waiting for THE POINT to emerge?  How about this?

I think that our creator would have preferred that his two new perfect creatures, Adam and Eve, had chosen to obey Him and stay away from the forbidden fruit.  When they rebelled against God's simple instructions, and became fully aware of the option of evil, their entire lives were reduced to mere survival mode.  Kicked out of the Garden, left to fellowship with only each other, Adam and Eve were forced to endure a newly cursed thistle-strewn ground and pain wracked child birthing.  Their God-given mansionesque bodies were relegated to something more like, oh I don't know...two dilapidated chicken coops maybe.

(I'll be the colorful one with someplace to go!)

And yet, even before the curses were pronounced, even prior to the broken parts of their lives being scattered outside the garden gates, their gracious Creator promised that a Savior would come offering to reassemble, refurbish and fully restore their lives.  Jesus, the promised Savior, said: The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life,and have it to the full.  (John 10:10)  He has come, and He has suffered the full deadly punishment that our sinfulness deserves. When we find ourselves guilty and ashamed after walking in our own ways (here comes THE POINT!), we can find hope in the Master Builder's saving work 

When God "got stuck" with having to put together our deliberately broken lives, He did not shirk the task, but gave it His all.   For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.  (John 3:16)

Contact me to hear more.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

What Happened to Larry?

When long time friends grow up and disperse into their own worlds, nobody knows where they will end up.   Having had so much in common around their school or neighborhood or through whatever activity brought them together, each member of a close group eventually moves on and makes his own path.  That is when the splintering begins.  Case in point:

A "people watcher" like me judges a good restaurant by the proximity of tables, rather than by the food served.  What is overheard can be much more satisfying than what is overeaten!  Recently, I witnessed a group of old friends getting reacquainted over pizza, and after good laughter and stories about what they pulled over on their poor old Dads, I heard this paraphrased exchange:

"So what happened to Larry?  You really mean that none of you guys have seen him?"

      "Oh, nobody sees him anymore.  He has a girlfriend."

"Oh, yeah.  That'll do it."

      "And he has religion now."

"What!?  Oh no!"

Apparently Larry, who had been one of the prime members of this group, went off the deep end.  At one time everyone loved, respected and admired Larry. But something terrible happened to Larry!  He "got religion".  He didn't just join Al Qaeda, or become a serial killer, or cut down a tree, or eat something that once had a face; he "got religion"!

I wish I could have made the following POINT to this group of friends.

If you can't pick up a rock, what do you say?  Do you say "That rock is SO heavy, that even I could not pick it up!"?  Or do you say "I am SO weak that I could not pick up THAT rock!"?

Well instead of saying "Religion is SO bad, that even LARRY, whom we all loved and respected and admired, has now been ruined by it and we must avoid him.", please consider saying "We all love and respect and admire Larry SO much that maybe he has now given even RELIGION some credibility!"

Here is THE POINT:
Use what you really know (Larry) to judge what you may not really know (Religion).