Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Moral Schizophrenics

I think Coldplay is an awesome group. Their new album X & Y is terrific. I was telling a “church” person about my musical tastes and they said, “I don’t listen to secular music … (supply your own self-righteous tone here) … I only listen to Christian music.”

A person’s worldview matters. It matters because it colors and frames everything we perceive about life. The classic church worldview is to classify everything into either sacred (church=good) or secular (world=not good) categories, judging every experience of life as valuable or harmful.

So, being a good church-person I will listen to Christian music. I will read Christian books. I will attend Christian seminars. I will acquire Christian art. I will have Christian friends. I will frequent Christian establishments. I will sport a Christian bumper sticker. I will vote for Christian candidates. I will wear Christian t-shirts. I will support Christian values. I will argue for Christian morality. In short, I will live in the ghetto of the Christian sub-culture and feel secure knowing that I’m on the sacred side of life.

So … U2’s off limits … but what about some Christmas music, like Jingle Bells, is that okay? And CSI is good television; can’t we include that? The Gap has some cool threads, no fish symbols emblazoned on them, but maybe we can wear some Gap stuff, too. I know that I can’t like Harry Potter, but are the Disney classics with witches and magic okay? Surely, there is some redeeming value in rooting for my team to crush their opponents? These don’t fit neatly into the sacred group, but can’t we squeeze them in somehow?

My mind is spinning! What about my business? Where does school fit? Or sports? Or parties? Or mountain climbing? Or the arts? Or orgasms? Hmmm … where does sex fit on the sacred/secular continuum?

Instead of allowing his followers to be moral schizophrenics, God gave us some very simple advice …

Since everything God created is good, we should not reject any of it. We may receive it gladly, with thankful hearts. (1 Timothy 4:4)

Could it be that easy? Emphatically, yes! Everything God created is good. We shouldn’t reject any of it. We should receive it gladly and thankfully. The sacred/secular mindset is a perversion of God’s generous gifts to humanity. In the desire to keep away from evil, people have quenched the possibility for pleasure through many of the forms that God intended.

I can hear someone’s moral worldview beginning to crack, and nervously they ask, “If the sacred/secular contention isn’t true, then how can I know what is good and what is evil?”

Consider this by C. S. Lewis …

There is but one good; that is God. Everything else is good when it looks to him and bad when it turns from him. (C. S. Lewis, The Great Divorce)

The issue is not the song, not the art, not the movie, not the clothes, not anything in the categories of sacred or secular. What matters is my motive. Why am I doing what I am doing? For what purpose and to what end?

Theologian Martin Buber said,

What matters is not what is being done, but the fact that every act is filled with sanctity—that is, with God-oriented intent. There is nothing that is evil in itself; every passion can become a virtue, every inclination a “vehicle of God.” It is not the matter of the act that is decisive, but its sanctification. Every act is hallowed if it is directed towards salvation. The soul of the doer alone determines the character of the deed. (Martin Buber, Mamre)

There is a sacred and secular, and here is how you find it: To the person who lives their lives with a God-conscious worldview everything is sacred or can be turned that way. To a person who lives their lives with a self-conscious worldview, everything is secular, because the world revolves around them instead of God.

27 comments:

Clint said...

So everything is permissible as long as it doesn't directly break a biblical command or a government law?

enderC said...

I think that by using the word "permissible" you are missing one of the main points of this post. Permissible according to whom? God? Buddha? The Pope? The man who writes this blog?

If something is morally reprehensible to you, don't do it. Just don't expect others to feel exactly the same. A person's conscience seems to be very much like a snowflake; no two are alike. But they are also all beautiful in their own way.

Always look for the beauty in the snowflakes around you, and surround yourself with people who do the same.

Clint said...

So if I'm understanding you correctly, you're proposing a relative morality based on individual conscience?

That seems awfully chaotic and scary.

musing said...

First, a disclaimer: This blog is about being a believer in Jesus in the 21st century. Therefore, the question of what is permissible is an important one. I'm not advocating moral relativism ... because as one seeking to follow Christ I am bound to try to discover what he wants me to do.

So, to answer clint, there are clear commands given in the Christian Scriptures that are very plain. We should try to live by them. BUT, the Bible doesn't speak to an enormous amount of things that we deal with everyday. In those instances, we are free to act according to the best that is in us. That may be subjective, but I believe the Bible is intentionally silent on many matters so that we will wrestle within ourselves to come up with our (not necessarily everyone else's) best answer instead of mindlessly following either our base impulses or our fixed "traditions."

Add to this the importance of surrounding yourself with people who are searching for the beauty in everything, and I think you have a pretty good Christian ethic.

enderC said...

clint: I certainly am not proposing relative morality either, at least I don't feel like I am. I agree with musing that there are very basic "commands" that we must live by, not only for ourself but for the good of our civilization. To me, those commands are pretty much as follows:

1. Be cool to yourself. At one extreme, this means don't commit suicide. At the other end of the spectrum, this means try to stay away from things that will kill you or are scientifically proven to hurt you in the long run (abusing drugs, for example).

2. Be cool to other people. Don't kill, rape, steal, etc. But also try not to judge or be hateful.

That's really all I can think of right now. But I do think I disagree with the word "commands." How, for instance, do you fit the above 2 ideas into legal jargon that is clear to everybody? And therein lies the problem of different Christian sects' translation of the Bible, extremist Muslim's interpretation of the Koran, Joseph Smith's transcription of his "vision," etc.

musing: I apologize for jumping into the fray without adding a few disclaimers of my own.

* Begin Disclaimer *
First, I have enjoyed reading your first few posts, and I respect that this blog is primarily a Christian one. I was raised a "sort-of Christian" by a religion that I now see as a dangerous cult. So I have spent the last few years tearing down every single religious "law" and "mandate" until I get to what I see as the raw basics. So if my posts and questions seem blasphemous or un-Christian, please know that it is not intentional. Also, if this is not the best forum to discuss these things, just let me know.
*End Disclaimer*

My main question: At the base of morality, are there any other "commands" to add to my list above? If everybody lived by those two simple things perfectly, would not the world be perfect? And if so, do you not agree that many other religions (Muslim, Mormon, hell even Scientology) preach these basic principles? Now they may be covered in stacks and stacks of legalistic jargon, but at their base they pretty much teach these things.

So, my totally blasphemous question of the day is this: Why be Christian? Why be Mormon? Why label your spirituality in any way?

Next question: Consider these 4 scenarios. Questions follow.

1. John was born on a desert island. His parents raised him a Muslim. He followed the Muslim teachings and was good to himself and fellow man. He never had any contact with civilization and never even knew there were other religions. He lives a full life and dies of old age.

2. Same scenario as 1, except John is rescued in his mid-thirties and brought back to civilization. He is actively pursued by all of the different religions, but chooses to continue practicing as a Muslim according to his beliefs. He lives a full life and dies of old age.

3. Same scenario as 2, except once John gets back into civilization, he converts to some form of Christianity. He accepts Jesus and is "saved." He lives a full life and dies of old age.

4. Same scenario as 3, except he is hit by a bus the day before he would have accepted Jesus into his life and been "saved."

So the question is which Johns go to Christianic heaven and which Johns go to Christianic hell? And what if the Muslims ARE right? Now which Johns get 42 virgins and which Johns get sent to the 8th level of torment?

If the answer is "well, we don't know the answer except that [insert deity here] will be able to look into your heart and judge you" then why don't we just go ahead and live by the basic common-sense standards that we know most religions espouse and be done with it? Cover all the bases, if you will.

musing said...

Great thoughts, enderc. I can't answer them immediately, but I did want to say, no apologies necessary, and WELCOME. Your thoughts on these matters are appreciated and valued. I will give some thought to what you have posted and get back as soon as I can. I hope others will interact with what you've written as well.

Clint said...

Jesus said something very similar in Mark 12:28-31.

enderc, where do you propose the guidelines for human morality come from? A supernatural source or somewhere more humanistic?

enderC said...

clint: To me, there seems to be a case for both. On the one hand, it seems hard to believe that a supernatural source was not involved in our creation, including our moral compass.

But on the other hand, couldn't it be eons of "the good guys always win?" Survival of the fittest; the people with the best morals survive and procreate and raise their children with the same moral standards. People say the world is getting worse, but honestly, would you have wanted to live in biblical Babylon? Rome? Sixteenth-century Europe? The Wild West? World War II? We still have wars and terrible crimes being committed every day, but it seems like overall we are all slowly moving toward a better era. The world is getting smaller through technology, which means news travels faster, which means more accountability all around. So there seems to be a case for human morality actually evolving with human civilization, where the majority (mostly "good") people dictate what is "good."

Personally, I believe it is a mixture of the two. We were created by a supernatural source with the basics of morality, and then left to figure out all the details. Which seems to bring us full circle back to musing's original post. :)

musing said...

I'll try to take a stab at the first question that enderc poses: namely, are there any commands other than be cool to yourself and to other people. Yes, one more, to use your term, be cool to God. I do not think we can deny the spiritual essence of our being. You could argue that our spirituality should go under "be cool to yourself", and I suppose that would work. However, I think God deserves his own "be cool" statement! :-) We cannot be true to our ourselves or others if we deny what is essential to our humanity, our quest ... search ... longing ... for that which is above and beyond us, and yet within our grasp. The search for the divine in all of us (to quote Raiders of the Ark, the Last Crusade). I believe that is why Jesus made the statement that the greatest commands were: 1)love God, 2) love other people, 3) love yourself (as Clint so rightly pointed out earlier). I would take these statements as the very basis of human morality, and as a believer, use them as a basis for developing my own Christian worldview.

musing said...

If people could live by the two commands you suggest, it seems like that would be utopia indeed. But, since that has never been even a remote possibility in human history, it remains a very hypothetical statement, indeed. Not that it isn't a worthy goal, though.

In fact, your longing for the world to be this way is the reason that Jesus Christ came to the earth, because he created a deep seated desire in us to fulfill your "cool" statements but we were miserable failures. That's why I would add our spirituality to your list. The point of Jesus' life, death, and resurrection was to give people the power to live their lives in the exact manner you suggest. He is the fulfillment of the be cool ethic.

While many other religions preach these basic principles, none offers the hope of the resurrection, the hope that says God is in us ... helping us, so that when we fail ... and fail we will ... he offers us the hope that he will make it right ... with him, with others, and with ourselves.

musing said...

Why label your spirituality? The early Christians didn't label themselves, they were labeled because the life they lived mimiked the life of Jesus.

I think it is helpful to talk about your spirituality in terms of your presuppositions. Everyone has them, some acknowledge them and some don't. I personally don't like the term "Christian," not because it is a bad term per se, but because of all the baggage that it has accumulated over the years makes it an almost meaningless term. I much prefer to be known as a seeker after Jesus, because that is a much better description of my spirituality.

My presupposition is that the story of Jesus is true. I have found the Bible to be trustworthy at those times when I've tested it. When the bottom fell out of my life my faith sustained me. When I take the message of Jesus and I examine the possibilities of the world that belief in him could create, I'm convinced that it is THE message to save humanity from the horrors of our baser nature. You should know this about me because it informs, shapes, and colors every thought, action, and attitude that I possess.

So, while I don't like labels, knowing what a persons presuppositions are is helpful for dialogue. Meaningful conversations are difficult if I am unaware that I'm talking to someone with Muslim presuppositions, or Buddist, or someone with unspecified spiritual sepculations. I shouldn't let those presuppositions lead me to mindless judgments or irrational prejudices which is so often the case. I should use them to understand the other person and be sensitive to their worldview as we reason and dialogue.

Instead of thinking in terms of "labeling" which leads to categorizing and separating that maximizes our differences, we should think in terms of personal presuppositions leading us to open conversations, free expression, and hopefully a more fully developed--and informed--humanity.

musing said...

Regarding "commands" ... I agree, you can't codify these concepts into legalese. The word, like many other words, has come to have a negative connotation. That may be one of the interesting things about blogging, we should always try to get to the precise meaning of words.

I write commands to mean an authoritative instruction. That is, a certain direction for doing something that comes from one who has the right to give such direction. In my life, God has more than proven that he is capable of giving me the proper direction. Relying solely on my own cognizance and experience is often limited, leading to mistakes that could be bypassed if I would have taken counsel offered from a more seasoned source. For me, God, through the Christian Scriptures, is that source.

musing said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
musing said...

4 scenarios … my presuppositions begin with the Christian scripture, and Jesus’ statement that he is the only way to God (John 14:6).

1. God has revealed himself in the natural world (Romans 1:20) and he has enlightened our conscience (Romans 2:15) so that we can know him. Whatever his religious expression, if he lived his life seeking to know that God (Hebrews 11:6) who can be known and wants to be known and sought to live his life according to the dictates of his conscience that had been enlightened by God, then it seems that God would most certainly grant him a place in his heaven. Not because of any righteousness that he had attained, but because of his faith (Galatians 3:6).

2. In scenario 2, will John go to heaven? If so, it will be by God’s grace. The Apostle Paul preached in Athens to people who were worshipping a God they didn’t know (Acts 17:22-33). I think that Godly people of different faith views are worshipping a God they don’t know, and God seeks to reveal himself to them. If they follow the same faith path as scenario 1, then I would come to the same conclusion.

3. In scenario 3, it wouldn’t matter what he converted to, the question would still be is his life moving in the direction described in my answer to scenario 1. But if he becomes a believer, then he understands the object of his faith (Jesus) instead of only understanding his faith through the natural world and conscience. If he has truly come to believe that Christ is the fullest expression of God in this world, then he has progressed in his faith. He can more fully understand the love of God in Christ Jesus, he can know how relieving it is to be free from a guilty conscience, and he can enjoy the freedom of living a life of grace. He can come to know God personally (John 4:4-26), instead of only knowing God by hearsay.

4. Scenario 4 presents a problem. To imply that he would have accepted Jesus and been “saved” is to say that being saved is a one moment experience. Faith isn’t that static, concrete, or fixed. It is much more fluid than that. Human experience and the practice of faith through the centuries indicate that we grow in our faith and understanding. While the revivalists of the past century made faith a “moment of decision” the Bible indicates that it is more of a process (Read John 11:1-44 and notice especially v. 15. Jesus says that Lazarus’ death was another opportunity for belief). How much faith does it take to become a believer? Not much. When does insipient faith become believing faith? I don’t know. What I do know is that when a person begins the journey of faith, that faith is counted as righteousness.

I believe that Christians (and others) do a huge disservice when they try to determine “who’s in” and “who’s out.” I’ll leave that to God. Ultimately, anyone who gets in will get in on the basis of Christ’s life, death, and resurrection. He is the epicenter of God’s redeeming grace and unconditional love. Whether one is aware of it or not, hope … and heaven … ultimately reside in him (Acts 4:12).

enderC said...

musing: Next question, will I go to hell for stealing my employer's time so I can read your comments? :)

Seriously, excellent posts. I will need some time to digest.

Clint said...

Does John 14:6 put a wrinkle in the first two 'John' scenarios?

"Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me." KJV

musing said...

How does John 14:6 play into these scenarios? In the passage, Jesus is telling his disciples that he is going to the Father and he is preparing a place for them to be with the Father as well. They want to know how to get there. He tells them that he is the way to the Father … in fact, since they’ve seen him, they have seen the Father. The whole passage is Jesus assuring them that they will get to the Father because he has made the way possible.

With that kind of understanding, does it make sense to interpret the passage as “I am the only way, you can’t get there, unless you go through me.”? Or does it make more sense to interpret the passage, “I have cleared the way to get to the Father … the pathway to Him passes through me.”?

My Short Theory of Atonement (with the emphasis on my): God’s sacrifice of himself in Christ Jesus on our behalf is the basis for his unlimited grace. Therefore, any hope of eternity passes through him.

So, John 14:6 applies to Scenario 1 this way … if John sincerely sought to know God based on the “light” that was within him and expressed in the world around him, that search would be the basis on which God would apply the sufficient sacrifice of Jesus Christ to him and declare him righteous (So, you see, it is impossible to please God without faith. Anyone who wants to come to him must believe that there is a God and that he rewards those who sincerely seek him. Hebrews 11:6).

In Scenario 2, I am assuming that John rejects the religions, but continues his sincere search for the God who wants to be and can be known. With that assumption I would give the same answer as Scenario 1. However, if we assume that in Scenario 2 God has more fully revealed himself in Jesus Christ and John rejected him and not just religions, that would change things, because if John were sincerely seeking to know this true God, he would recognize him in Jesus. How can one be sincerely seeking to know God and then reject the one who is God? If John rejects God revealed in Jesus Christ, who is the way to, and the very expression of, the one true God, then from a human viewpoint, John has a problem. Is he in or out? I’ll leave that up to God.

enderC said...

musing: You write "My presupposition is that the story of Jesus is true." Does logic then dictate that your presupposition is also that the story of Joeseph Smith is not true? That the story of Buddha is not true? That the story of Mohammed is not true? Are you saying that the presuppositions of Scientology are wrong when they say an alien named Xenu of the Galactic Confederation h-bombed Earth's volcanoes 75 million years ago? (Ok, I might give you this one)

Again, I'm certainly not questioning your faith in Jesus; in fact I'm jealous! I wish I had the same conviction. I also respect that you are so open to a logical discussion of your faith. That is very rare.

My main hang-up is this: My love for fellow man means that I don't feel comfortable telling a Muslim or Buddhist that their presuppositions are wrong, when they so clearly truly believe in them. I don't feel comfortable telling you that you are wrong to believe in Jesus when you so clearly do, and have built your whole life around it. It's not only that I don't feel comfortable telling people that they are wrong, it's that I truly feel like each one of them is "right." Their faith and convictions have shaped the person they have become, and they are (usually) better off for it.

I feel like I'm at "Leap of Faith" cliff in my spiritual journey. There are about a hundred different men all lined up along the cliff, one named Jesus, one named Buddha, one name Xenu (well, he's an alien), etc. As I walk by each one of them, they say "Hey, jump off right here. I promise I'll be at the bottom to catch you, unlike any of these other jokers." As I stand and ponder, I see many people jump from different points, some clutching their Bible, Koran, Battlefield Earth posters, but because the cliff is so high I can't see any of the results. I randomly interview a few people before they jump, and each one tells me the same thing. "[Deity] revealed him/herself to me by [experience]." To me, some experiences seem like exagerrations, some seem like coincidence, some seem genuinely freaky. But they each absolutely believe them, and that's all the proof that they need to know that DeityX is the right choice for them. I have no reason to doubt their conclusions.

Then I spot a bridge labeled "Logic." Aha! Seems like a no-brainer. But when I look across it, I see the other side is just a barren wasteland. It's pretty boring over there, even though I can see evidence that I'll be safe.

And I think that's what it all comes down to. I know that by crossing the logic bridge, I won't have had to make a 1 in 100 choice. I also know that I might even sneak into "heaven" or the afterlife or whatever is really out there by just living a moral life (as defined by my "be cool" statements). However, it sure is boring over there, because I do have an inner-spirituality that is starving. I need to know that there is more than just a barren wasteland out there.

Ironically, the very brain that one of these jokers gave me is the same brain that seems to be precluding me from making a decision. But somehow I doubt the "well you are the one that gave me this infernal contraption" argument will work on judgement day.

Wow, what a ramble. Therapeudic, if nothing else. :)

Clint said...

I like you, enderc. Very well written comment. I especially enjoyed the "Battlefield Earth" reference.

I applaud your skepticism and desire for a logical spirituality. I think the two can coexist, though they may tussle from time to time. Your current spiritual state is genuine and reasoned, something that many churchpew fillers lack.

I recommend doing serious study. I think the decision is weighty enough to be worth it. I believe you'll find that there is real truth to be found in a lot of the world's oldest faiths. I believe that the truth comes to ultimate fruition in the Bible through Jesus of Nazareth. I continually test my faith and believe it can stand up to the test more than Xenu's spawn.

Perhaps this blog can be the start of your discovery process. I'd certainly enjoy riding passenger-- I have a lot to learn myself.

musing said...

Thoughtful ramblings, enderc. It is impossible to think without presuppositions, which are, by nature, the opinions we posit which we have come to believe as the truth but which cannot be objectively verified (except in the case of Xenu). Because of that, I would also feel uncomfortable telling anyone that their presuppositions are wrong. However, given the opportunity, I would gladly enter into a conversation and try to explain why I believe my belief system is the fulfillment of what they are searching for.

For instance, I would address your skeptical presuppositions by looking at your analogy of the “Leap of Faith.” I am not an expert in every World Religion, but from what I do know there is a difference between Jesus and everyone else on the cliff. As I understand it, every other World Religion requires something of its adherents in order to be “worthy” of reaching heaven, nirvana, karma, etc.

So, maybe a better analogy for these world religions would be to start at the bottom of a cliff that is so high you can’t possibly see the top, and each person trying to get to the top. Each one of the leaders of the World Religions would be there to educate, elucidate, threaten, and inspire their adherents. However, no matter how they try, they simply can’t reach the top on their own.

Jesus on the other hand, climbs to the top himself, then throws a rope down, asks us to hold on, and he pulls us up.

The more I know of myself, and my inability to keep even the simplest moral code, reinforces my presupposition that any belief system where I am the major player in the cosmic contest of good vs. evil, can’t be a good one! The only way that good will ultimately triumph in our world, and in my life, is if I have lots of help in the process. You see, I want “to be cool” to myself and to others, but I often lack the will to carry it out. I want to do good, but more times than I’d like to admit, I do evil instead. I don’t need another moral roadmap … set of instructions … ethical teachings … I can’t live up to what I know as it is! I can’t reason my way toward “coolness.” What I need is help to overcome that part of me that is so inclined to do the very opposite of what I know I want to do. Jesus Christ offers me that inner strength. And the more I know of him, the more I am encouraged to live beyond my baser instincts and live for others … joining him in seeking to make this place a whole lot “cooler.”

Clint said...

The benefit of enderc's top-of-cliff analogy is that it demonstrates the deadly ramifications if you're wrong.

enderC said...

clint: Thank you for the kind comments. I welcome you as my "passenger!"

musing: I really liked your reply, especially the part about your "inability to keep even the simplest moral code." That was something that I was overlooking, and possibly even being presumptous about. I also realize that I certainly can't even live up to my "be cool" statements. Therefore it does seem impossible to "be cool" on your own; we definitely need not only help from a higher power, but also understanding and forgiveness from that higher power for the times that we aren't "cool."

However, I don't like the inference in your statement "every other World Religion requires something of its adherents in order to be “worthy”." Does not Jesus require that we accept him into our lives, exclusive of any of these other religions or "gods?" Now, that sure does seem a lot easier than say, blowing up a skyscraper, but I submit that Jesus does still require something of his adherents. His requirements just seem a lot more "easier" than other deities.

However, is that the primary argument that you are making? Are you saying I should shop around and try to find the best spiritual "deal"? Since pretty much all religions espouse the "be cool" statements, just find the one that seems easiest?

To illustrate my problem with that implication, let's say you walk into an auto-parts store looking for brakepads. Now the average price for brakepads for my car is about fifty bucks. So on the shelf, I see many different brands ranging from $45 to $55. But then I see a set priced at $5. They aren't on sale, they look similar to the others, have a lifetime guarantee, etc.

Now I'm a cheap person by nature, but I'd be hard-pressed to pick those up. Unless I knew without a doubt that they would save my life in a potential crash, I'm more apt to go with the "normal" more expensive ones. Why? I don't know, I think my subconscious tells me that higher price = better value, even though we all know that isn't necessarily true.

So it seems I have two personal issues:

1. I need to prove to myself, without a doubt, that those $5 pads are going to save my life.

2. I can't fathom why there are so many $50 pads if $5 pads will truly suffice.

I'm sure you see the obvious link between my analogy and my ongoing spiritual journey.

Also, I agree with clint about the earlier analogy. If I could truly see Jesus at the top throwing the rope down and helping people, of course that would be a no-brainer. Unfortunately, my spiritual eyes are not quite that developed yet.

Clint said...

Thanks for letting me ride along, enderC. To quote the late Mitch Hedberg:

I want to be a race car passenger; just a guy who bugs the driver. "Say man, can I turn on the radio? You should slow down. Can I stick my feet out the window? Why do we gotta keep going in circles? Man, you really like Tide ..."

-------------------

I'm fairly certain musing wasn't suggesting someone accept a religious creed based solely on it being the easiest to follow. I'll let him defend his position himself, but I'm not sure I could easily say that Christianity is the easiest religion, either-- as if it's even measurable.

The main difference between Christianity and the majority of the other faiths, and this is likely what musing was trying to emphasize, is that you do not earn your way into heaven in the Christian faith. In other religions you must serve and work to earn your eternal rewards. The quality and quantity of work that you do will be directly related to how much bling you get in the hereafter.

On the surface this makes total sense; it's as if a human made it up, since that's how it usually works while we're on earth. Some people are attracted to a "works" based religion, as it makes them feel like the end result will be real and worthwhile if they put some of their own elbow-grease into it.

In Christianity, it's flipped. The first time we screw up, we're basically doomed. There is no amount of grovelling, sweating, or greasy elbows that can save you. We're all destined for death.

However. God has seen fit to forgive us and provide a replacement so that we don't have to die. Christ lived a perfect life and wass murdered in our place. That's our bloody and merciful pass.

God doesn't require us to do any grueling work to be accepted because there isn't anything good enough that we can do.

Now if I were making up a religion, I'd likely make up one that hands out a list of do's and dont's. Curiously, Christianity is contrastingly different than something I would think up.

So your analogy is certainly thought-provoking, but I'd spin it this way:

Why/how is this one brand of brake pads so much different than its higher priced competitors?

Sure wish I was more eloquent, but I hope you get the general idea. Feel free to burn holes in my brake pad analogy until you hear the metal squealing. I enjoy a thoughtful challenge. Look forward to your response.

enderC said...

clint: First of all, Mitch Hedberg is probably one of my mostest favoritest comedians. Right up there with Lewis Black and Eddie Izzard.

I think I am understanding more and more the *true* definition of Christianity from the posts that you and musing have made. Remember, way back up there somewhere I said that I was raised a "sort-of" Christian. For over 20 years of my life, it was pounded into me (not just figuratively) that I have to "do something" to "get in."

I still remember the day that something just didn't feel right. I came to the realization that I honestly had no relationship with God; I was doing all of these things because my parents told me to, or because my friends did them, or because I was afraid of what would happen if I stopped. I've never been much of a follower, and it suddenly upset me that a follower is exactly what I had become. I was doing things just because somebody told me to do them, or told me what would happen if I didn't do them.

Anyway, I guess my point is this: It is hard to let go of twenty-some-odd years of works-based religion. What I've found is that I'm doubly skeptical; I certainly will never get back into works-based religions again, but I also can't believe that something so important could seem to be so easy.

So I guess to sum up, I could answer your brake pad question very easily: I don't know! And that is exactly what is bugging me!

Hammond said...

Not to rain on anyone's parade that Christianity is totally faith-based and not works - but there are some glaring things from bible text that would appear to suggest otherwise. It seems to come down to who do you believe in the bible. Are we speaking of Jesus, Paul or James' viewpoint? Jesus probably gives us the simplest plan when saying to Martha - "Belieive in me" when she asked what must she must do to be saved. Other examples such as the thief on the cross depict the "road to salvation" is one of simple faith.

However, Paul then appears to muddy the waters in his teachings of the requirement of repentence to achieve salvation and the measuring stick by which Christians are to live up to. Is that not "works"?

And James brings us to the point of us questioning if one's faith is real if we don't have evidence in our lives - in other words - "works". Not to say that Jesus didn't also have requirements on how we are to treat people, sacrifice etc. But his message did not seem to tie our salvation to those things as did Paul and James.

So who do you believe - Jesus, Paul, or James? Do they each say the same thing in different ways that I'm not picking up on, or are their messages on the definitions of a "saving faith" actually different?

musing said...

enderc, I really appreciate your honesty and your thoughtfulness. Thanks clint for trying to clarify my less than clear statements.

I don't know if you remember Star Wars, The Empire Strikes Back, but there is a scene where Yoda is telling Luke Skywalker that Darth Vader was his father. In the dialogue, Yoda said, "So you see, what I told you was true, from a certain point of view." To say that Christianity is totally faith-based (as I tried to do, and clint did so well) is to tell you about Christianity from a certain point of view. As the post by Hammond points out, there are honest and sincere people who believe in the Christian faith who would say I'm damned for telling you that you don't have to "do" anything to get in.

However, it seems to me that our human penchant for rules-making, rules-breaking, rules-revising (so I can keep them better) and then rules-judging (because others don't keep the rules I feel are important) is antithetical to the very message that Christ Jesus came to deliver. If it's about rules, then why didn't Jesus come and lay down the law? Instead he came and laid down his life ... why? To show us that a relationship with God isn't based on the rules ... but on His sacrificial love.

Your double skepticism is understandable ... works religion can be overwhelmingly confusing and depressing. I hope your skepticism keeps you far away from it in any form.

And I hope your skepticism continues to "bug" you, as things continue to "bug" me. It's that "bugging feeling" that continues to prod us further along the pathway of knowing. I believe it is actually part of God's plan.

Robert said...

Excellent reflection! I often remember how Francis Schaeffer seemed to make it a point to be a student of the world in which he ministered, even though he considered Improv Jazz to be the greatest sign of Western Decay! Or Bob Jones, having met C.S. Lewis, and walking away rather shaken: "I don't understand it!" sez he, "He smokes, and he drinks, but he's a Christian!"