Human Rights Part Six (Conclusion)

Baseline

There are four areas of privilege I want to suggest as a baseline for all humanity.  If my previous post sounded like a manifesto of the republican party, this will sound like something from the socialist party.  We will all be much better off doing away with labels.

Education

I call for free education up to and including terminal degrees.  This needs to happen immediately.  Knowledge is free.  No one has a copyright on math.  No one owns an equation.  No one collects royalties for the proper use of grammar.  Knowledge is universally free; it is just not universally available.  Education is simply the process of imparting knowledge from one person to another.  That is a minimal cost.  We have more, cost effective ways of imparting knowledge around the world for minimal cost, than at any other time in history.  As technology goes up, the price just keeps going down.

Who does it benefit to have an ignorant population?  Dictatorships, and other types of political systems I would happily see destroyed.  It benefits people who want to control other people, or take advantage of other people in some way.  Economics teaches that we can charge more for a scarce resource.  We have created artificial scarcity of resources in education that has caused nothing but harm to society.  Knowledge is abundant and free.  Passing that knowledge along is easy and cheap.  Knowledge is power.  It is past time we start empowering individuals.

Jobs

These newly empowered individuals are going to need a job.  Frankly, many of these will become job creators.  All will become more qualified for better jobs.  There should never be a such thing as an able-bodied person who wants to work, but is unemployed.  In a well-ordered society, this should not happen.  In America, this is happening all the time, to a frighteningly large percentage of the population.

A big part of the problem is poor information allocation.  It is stupidly difficult for qualified people looking for a particular job to find the company that has an opening for that very job.  It is equally difficult for the company to find that qualified seeker.  With the number of resumes and applications already digitized, no one should ever have to fill out a speculative job application again.  You can go to a major shopping mall and fill out ann application with all 300 stores.  If you’re lucky, five of them are hiring, and one of them will look at your application.  What a waste!

Here’s a thought.  Produce a single application format.  Let everyone fill it out digitally, ONCE!  Let a government supercomputer, or for that matter, a ten-year old Dell in some closet, work away at matching applications with available jobs.  Everyone with an application on file would, at least, always have a few good prospects.  That is a cheap solution to half the problem.  The other half of the problem is the people who are not qualified for any available job.

The qualification part of the equation is mostly eliminated by the free education program.  There is still the matter of creating enough jobs.  This country has not been very creative when it comes to creating jobs.  Not everyone will do well in school.  Some people simply do not have the mental capacity.  That does not mean they cannot work.  Everyone should be able to contribute.  These are the people who need the government to provide them with minimum-wage jobs.  It is not a Well Fare check; it’s a paycheck.  That makes all the difference.  Trading positive contribution for income should not be that complicated.  A minimum-wage job should be a basic human privilege

Housing

If the first two things are done right, then this one should be a no-brainer.  Everyone needs a place to live; not everyone can afford a $2,000 mortgage.  Since many of these new incomes are low, there has to be low income housing available for every working family.  A part of being in the system means that you are either in school getting a higher education, or you are gainfully employed.  (I am not considering persons with disabilities at this time).  Among the able-bodied, there are no exceptions.  No school, no work, no housing.  To be in government housing is to be in school or at work.

Either way, society wins.  A person in school might not have to pay any rent while in school.  After the first two years, they might be required to work part-time and start paying something for housing.  The details don’t really matter.  A person who completes a degree is far more likely to become a contributor to society at a far greater level than the initial investment of two to four years of housing.  If a person has a job, the housing bill, including utilities, would be a simple percentage of total wages, taken out from the top.  Again, every body wins.

Healthcare

Besides education, there may not be a system in need of a more radical overhaul than healthcare.  I’ll try to keep this short and simple.  A vast amount of individual wealth is lost on just trying to stay alive.  Severe chest pain that leads to an ER visit, that turns out to be gas, that is cured by a sip of Malox, can cost upwards of $15,000.  You either don’t pay for it, incurring debt that limits your ability to finance other necessities.  or you try to pay it, thus limiting your ability to pay for other necessities.  You, and society lose either way.

As far as the mess that is insurance…  Oh, never mind.  I don’t even want to get started with insurance.

Time for me to say something unpopular.  The largest, and most wasteful medical expense the world will ever know is that which is associated with the end of life.  The last two weeks of life are killing this country because we just can’t face death like mature human beings.  The money spent by the government during that period, alone, could fund a national healthcare program for the rest of us.  Currently, we do not have a healthcare system; we have a death care system.  That is untenable, immature, and damaging to the evolution of our species.

Currently, our death care system invests the vast majority of its money and technology in about two weeks of denial.  If a person wants to invest their own money in keeping a terminal loved one, technically, alive for a couple of extra weeks to the tune of a few million dollars, be my guest.  But, when your grief and denial costs me $15,000 for a sip of Malox, we have a problem.  We have a problem.  Isn’t it past time we stop investing in death, and start investing in health?  If we did, everyone in the world, not just this country could enjoy the benefits of a healthier, if slightly shorter life.

Well, that’s it: my manifesto for human privilege, and my understanding of human rights. I will reveal a poorly kept secret to the reader of all six parts.  I did not end up where I thought I would when I started.  I began this exploration of the subject as a card-carrying member of the Rightest religion.  My thoughts on human rights were probably much the same as the average, non-religious liberal.  (Labels).  In the end, it is more important for me to know true things than to hold my ground on a given position.

It is also important to acknowledge that I don’t have all of the answers.  Heck!  I may not have any of the answers.  But what I do have, for the first time, is a well-reasoned hypothesis.  Naturally, emotion plays a part.  It provides fuel for reason; it does not replace it.  I have seen many people emote on the subject of human rights, and present better rhetoric than me.  But I have seen few attempts at a reasonable thesis.  This is mine.  I welcome yours.

David Johnson

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Human Rights Part Five

I think this series only has two more posts.  Thanks for bearing with me.

From my previous post…

There is another human wrong that poisons the well of human rights.  That is the fact that we believe that rights come to us for free, and independent of human responsibility.. Decoupling rights from responsibilities makes it almost impossible to talk about either with any clarity.

The High Cost of Rights

We speak of rights in a fantasy, almost religious kind of way.  For many non-religious people, human rights has become the new religion.  It is the idea greater than humanity that we all but worship.  We cannot define them, but we a certain they must exist.  Human rights have become a faith-based dogma.  No wonder we can find little agreement on the subject.

We act as if people were not born in different circumstances to different people in different parts of the world.  Rather, we were delivered by storks with a canon of rights tattooed to our butts.  The only problem is that we cannot read the writing on our own rear end, so, we need someone to read them to us.  Unfortunately, the rights are not written in our native tongue, so we also need someone to interpret them on our behalf.  Of course this is pure rubbish!  With the rare exception of a Dr. Stork working in a pediatric clinic, babies are not delivered by storks.  If the aphorism is to be believed, babies’ bottoms are quite smooth and free of writing of any kind.  Contrary to popular opinion, we do not come with a bundle of rights, prepackaged with us at birth along with our certificate of humanity, never to be lost, misunderstood, taken away, or disrespected by others.  If that is your understanding of human rights, you should know, there is simply no such thing, nor will there ever be.

No one has ever had a right for which they did not greatly suffer, or someone else die.  The right to life has caused more death than all the pestilence of the world, combined.  There is no liberty not purchased by equal measures of slavery and imprisonment.  And pleas do not forget the misery that pursued your fore-bearers which enables you to pursue your happiness.  If it had to be earned, bought, or taken, if it can be given by someone else, lost, or taken away, it is not a right, but a privilege.

I’m afraid those of us who bend the knee at the alter of human rights have been taken in by another false god.  I believe the best we can ever hope for is a more balanced allotment of human privilege, at least, until I become Hegemon.

Human Responsibility

There is this other R word, rarely recited in the religion of the Rightests:  Responsibility! In the beginning of human consciousness, responsibility was the only word.  Rights had not been invented, yet.  There was no word or euphemism for “entitlement”.  There was kill or bee killed.  There was hunt and gather.  Society building required us to expand our vocabulary, but not by much.  We had to think long-term about things like marriage, raising children, and housing.  As villages grew, we had to think about healthy ecosystems and community policing.  In other words, responsibility became more important, not less.

This movement to replace responsibility that we intrinsically have with privilege that we don’t, is relatively modern.  Just a couple of generations ago, we could get things done as a nation by appealing to people’s sense of responsibility.  I do not believe that the New Deal was ever intended to replace responsibility with entitlement.  It can only be properly understood in the context of a generation of responsible people.  There is nothing wrong with a safety net.  But a safety net is only ever meant to be used by acrobats and aerialists.  No one was ever intended to be born and to live out their lives on a safety net.  That is neither right nor privilege; it is a travesty against the human spirit that brought us to this evolutionary point in the first place.  May the other false god have useless mercy on our non-existent souls.  What a fine mess we have gotten ourselves into.  The good news is that any mess we can get ourselves into, we can get ourselves out of.

We start by recasting human responsibility as a good thing rather than a bad thing.  We must remove responsibility from the list of four-letter words that must not be uttered in polite society.  We must change the way we think about human responsibility.  I find that responsibility is the greatest privilege we have.  It is the only, true, human right.  It is intrinsic to the human animal: to all animals.  At a base level, it can not be given or taken by others.  And when we fulfill it, we earn a pride of place on the same level as heads of state.

What makes one a man is not his accident of biology, but his utilization of it.  I became a man the day I decided to left my father’s home, stopped eating my mother’s cooking, and started living by my own wits.  The moments of my greatest pride are marked by the same moments of my greatest responsibility.  Leaving home, extending my education, earning an income, convincing someone to marry me, signing a thirty year mortgage, deciding to raise a child: these are the greatest responsibilities that any human, at any time, anywhere in the world can take on: must take on in some form.  These are the responsibilities that define how well we did as a mature being.  These responsibilities that we look forward to with eager anticipation are a sort of rite of passage.  They take us from childhood to adulthood to maturity.  Pursuing these basic responsibilities is the purest expression of human rights I know.

Human Privilege

Having said all that, I do believe there is good reason to have a baseline of human privilege freely available to all people.  I believe it is a fundamentally bad thing for 1% of the population to control 99% of the resources.  I do not believe in creating artificial equity as all people are not equal.  Flip back a few posts for more on that.  If equity was the natural state of humanity, we would all be equal without the need to fight for equality.  Nature provides feast to some and famine to others.  It is indifferent to whether your particular tribe lives or dies.  Nature is a harsh mistress.  Sorry.

Though nature cares nothing for our sense of equality, it does seem to have a sense of balance, at least when viewed on a large enough scale.  At close range, you can’t detect it.  But when you train your telescopes to the depths of space, you will find a certain uniformity.  One part of space is much the same as another in just about every measurement when measured on a big enough scale.  When it comes to humanity, we need a bigger, more realistic scale.  Individual equality is much too granular and unrealistic.  Nature scoffs at such a notion.  But there is no reason why humanity, as a whole, should not be doing well, and that “doing well” should not translate to all people.

There will always be the relatively rich, and because it is relative, the relatively poor.  But that does not rule out a baseline of what we consider to be poor.  I believe that baseline can be quite a bit higher than what it is, today.  I further believe that society, as a whole, would greatly benefit if it was.

In my final post on the matter, which I hope to get out later today, I will give a brief overview on my thoughts about the baseline of human privilege that benefits society as a whole.

David Johnson

Human Rights Part Four

Human Wrongs

Last time, I said that human rights do not really exist.  I implied that the reason was because of human wrongs that overwhelmed our desire to create universal rights.  This is one of those posts that can quickly spiral out of control.  So I will narrow it down to three brief points.  This is not intended to be an exhaustive, detailed list, but rather, a few broad strokes.

When Humanity Conflicts with the Cult of Self

Selfishness is a necessary part of self-awareness.  It is inextricably linked to being human.  Only a defective human, or a machine can possess a complete lack of self.  Therefore, it is important to understand that I do not speak of selfishness in a derogatory manner.  Selfishness only becomes a bad thing when it goes to extreme levels and causes societal harm.  Otherwise, it is an essential part of being human.

The problem with defining any, universal, human right, is that at some point, it will always put one person or tribe in conflict with another.  It will do so every time.  An almost born baby will never have a right to life if it conflicts with the mother’s right to finish school or pursue a career.  The laborer will never have the right to safe working conditions and good benefits if it conflicts with the Board of Directors’ ability to make obscene profits and keep their jets well fueled.  You will never be allowed to pursue your happiness across my lawn.  Get off my lawn!  I am a vocal champion of your human rights up to, but no including the point where they conflict with my selfish needs or desires.  That makes it very difficult to establish universal, human rights.

Rights are Taken, not Given

A sad truth about power dynamics is that power only listens to power, and only yields to more power.  This means that the powerless will stay powerless until they find the will and a way to take power.  Rights are an expression of power.  We like to pretend that “rights” are a way for the weak to enjoy the privileges of the strong.  That is simply not how the world works.  I’m as much of a utopianist as anyone else, but I inhabit this world, recognizing the way it really is, not the way I want it to be.

In the real world, if you want a right, you need power.  That is why human rights have devolved into special interest rights.  Only those that have found ways to gain power have rights.  Special interest groups provide power by proxy.  A truly powerless person has no rights, and never will.  You have all the rights in the world until the hand-cuffs are clapped on, and the prison doors clang shut.  Let’s talk about your rights, now.  Oh, yeah!  You don’t have any!

Children have the right to obey their parents, eat their vegetables, and  shut up.  No power, no rights.  Muslim women have the right to… hmmm…  No power, no rights.  The blind, deaf, lame, and mentally challenged have as many rights as they have been able to take by proxy through organizations that champion their cause.  I contend that the wheelchair bound have been considerably more successful than the visually impaired in eking out some semblance of human rights.  If I was wheelchair bound instead of visually impaired, perhaps I would see things differently.

There can be no universal, human rights because humans do not universally hold, or equally share power.  If you are waiting for god to give you rights, you have a long wait ahead of you.  If you are unwilling or unable to take the rights you want to have, then you will not have them.  Eventually, there will come a time when the majority of people in power will see the benefit of empowering everyone.  But that day remains in the utopian future.

There is No Hegemon

In a recent iPhone commercial, a teen activates Siri: the iPhone’s personal assistant function, and tell it to call him “Rock God”, as he has aspirations of  become a rock music star.  Here is a bit of insight into my personality that you didn’t want to know.  My iPhone calls me Hegemon.  As my brother used to say, if you’re going to dream, dream big.  🙂

I do not believe that utopia can be realized outside of some type of one-world government.  I understand that the very thought of such a government scares many people half to death, and works others into a near insane frenzy.  Yet, there it is.  For us to all be humans and not islands of special interests, we must be one world, one people, one government, one currency and system of trade, one law, one set of humans with one set of rights.  In 2012 CE, the year of this writing, we are still a tribal world.  The United States of America is United only in the loosest of terms.  I believe humanity must unite or die.  The universe is too big, and does not care about our individual tribe or concerns.

I hereby run for the office of Hegemon.  At least, then, we would have one voice that could speak to one set of universal, human rights.

I’m not holding my breath.

There is another human wrong that poisons the well of human rights.  That is the fact that we believe that rights come to us for free, and independent of human responsibility.. Decoupling rights from responsibilities makes it almost impossible to talk about either with any clarity.

More to come.

David Johnson

Human Rights Part Three

Abortion is the ultimate question of humans and rights. The practice seems to declare that humans are not humans until and unless we say they are, and have no rights until and unless we grant them. I will start this off with a parable I picked up some years ago:

A woman was on her way to a medical clinic for a medical procedure. Just before she got to the clinic, she was hit by a drunk driver who happened to be speeding. The woman was in her ninth month of pregnancy. She survived, but her baby didn’t. The man was not just convicted of manslaughter, but murder, and sentenced to prison for the rest of his life. He had one too many cocktails.

…And that’s the story, save for the following details: The medical procedure the woman was twenty minutes away from getting was an abortion of her perfectly healthy baby. The man who caused the auto accident was the doctor who was running late from a party to get to the procedure on time. Had the accident not occurred, the woman would have paid the man good money to end the life of her baby and discard the body. It would have been considered legal and moral with no violation of rights. In the car-crash scenario, the woman’s living, breathing baby was murdered by a drunk driver. The baby’s human right to life, irrevocably violated.

A variation of this scenario can and does happen every day. humanity is defined and redefined by what is most convenient for us at the moment. Nailing it down to something specific and eternal, even in the modern age, seems to be quite beyond our capability or desire. We seem to be perfectly content to allow the definition of humanity to remain a moving target.

We have subtly redefined abortion to be something slightly other than a human right. For us, abortion has become an issue of women’s rights. Now, don’t get me wrong, I find women to be among my favorite kind of humans, but they are not the totality of humans. No subset of humanity defines humanity. In that sense, women’s rights are not human rights. They are merely an important subset.

This is exactly the challenge of defining human rights. We say, “human”, but think “subset”. This is precisely how some of the strongest proponents of equality ended up owning slaves without noticing the discontinuity between their words and behavior. When it was emphatically declared that all men were created equally, and endowed by the creator with certain unalienable rights, black people in America were not considered fully human. They were not counted among men. They had no rights.

After much time, activism, and bloodshed, we have a pretty well defined set of black rights. Of course, we don’t call them black rights; we call them civil rights. But let’s be clear; the Civil Rights movement which, now, encompasses many things, started out as a black rights movement. By the way, it was men who were created equally, not women, of any race. Thus, we have that subset of rights we are still sorting out.

In fact, I posit that all human rights are really just human subset rights. We do not actually have very many, if any human rights. We have black rights, and gay rights, and women’s rights, and religious rights, and immigrant rights, and labor rights, and so on. What we do not have are human rights. And that’s just in America. Expand your gaze accross the globe, and you will see more subsets.

Arabs and Israelis view niether humans nor rights the same, any more than do Americans and Chinese. Americans do not seem to view the humanity or the rights of the various people around the world in the same way. It was not Hitler’s genocidal campaign against the Jews that brought us into the war. It seems we, and most of Europe could live with that. We could apparently not sit idly by and watch the conflict between Ceriavo and the Ukrane.

We became the liberators of Iraq, who, it seems, did not want our liberation, while durring the same period, turned a blind eye to some of histories most hideous attrocities in Africa. To this day, some humans seem to be more human than others, and some rights seem to be more right than others. I could scarcely fill a themble with observable, universal, human rights. Perhaps that is because from shore to shore, our oceans are overflowing with human wrongs.

Perhaps in our heart of hearts, we have given up on human rights. Perhaps that is why we have settle for the rights of special interests: human subset rights. But I consider that inhuman and not right. It is a failure of imagination. And though I do not believe in morality, only public benefit and harm motivated by selflessness or selfishness, allow me to borrow the more common venacular of the day. I find it a failure of morality.

We do not have human rights in this world, nor do I believe we have productive discussions about it. We have settle for the cheap seats. I am no longer willing to wwatch this particular game through the lenses of dirty binoculars. We have got to get a lot closer to the action. To get there, we have to slog through the muck of human wrongs before understanding why we are so far away from human rights.

David Johnson

Human Rights Part Two

Last time, we eased into the subject by discussing the concept of irrevocability. As near as I can tell, there are no unalienable rights in the absolute sense. There is more we can cover, there, but I have this nice shovel in my rhetorical hands, and shovels are made for digging. Let’s find some even softer earth and a few gas lines, and just go for it. 🙂

What exactly do we mean by human? What a silly question, you might be tempted to say. But, I bet you will find the answer more challenging than you first anticipated. To demonstrate the complexity of the question, let’s cast our minds backward in time to a point where the homo sapiens were not the only bipedal, humanoids lurching about on the planet. If you are still distracted by the notion that humans, in the form of Adam and Eve, were created pretty much as we appear today, you have a lot of science to catch up on. I’m still working through it, so I can’t help you.

Suffice it to say that we are far from the first of our kind. Rather, we are the last, and most successful of our kind from an evolutionary standpoint. If you go back just one generation before, or even contemporary to homo sapiens, and if you could bring them forward into the present, would you consider them as people with rights? I don’t believe I would. I’m afraid that my notions about human rights have been very literalistic. That is a notion I am challenging in this post.

You do not have to travel millions of years back in time to find alternate definitions and understandings of what it means to be fully human. But before tackling humanity, let’s take a brief look at two other categories that might help to set the table. First up is animal rights. I am not, for a moment, suggesting that animals are people, too. Though, maybe I should. I am just saying that we already recognize animals as a protected group of living, thinking, feeling beings. We have already decided that these beings have some form of rights.

We restrict fishing in certain locations, of certain kinds of fish because we fear that we may fish them to extinction. We treat hunting a species to extinction much the same as we do genocide. Is that particular anthropomorphism appropriate? I am reminded of a joke I once heard:

A man was hunting seagulls, and was stopped by a ranger. The man was told that seagulls were a protected species and hunting them was a criminal offense. The man pleaded that he didn’t know about that law and would never do such a thing again. The ranger took pity and decided to let him go. Before leaving, the ranger ask out of morbid curiosity, “Just what does seagull taste like?” The man thought about it for a moment and replied, “It tastes like a cross between spotted owl and bald eagle.”

I’ll give you a moment to recover from that one. 🙂

Has anyone caught the irony of “protected” species? We obviously think of some species of animal as more important than others. Mostly, we are concerned with the numbers of a particular population. But there are many people who are just as offended if you kill a spider for no good reason as they would be if you killed the last of the spotted owls. They would argue that the spider was doing you no harm and has a right to live. Maybe. I don’t know.

If, like me, you have spent more than your fair share of time watching the Animal Planet channel, you know that there are law enforcement units devoted to the protection and ethical treatment of animals. People can loose their freedoms based on how they treat creatures that are not endangered. In these cases, animal rights look a lot like human rights. In fact, animals have more rights than black men and women in America not all that long ago. But not so fast. I’m not ready to go there just yet.

The second, non-human group I want you to consider pushes us forward in time to the era of thinking machines. The coming reality of this science fiction trope is not a matter of if, but when. I believe most of us will be here to see it. We are already seeing the precursors. Let’s be honest. We build smart machines for the exact same reason we brought slaves to this country: We want them to do the work we find too tedious to do ourselves. If we can’t have biological slaves, we will build and buy mechanical ones.

Everything from dishwashers, to laundry machines, to vacuums are nothing more than mechanical slaves. They are not very smart, and still require a lot of maintenance for the to function, but we’re working on it. I have machines that can look up information, read anything to me, and take dictation just for starters. And that’s just what will fit in my pocket. Don’t even get me started on my desktop computer. I don’t need a personal assistant or a librarian. I’m fine, thank you. At what point will we consider our machines independent thinkers?

At some point, we will make a dishwasher with the capacity and preference to run a small country. How long will we enslave it for our domestic purposes. Our fascination with robots and androids is to build something that looks and functions much like a human, but can be treated like a slave. What we most desire are humans with no rights. Science fiction has explored this theme from every angle, and it always ends badly for the humans.

Here’s a bonus: aliens. Yes, I went there. No, I do not believe we will ever have a close encounter of that kind for a number of reasons. I just mention them to get you to think about the issue of rights. I can think of no scenario where we encounter friendly aliens who jointly populate earth and receive the same rights as the natives. It is just never going to happen.

My question is this: Should we even be talking about human rights, or should the issue be expanded to sentient rights, or rights of the living, or some broader categorization? When I think about human rights, I realize I am thinking too small, and the rights do not scale over time. Even when we just confine our thoughts to humans, as I will in the next post, you will see that the complexities I brought up here, carry over to the human animal as well… and always have.

Clunk

Sounds like a gas line. Things are about to get really interesting from here. Stay tuned. I need breakfast.

David Johnson

Human Rights Part One

Human Rights

I could spend a week just outlining the topic, or I could just write about it. So much for hyper-organization. Let’s just dive in, shale we? Expect several parts.

There are at least two words we have to consider before getting into the idea of rights: unalienable, and human. Whether we use the word or not, we tend to believe that rights are unalienable. A right, by its very nature, is permanent and irrevocable, right? After giving this a great deal of thought, I do not find either to be true, where once, I did.

Since traveling to that unfamiliar land beyond religion, I have had to rethink everything, including the nature of rights. I believe the founding fathers proposed the notion of unalienable rights out of the assumption that rights are given by god, rather than handed down by other men. The best we could do was to recognize the rights that had been supernaturally conveyed. Since I no longer believe that rights are supernaturally conveyed by an other-worldly being, I must also reconsider the permanence of those rights.

That does beg the question. If rights do not come from an other-worldly being, where do they come from? Something else to consider is the question of what constitutes a right . Before unpacking this can of worms any further, let’s go back to the notion of unalienability. Even from a religious point of view, there are very few rights that people feel are unalienable. With great moral fervor, we alienate the rights of people all the time.

Convicted criminals have neither the right to life, liberty, or the pursuit of happiness. That is not to say that they are without rights. It is just a completely different set. They also tend to be rights that few people tend to care much to protect. The atrocities that go on in prisons everyday do not require me to recount in this writing. We are all very familiar with them. Such things can only happen systematically when rights are considered both revocable, and un-championed by the populous.

The rights of children are yet another touchy issue in all societies. We still have not fully answered the question of whether children are humans with rights, or property that is sometimes granted privilege by its owner. This is not intended to be a knock against my parents or teachers, but growing up, most of the time, I felt like little more than property. I had no rights save for those I could garner enough power to forcibly take. If it can be said that children have rights of eany kind, like those of prisoners, they are a different set, regulated in a different manner.

The last set of rights I want to consider in the category of revocability are those of the mentally unstable. A person can be “hospitalized” against her will. In many ways, society can and does curtail the rights of the mentally feeble. Do we even have a good definition of what it means to be mentally feeble? How should we judge such a thing. Some people make poor life decisions because they never learned to make better ones. Still others make poor decisions because they are incapable of making better ones. How can we tell the difference? Is there a test? Courts make the wrong decisions about this all the time. So do we. Yet, we feel morally obligated to restrict the rights of those whom we consider too mentally feeble to use them appropriately. Where do we draw the line?

To close off this section, there is no such thing as an unalienable right. We do not wait for god to spell out our rights, nor do we wait for him to take them away. We do both very well on our own. At least, we do both. Whether we do them very well is the topic of a different post.

David Johnson

Why? Part Three

3.  We’re Still Here

(Please read part one and two of this series before proceeding).

The most unintuitive, but provocative reason Christianity is in its current state is because we are still here.  This is a multifaceted idea that I need to develop:

The Problem of Scale

Christianity does not scale well.  No, I haven’t gone completely mad.  I know how widespread Christianity is throughout the world.  I know exactly how long it has been around.  Yet, I fearlessly make the unintuitive claim that Christianity does not, nor has it ever scaled very well.  While I’m at it, let me just pound the final nail into the coffin of my sanity.  I posit that Christianity, that is to say, the religion of Jesus and his early followers no longer exists, if it ever did.

Today’s Christianity is a religion that is vaguely about the biblical, rather than historical Jesus.  I think it fails, even at that.  The biblical Jesus would hardly be welcome in today’s church, anymore than he was welcome in the religious institutions of his day.  Were he to reincarnate before our very eyes, he would be too far out of time and place for any of us to recognize or relate to him.  In order to embrace him, we would have to radically reinterpret him, which is what we do, today.

But a reincarnated Jesus is not a reinterpreted Jesus.  If he were to change so radically as to fit into this place and time that we would recognize and welcome him, then he would no longer be the Jesus of the bible.  If he remained the Jesus of the bible, we would crucify him all over again.  Our churches pay little homage to the Jesus of scripture.  Instead, they stand as monuments of institutionalized religion, exactly the opposite of what Jesus stood for.

In less than fifty, bible years, the church went from sacrificial, free-will offerings for serving the poor, to an institutional tax that ultimately became the means for servicing the administration.  Preachers went from wearing robes of poverty as a badge of honor, to becoming the largest budget item, and wealthiest members of the church.  Speaking of church administration, it went from being all but non-existent, relying on spirit-filled members to do their part, to an ecclesiastical hierarchy that is bewildering to even modern students of religion.  The church went from meeting in houses over informal meals, to meeting in expensive campuses over pious ritual.  I can go on this way for some time, (and you know I can), but the point is made.  The religion of Jesus and his immediate followers, sometimes called, “the way”, died before the gospels were ever penned.  By that time, all that was left was the religion of Paul, and that was something very different.  As we will see in a few moments, even the religion of Paul neither scaled well, nor survived beyond his lifetime.

The Problem of Eschatology.

Here’s another equation:  How well a religion scales is directly inverse to the vagueness of its eschatological predictions.  If a new religion springs up tomorrow predicting that some unknown tribe will rule the world for a thousand years starting tomorrow, that religion has zero chances of scaling over time and population.  First, the only people who would be drawn to such a religion are those few members of the named tribe.  Even if the prediction held true, you already have a problem with scale.  Second, the prediction would not hold true.  It would immediately prove false.  By the following day, the faith statements of that religion would have to be radically revised, or the religion would simply die an ignominious death.

This is the history of the religions (plural) of the bible starting with the first page.  Adam and Eve were promised paradise or death.  There was no alternate plan.  The promised death was to come the day of transgression.  They would not have understood that any other way than immediate termination.  That doesn’t sound like much of an eschatology, but there were at least two, both broken.  First, Paradise didn’t turn out to be so perfect. Even though they were doing what was right, they ran into an evil serpent in the garden.  They never had a chance with a life of bliss.  Second, when they sinned, that should have been the end of the story.

There was no contingency plan for living sever hundred more years.  In fact, there seemed to be a council of the gods near the end of the chapter as they/he decides what to do with the humans.  That was already supposed to be decided. Again, the eschatological prediction did not come true.  There is no redemption story for the garden of Eden.  Chapter three should have concluded with the words, “The End”.  The only way for the story to continue, is for the story to change, which it did.  There was never a paradise, and the humans didn’t die.  None of the predictions came true.  The religion of Eden didn’t scale very well.

To be clear, neither did the religion of Abraham.  It was a tribal religion with tribal reach.  It was not particularly evangelical.  There were a couple of eschatological promises.  One was that Abraham would be the father of a great nation, making his reach purely genetic.  That is the only way for that to be understood.  If it was merely symbolic, then Abraham didn’t need to have a son at all.  The prediction of greatness was also supposed to last forever.  There was also a land grant that was supposed to be everlasting.  How did those predictions work out?  Abraham’s tribe is not a great nation, and does not occupy the promised land.  More revisions are necessary.

The religion of Moses had some eschatological predictions.  The tribes were to be a protected nation of priests who would prosper for all time.  All they had to do was obey the law handed down by god which was to be in effect for all time.  How did that work out?  The nation was never particularly priestly, no matter how you describe it.  Their prosperity was short lived.  And the law is no longer in effect.  Oh, lest I forget, there was a system of redemption built into this one.  That didn’t last, either.

Fast-forward to the time of Jesus.  All of the eschatological promises to Moses had to be completely redefined by Jesus for his time.  Obeying god would not bring prosperity, but a sword of persecution.  There would never be a holy land as the kingdom was not of this world.  Keeping the law was a series of compromises as there was no real priesthood, the temple was a joke, and the land was ruled by conquerors.  Naturally, revisions had to be made.

Jesus, or his followers, defined him as a new kind of messiah with a new kind of law and a new kind of kingdom.  This new kingdom was not of this world, and could only be accessed through death.  Martyrdom and resurrection would be the keys to entering this kingdom.  History was going to end very soon.  Jesus had proved himself master over nature, disease, and death.  The great resurrection had already begun.  Pack your bags, folks.  This time, the story is really about to end.  No more revisions required.

The Last Days

It is important that we understand what the bible meant when referring to the last days.  It did not mean the last months, years, centuries, or eons.  The people would not have understood it in that context, and they didn’t.  No!  The last days literally referred to the last DAYS.  The end would come anywhere from today, to maybe a week or two at the most.  That is precisely what there was no contemporary writings about the affairs of Jesus and his followers until much later in history.  Imagine you are a historian, and you have 100% proof that the world will be coming to a catastrophic end within the next week or so at the most.  Even more likely, it would just be a matter of days.  Do you spend your time cataloging the events of the last days, or do you spend those last days with friends and family, getting your affairs in order?

In this scenario, all writing is done.  Burn all the paper and books for keeping warm.  In a day or two, there will be no one left to read them.  I assure you, I will not knowingly spend my last days blogging.  I have better things to do.  Writing is the sort of thing you do, only if you are reasonably sure there will be someone in the world to read it.  Why would Peter or any of the apostles write a contemporary account of events, even if they could write, which they couldn’t?  They were too busy jockeying for positions of power in the upcoming kingdom.  This was supposed to happen within their lifetimes, even within Jesus’ lifetime, from their perspective.  When the guards came for Jesus, Peter had a sword and was not afraid to use it.  He thought the kingdom was coming at that moment. He was just one battle away from sitting on one of the twelve thrones.  There was no need for a chronicler.

Unfortunately, Jesus’ promise to be right back with his kingdom in hand never came true.  The disciples realized there would need to be a brief time when they would have to do some evangelism and preparation for the imminent kingdom.  For them, the bad news just kept getting worse.  They started dying out, and none of them were being raised, thus, conquering death.  It seems with all their best efforts, the kingdom had not yet come with power.  They found themselves still waiting while being hunted down like beasts.  At the very least, they expected a quick resurrection, that has yet, never come.

Enter Paul.

Whatever else he was, he was a firm believer in the imminent, bodily resurrection of the saints.  He expected he was living in the last days.  All of his writings about the subject have him declaring his belief that he would be around at that the time of the great reckoning.  All of the people of that timeframe believed the same thing.  That is what they were taught by Jesus and his immediate apostles.  Just look at the behavior of the early Christians.  They were baptized to make themselves ready for the coming kingdom.  They sold all of their possessions, especially land, and gave the money to the poor, as Jesus had enjoined them to do on a number of occasions.  It is not just piety that would cause a person to behave thus.  It is the understanding that earthly possessions are about to become obsolete.

Consider Paul’s teaching to the Corinthian church in his first letter.  Despite marriage being something of a human and societal necessity, he recommended that people who were not already married should avoid it altogether.  He also commanded slaves to stay slaves, and not try to change their status: an easy thing to say if you were not a slave.  But for Paul, a change of status, whether to marriage or freedom, was an utter waste of time, as the end of all things was practically upon them.

His, no doubt, legitimate first letter the the Thessalonians stands as a testament to his belief that the end was just around the corner.

Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope.   For we believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him.  According to the Lord’s word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep.   For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first.   After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever.   Therefore encourage one another with these words.

Look at the number of times Paul counted himself among those who would still be alive during the resurrection of the saints.  He wanted to make sure the Thessalonians thought about themselves in the same way.  Paul was not envisioning a particularly long life for himself.  He thoughts the early deaths were nothing more than an anomaly that should be ignored, not grieved.  The balance of them should still be around for the final curtain call. He went as far as to tell them to encourage one another with these words.

Consider those words.  They were to understand that the dead in Christ would rise up and be caught up in the air with Jesus before those of them who were still living.  This was not a general order of resurrection, rather, this was how they were to specifically understand resurrection for their particular situation.  They would be around to see the dead rise.  Only then, would they join them in the air.  This is why Paul could be so callous about grief.  All those who had died would be rising before their eyes any day now.  This was not going to be a spiritual resurrection.  They would not be with Jesus as a result of some transformation in the grave.  They we be with Jesus only after a physical, visible, and imminent resurrection that would occur in plain sight of everyone.

Then something bad happens: nothing.  That is to say, nothing happens.  That is the one thing that was not supposed to happen.  People just kept right on dying, and no resurrections were forthcoming.  Absolutely nothing happened.  The eschatological prediction failed again.  Time for yet another re-write.

Enter 2 Thessalonians, almost certainly not written by Paul.

In all likelihood, 2 Thessalonians was written by impostors using Paul’s name, many years, if not decades after 1 Thessalonians.  The true author of this letter is all but immaterial.  The only thing about this book that really matters is why it was written.  Some bad history had intervened between the writing of the two letters.  The idealism of the first letter had proven false.  Perhaps this is why the writers of the second letter were so harsh in the refutation of the first letter.  The second chapter begins by telling the people that they had been lied to, possibly by an earlier letter.  They were told to disregard all that talk of an imminent resurrection.  The eschatological landscape had changed, and many things had to happen first.

Now, dear brothers and sisters,[a] let us clarify some things about the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and how we will be gathered to meet him.  Don’t be so easily shaken or alarmed by those who say that the day of the Lord has already begun. Don’t believe them, even if they claim to have had a spiritual vision, a revelation, or a letter supposedly from us.  Don’t be fooled by what they say. For that day will not come until there is a great rebellion against God and the man of lawlessness[b] is revealed—the one who brings destruction.[c]   He will exalt himself and defy everything that people call god and every object of worship. He will even sit in the temple of God, claiming that he himself is God.

It goes on in this manner for some time.  It would seem that Paul, the writer of the first letter, knew nothing about this man of lawlessness who first, needed to be overthrown.  He knew nothing about the great apostasy which had to take place, first.  All in all, he was rather uninformed about a number of important events.

Having said that, however, 2 Thessalonians may offer a new eschatology, but not an infinite one.  These events were still supposed to happen sooner, rather than later.  Though the lawless one was never named, the chapter clearly suggests that he was already on the scene, if not in power.  All scholarly speculation presumes this is referring to a figure that was contemporary to the time, and not some shadowy figure that would come on the scene thousands of years later.  This figure was contemporary, his unmasking and dethroning was imminent, and the apostasy, if not already occurring, was just around the corner.  The letter makes it clear that only after these events, could one expect the final resurrection.  Like a person throwing darts at a moving target, the predictions just keep changing.

Towards the end of the letter, the writer commands the people to go back to work and live their lives.  The interesting thing is that the first letter had given them a sense that the end was imminent.  They were told that the ones who had died would be rising up again right before their eyes.  They would be around to see it.  It only makes sense that many quit their jobs in anticipation of the return of Jesus.  Who wanted to be caught working when that happened?  The writers of 2 Thessalonians had to deal with the same problem that we face today:  They were still there.  It was essential to alter the story yet again to give it a longer shelf-life.  Now, there is a shadowy, lawless figure who must be stopped, and many other things that must happen first.  Enough of this waiting around for the return of Jesus.  Get back to work.  This story should hold you over for a few more years, hopefully, until you die.

The Final Re-Write, Again…

So here we are, right back where we started.  We’re still here.  That is perhaps the greatest disconfirmation of Christianity we have.  History should have ended directly following Genesis 3.  It should have ended after the tribes broke their covenant.  It should have ended after the profits gave their dire predictions.  It should have ended after Jesus didn’t return right away.  It should have ended when the apostles were killed off.  It should have ended, especially when Paul died.  And, it most certainly should have ended no later than within the second century.

Like the people of 2 Thessalonians, we have the problem of still being here.  All of the bible stories have been told, the eschatology, disconfirmed.  It is time for yet another re-write, and we have had plenty.  We have gotten those re-writes from the church fathers who brought us the church of rome.  We got more re-writes from the practitioners of Islam.  Eventually, the protestants came to save the day.

Of course, while stubbornly remaining here, we have had re-writes from the Mormons and the Jehovah’s Witnesses.  We have had other types of reinterpretations by Jim Jones and Applegate.  We have no real faith.  We have no genuine, life-changing experiences.  And, we are still here, growing ever more impatient and skeptical of new re-writes and reinterpretations that try to explain why the eschatological predictions of the bible haven’t come true.  With all that working against them, what kind of faith is the average church-goer supposed to have?

Beyond the eschatological predictions, we have ever greater knowledge about a universe that simply does not work the way religion taught us it should.  The universe is not 6,000 years old, more like 13.7 billion.  There was no 6 day creation.  This is not a three-tiered universe.  We are not at its center.  Sickness is not caused by demons and sin, but germs and other biological realities.  That means that prayer and anointing have no power to cure a biological malaise.

We do not believe what we cannot believe.  The level of our piety can never exceed our genuine faith.  Our faith can never be increased without genuine encounters with the miraculous kind, that just don’t happen.  Finally, all of the religions of the bible have failed, with the need to be continually reinterpreted and re-written to maintain any relevance at all.  The religion of Jesus and his early followers died long before the first gospel was written.  And, against all odds and biblical predictions, we’re still here.

Because of that, we must come up with new stories and experiences in which we can believe, and by which we can live our lives.  We look for it in movies, on social networks, in science books, in radical tolerance.  And, in anything else that seems true and real.  Browbeating the beleaguered believers will not produce pious practitioners of a far gone faith.  We must learn to engage this truth-starved generation with experiences that matter, rather than with stories that don’t.

David Johnson

Why? Part Two

2.  The Lack of Genuine, Transformative Experiences

If you have not read part one of “Why?” stop and read it now.

Assuming I am correct in my assertions from part one: that is, Christians cannot live out a life of piety that outstrips their true faith, then why is the level of true faith so low?  The answer is that there is a lack of genuine, transformative Experiences in the lives of the average Christian.  Faith is the life-changing response to a transformative experience. The lack of piety producing faith is a direct result of the lack of genuinely transformative experiences.  There is no substitute for the real thing.

What constitutes a genuinely transformative experience?  In a word, a miracle.  But not just any miracle.  It has to be a miracle of such epic and life-changing proportions, that it makes you drop everything and turn your back on everything and everyone you previously cared about.  Allow me to borrow some of that biblical radicalism that I so abhor, but can’t escape.

New Living Translation (©2007)
“If you want to be my disciple, you must hate everyone else by comparison–your father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters–yes, even your own life. Otherwise, you cannot be my disciple.

Your close encounter with the Jesus kind must be so shatteringly conclusive, it causes radical transformation in how you view everything and everyone.  So much devotion is demanded by the personification of love that your interactions with your own kin should look like hate by comparison.  Let me be clear.  I do not condone this.  At no time, in no way should a person put family or self second to anyone or anything, period!  Make no mistake about it; this is exactly the kind of radicalism the bible is demanding.

From the garden to now, god’s law has always been more important than human life with rare exception.  Break god’s law and die, has always been the order of the day.  It is plainly stated from Genesis to Romans.  Death of humanity was the penalty for breaking god’s law in the garden, and the wages of sin is death, according to Paul.  Father Abraham was only considered worthy after he proved willing to kill his only son on an alter to god for no better reason than that god told him to.  Throughout the bible, only those willing to make the most extreme sacrifices were counted worthy.

The bible tells us…

The Cost of Following Jesus

Luke 9

57 As they were walking along, someone said to Jesus, “I will follow you wherever you go.”

58 But Jesus replied, “Foxes have dens to live in, and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place even to lay his head.”

59 He said to another person, “Come, follow me.”

The man agreed, but he said, “Lord, first let me return home and bury my father.”

60 But Jesus told him, “Let the spiritually dead bury their own dead![l]Your duty is to go and preach about the Kingdom of God.”

61 Another said, “Yes, Lord, I will follow you, but first let me say good-bye to my family.”

62 But Jesus told him, “Anyone who puts a hand to the plow and then looks back is not fit for the Kingdom of God.”

In other words, the follower of Jesus must be willing to give up basic necessities like shelter.  Human grief over the loss of a family member is of no consequence.  And abandoning family without as much as an explanation or “fare well” is acceptable behavior for following Jesus.  In another incident…

Then Jesus entered a house, and again a crowd gathered, so that he and his disciples were not even able to eat.  When his family[b] heard about this, they went to take charge of him, for they said, “He is out of his mind.”  Mark 3: 20-21

At this point, Jesus’ family, including his mother, thought he was crazy.  This does not sound like the Mary who received the prenatal message of her son’s divinity.  Then again, Mark offers no spectacular birth narrative.  Skipping the sermon, watch what happens next:

 Then Jesus’ mother and brothers arrived. Standing outside, they sent someone in to call him.  A crowd was sitting around him, and they told him, “Your mother and brothers are outside looking for you.”

“Who are my mother and my brothers?” he asked.

Then he looked at those seated in a circle around him and said, “Here are my mother and my brothers!   Whoever does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother.”

To this Jesus, only those who do god’s will are considered his family.  With this statement, he clearly leaves his, unbelieving, biological family outside the visitation list.  Here is Jesus taking his own words literally.  One’s devotion to god must be so strong that ones orientation to family must look like hate by comparison.  I say, bollox!  A pox on the house of anyone who would follow this, or even take it seriously!

Fortunately, most people don’t.  When it comes right down to it, most people choose family and self over the demands of god and religion almost every time.  This is exactly why conservative preachers get themselves in such a lather.  Despite their best fire and brimstone sermons, people happily choose family and self over the laws of god and the demands of the church.  Again, the only way to turn this around is for people to have an experience that changes their orientation to life and reality.

The story of the book of acts is that due to such an event: the resurrection of Jesus, there was a mass alteration in the lives of his followers.  Unfortunately for us, we do not have a resurrection on which to hang our faith.  All we have is a story which renders itself less believable the more we look at it.  I dare say that if someone we knew, including ourselves, rose from the dead, we would change in such radical ways as to appear insane to the people who knew us prior to the event.  Selling off our houses and possessions and giving the proceeds to the poor would be only the first of the visible changes in our lives.  A total detachment from this world or its cares would quickly follow.  The grave would truly have no victory, and death, no sting.

In the real world, though, such is not the case.  Death and taxes are still inevitable and final.  They disrupt our lives, and the lives of those we love.  We greave for our dead in the same manner as those who have no hope.  That is because our dead are just as dead as they were when they died.  The sting is just as great, and the grave, just as victorious.  That is because we do not have resurrection experiences that seemed so common in the bible.  All we have are 2,000 year old stories that have no correspondence with the way we experience the world.

This point can’t be emphasized enough.  If one took the bible literally, we would have to believe that during, and immediately after the time of Jesus, life-altering miracles were so common, almost everyone in the region would have had either a first or second-hand encounter with such a miracle.  Almost everyone would have known someone who had been raised from the dead.  Remember the great resurrection of Jerusalem after the death of Jesus?  Beyond that, everyone would have known someone, or a credible source who knew someone who had been miraculously healed from some, heretofore, un-healable malady.  There would have been no way to escape it.  Not only was Jesus purported to be such a wonder-worker, but his disciples, as well.  After his death, resurrection, many appearances, and ascension, the disciples were so powerful, just having their shadow pass over you could heal you of just about anything.  Such a break from the natural order of reality would change lives.

We do not experience such breaks in the natural order.

We decreasingly believe in a time when such breaks ever occurred.  What we have is a generation of Christians who want to believe in such things.  They desire the experience so badly, they are willing to enter into a phase of self-deception to get it.  But in the end, all they have are stories of life-changing experiences, not the experiences, themselves.  Many churches that feature speaking in tongues teach their kids to, “prime the pump” for the sign to manifest.  In other words, practice.  So great is the desire for that experience to be real, that a well practiced tongues speaker will accept this well-earned proficiency in glossolalia as a sign from god.

Other modern-day proofs of god’s life-changing power include mundane coincidence wrapped in the packaging of answered prayer.  We purposely forget that there are uncounted trillions of events happening simultaneously at every moment of life in every place in the world.  The failure of such serendipitous coincidence would, itself, be a miracle.  It is inevitable that at the exact moment you need a helping hand, there will be someone offering one.  In an ordered universe, such things must happen on occasion.  We know this, yet we are so starved for genuine miracles, that we are willing to settle for just about anything that can be spun as out of the ordinary.

To sum it up, we do not have resurrection-level miracles; we have stories, and stories do not change lives.  This leads me to my final answer which I hope to post later today, time and health permitting.  I’ve been saving the best for last. 🙂  Enjoy.

David Johnson

Why? Part 1

A few days ago, I read a bit of doggerel someone clipped and posted on Facebook.  It was the typical polemic one might expect to hear from a conservative preacher lambasting his congregants with condemnation for their milk-toast commitment to their faith.  “Why do Christians read the newspaper more frequently than the bible?  Why do they sleep during church, but stay wide awake during a three-hour movie…”  You get the idea.  These types of questions are asked rhetorically to shame people into preferred behaviors of greater piety.  However, I think the question is worth asking for verities sake.  There is a truth worth uncovering that conservative preachers dare not approach.  I will happily go where they, and their angels, fear to tread.

I will let you know up front; I believe there are three good answers to the question.  As a result of that, and the fact that I can’t seem to write for long periods of time, these days, this will be a three-parter.

This post will cover the easiest of the three answers on offer.  It is probably the most contentious of the three.  Understand, sometimes, I mean to be contentious.  This time, it is just a byproduct of the answer.  It is the nature of this particular beast.  There is no diplomatic way of puting it.  First and for most, the reason the typical church goer is not more pious is because they have very little “real” conviction in their faith claims.  It doesn’t get any more basic than that, but I will try to make it more basic, anyway.  🙂

It is impossible to live out a greater amount of faith than that which one legitimately possesses.  This formula is as unshakable as any mathematical equation.  The reason people read the newspaper and not the bible is because they find more relevance in the newspaper than they do in some story from 2 Kings.  The reason a movie is more captivating than a sermon is because they get something valuable out of the movie.  The sermon, not so much.  The reason people spend more money dining out than tithing is they feel dining out gives them a better return on investment.  The reason they spend more time watching TV than worshiping is that they feel the TV time is time better spent.

The apostle Paul was wrong with his analysis.  People do not do what they do not want to do, nor do they fail to do what they want to do.  Remember, Paul’s notion was based on the idea of external forces such as evil and righteousness being at war in a literal, but unseen realm.  This is simply not the reality of how the world works.  In truth, we do exactly what we want to do, and avoid doing what we don’t want to do.  The devil does not make us do it, or keep us from doing it.  Only we have that power.  We study the Harry Potter universe because we enjoy it.  We avoid studying the finer points of scripture because we don’t.  Seldom do we put our money where our mouth is, but we always put it where our true conviction lies.

Speaking of lies, we can only tell them to ourselves and others for so long before the truth of who we are takes over.  Priests and Nuns and monks without the conviction of their vows do not stay celibate or silent for very long.  There have always been overflowing orphanages that attest to that simple truth.  Protestant preachers, both petty and powerful, are among the ranks of legendary philanderers, embezzlers, and outright con artists.  Piety cannot be faked very well for very long.  True conviction defeats false piety every time.

I will close with a familiar example.  People who believe they have had a close encounter of the third kind, are ardent evangelists for their particular view of the world.  Their certainty in what they saw or experienced cannot be shaken.  No amount of proof or logic can sway them from their cause.  We might be tempted to call them crazy.  They, however, would rightfully identify themselves as changed.  They are the truest of true believers.  They have had an experience powerful enough to change the way they live their lives.  Why does every statistic show that the lives of Christians are not substantively different from their non-Christian counterparts?  Because they have not had an experience powerful enough to change their lives.

This observation leads me to my second answer.

To be continued…

David Johnson

 

Old Friends; Deep Wounds.

I got a friend request from a classmate of mine that I was not always very nice to.  I felt an immediate and intense feeling of shame the moment I saw the name.  There is no religion to hide behind anymore.  I can’t just pray for forgiveness.  I have an obligation to write her, acknowledge, and apologize for that which I am guilty and ashamed.  She has already forgiven me, but that does not lessen my personal responsibility.  I was almost moved to tears like an average human. 🙂  Seems I have a heart after all.

I was reading her page and ran across a quote that I thought was worth sharing.

“When I do good, I feel good.  When I do bad, I feel bad.  That is my religion.”

Abraham Lincoln

David Johnson

Beyond Prayer, Again

It has been over a week since I posted. I’m sorry. I have not forgotten to post, nor have I given up, or run out of things to talk about. The simple truth is that I have had a return of my old friend: chronic pain. My meds stopped working, so I had to move to a higher dose. With that, all I want to do is sleep. It is hard to string two sentences together, let alone write a whole post that doesn’t sound like a drug-addled manifesto. OK, I can already hear the jokes about all my posts sounding like drug-addled manifestos.

Earlier this week, someone, moved to sympathy, offhandedly said that they would pray for me. In a moment of thoughtlessness, (yes, I have moments of thoughtlessness), I said not to bother. That’s been on my mind, so I thought I would flesh that out a bit. I apologized for my outburst, but the moment never left me.
After doing a bit more thinking about prayer, I decided to try to explain my internal reaction when someone says they will pray for me.

First, I recognize that prayer is supposed to be a good deed. It often brings comfort to those who are afflicted. If all participants share the same worldview, then prayer can be a beautiful thing. But when the worldviews are not the same, prayer becomes a one-sided recitation that benefits only one party. Most protestants that I know would not appreciate the well-meaning prayer to Mary on their behalf. A prayer to the witch goddess, or the Lord of the Flies would be even worse, perhaps, unforgivable.

For me, the god of the bible is no better option. I do not want solace from that quarter. If the god to which you prayed had the power to heal, I would not want the healing. There are so many people in line ahead of me with far more pressing needs. I can’t imagine a world where a bit of chronic pain trumps terminal cancer, or starvation, or unfair imprisonment. Further, I am not interested in the excuses that would make this seem fair.

I do not want help from the one who causes my pain, or allows it, or ignores it, or uses it to make me a better person, or holds off on dealing with it until it maximizes his own glory. You have to understand; I don’t just find the typical, Christian formula for prayer ineffective, but offensive. My desire is to be removed from prayer lists. Out of resect for me as a human being, I beg you, my friends, not to pray for me, at least, don’t rub it in my face.

Prayer is often the nuclear option. That is to say, it is the thing you do when there is absolutely nothing left to do. I believe there is plenty left to do. It’s just harder. Don’t pray for me; visit me. Send me an email or even a text. Share a meal with me. Have a conversation with me. All of these things are more meaningful than the promise of prayer. I can tell you from personal experience, when I was in the hospital for 30 days, It wasn’t prayer that kept me sane; it was true friends spending time by my bedside, bringing me puzzles to do, and sneaking me M&Ms.

There is a great park about a mile from my house. Let’s go there and take a walk around the lake, sit on a bench, and have a light snack and talk about nothing and everything. That’s the kind of prayer that brings healing. Thanks.

David Johnson

Beyond Equality

Beyond Equality

Religion is not just a collection of doctrinal beliefs confined to churches. It can also be a set of commonly held beliefs that are a part of the make up of a society. One such social doctrine is that all men, all people, are created equal. It is practically a tenet of faith in our national religion. The particular passage can be found in our declaration of independence:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

This bit of dogma is so ingrained in the American psyche, many probably believe it came directly from the bible. It didn’t. Although, it is clear that the bible had a powerful influence on the declaration. Twice in one sentence, creation is referenced. Creation is a particularly biblical cosmology. One of those references refers directly to the creator. As we all know, the creator, in this case, is the god of the bible. The Declaration presumes religious ideas, and accepts as a given, a literal interpretation of the bible.

Beyond the religious aspect of the document, there are other presuppositional statements. First, that the statement represents truth, rather than one’s best approximation of what is most beneficial for a given society. Second, these “truths” are presumed to be self-eviden, obvious to any reasonable person. Now that we have highlighted the presumptions, let us take a closer look at the proposition.

All men are created equal. At risk of repeating myself, it presumes that all men were created, as opposed to being evolved. This is clear because evolution does not produce equality. It is a rather haphazard process. In fact, evolution is guaranteed to produce inequality. Evolution produces many versions of the same model, each, successively more fit than the last. The versions evolution produces are not the same, and decidedly unequal.

The only way to achieve equality throughout an entire set is to painstakingly craft each one, endowing them with something transcendental. The thing that makes men equal is that they were created by the same god, and each given the essence, or likeness of god. This kind of equality as expressed in the Declaration, requires a literal belief in the supernatural claims of the Hebrew origin stories. Such equality must be dismissed, prima facia.

For many, this is impossible to accept. But when other factors are considered, it becomes a little easier. For instance, when it declares the equality of all men, it did not mean mankind; it meant, MEN, males, non-females. The declarers of this independence did not believe that equality applied to any group other than men. Already, you must modify a major part of this doctrine in your mind before you can accept it.

Second, all men did not include, ALL MEN. What the founders considered a man is quite different from what we consider a man. The term mostly applied to white, land owning males. A black man was not even considered a man. They were considered a different species. There is a reason the early Mormons did not accept blacks into the fellowship. For them, black people did not have souls. They were not men.

Some of the greatest inequality the world has ever known came from this doctrine of equality, because there was no agreement on what constituted a man. Slavery only applied to those considered sub-human. Owning a slave was no more wrong than owning a horse. You had to break a mule so that it could be made fit for the field work it was clearly intended for. To this day, when we buy a puppy, we think nothing of breaking up family groups for our own convenience. That was the plight of the slave. In no way did this go against the intentions of the Declaration.

To this day, many blacks do not celebrate Independence day. For their ancestors, that day and declaration represented nothing that remotely resembled independence. The declaration of the equality of all men was also the declaration of the inequality of women and men of color. It would be some time before the words of that declaration would become meaningful to the majority of US residents. Some still await that day to come for them.

Consider a thought experiment. In your mind, ask a thousand, random Americans if all men are created equal. I’m guessing that you just got a thousand yeses. Now, ask that same thousand if all people are equal. If they understand the subtle difference between the two questions, you probably just got a thousand nos. What explains such disparity?

That we are all created equal is nothing more than a religious ideal that only exists in the metaphysical realm. It has never been true. Even when the words were penned, among those considered men, there would always be some more equal than others. Once you remove the religious component from the equation, it becomes an exercise in futility to describe what ways people are equal.

We do not have equal prenatal care. We do not have equal parental affection and guidance. We do not have equal physical attributes such as IQ, vision, hearing, dexterity, and attractiveness. As a result of these and other differences, we will not have the ability to make equally beneficial life decisions. We will not be able to handle finances equally. We will not have the same fortune attracting suitable members of the opposite, or for that matter, same sex.

We do not have an equal capacity for self-discipline. Given the same resources, we will not be able to utilize them equally. We will never have equal opportunity when it comes to employment. Some people will be masters of industry, while others will be laborers, not even masters of their own destiny.

The myth of equality is at the root of some of the greatest disservices perpetrated against other humans. When we see a person in need, a part of us believes that the person is in that condition based on her own bad choices. We fail to realize that most people choose very little about their lives. A woman with an IQ of 80, who grew up around drug addicts and abusers, has a limited set of choices. Failure to see that is a disservice to humanity.

Assuming that everyone had an equal start in life allows us to judge the outcome of their collective choices. Once we free ourselves from the harmful myth of equality, we quickly lose the ability to judge and keep score. Those who are successful in life, and who have pulled themselves up by their own bootstraps, often believe that if they can do it, anyone ought to be able to accomplish the same level of success.

That kind of thinking demonstrates the inaccurate assumption that everyone is equal in some measurable way. Writing your own rags to riches story just means that you are exceptional. The vast majority of the world, regardless of where they live, will simply never be able to do that.

Once we make the intellectual and emotional leap that all people are, not in fact, equal, we still haven’t solved any problems; we have only defined a major one. If we are not all equal, how can all laws and expectations be equally applied? The answer is, they can’t; they aren’t. The language of equality complicates the goal of defining human rights. Obviously, we will have to address this one again.

David Johnson