A difference of opinion

opinion

Some have taken to styling the difference between the religious and non-religious worldview as a mere, difference of opinion. It is as if we believe it is on the order of rooting for Alabama (roll tide) or Auburn (War Eagle). To avoid the debate altogether, we engage in the conversational cowardice  of agreeing to disagree. But I contend that it is so much more than that. We are not talking about a matter of opinion or angle of perspective. We are talking about the basis of law, social mores, and human rights. It is not just a difference of opinion, but a fundamental understanding of how the universe works. And that is worth risking a few verbal bruises in the arena of meaningful debate.

Equal footing

To say that a faith-based worldview versus a science-based worldview is merely a difference of opinion, is to place them both at the same level. It pretends that both world views are on equal footing with one another. They are both mere matters of opinion. The suggestion is that it is wrong to assign one opinion more weight than the other. After all, it is only an opinion, and everybody has one. Yours is no better than mine. At least, that is how the reasoning goes.

This strategy only favors the one with the weaker argument. It allows them to lose the battle, but win the ceasefire. Religion can lose every argument. But if the battle ends with the other side treating religion as an equal, that is a major victory for religion. Such a ceasefire should never be allowed. Faith is not equal to physics. Religion and spirituality are not just other ways of reaching the same, universal truths.

Substance and evidence

Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. He. 11:1

The bible attempts to place faith on equal footing with science by referring to faith as substance and evidence. This is an attempt to enlist the words of science to bolster the claims of faith. In the above passage, hope is placed on a level playing field with substance, and unseen things are elevated to evidence.

Reality, however, makes quick work of this juvenile sophistry. Fill one hand with the hope of a million dollars, and the other with a dollar, and it becomes readily apparent which handful buys you a cup of coffee. In court, defend yourself with unseen things while the prosecution convicts you with evidence. How many phone calls will you be allowed to make after the trial is over? Exactly!

Something you believe vs. something you know

To further make this obvious point, let’s do a thought experiment. Think about the closest house to yours that you have never been inside. Now, let’s place a bet on how many bedrooms you think it has, $1 being the smallest bet, $100 being the largest. Once done, think about the number of bedrooms in your own house. Place a bet on that number. Did you make the same sized bet on both propositions? Of course not. Where you were unsure, you place a small bet. Where you were certain, you bet everything.

Even if you looked at the construction, compared it to houses with which you were familiar, and was fairly convinced there were two bedrooms, you couldn’t be sure. In your own house, there was no room for doubt. It was not a mere difference of opinion. One was what you believed; the other was what you knew. There is no equality between what you believe and what you know.

Removing the labels to reveal the truth

Labeling is one of the most effective tools of debate. An the US, the debate over abortion does not come down to science or morality. It comes down to reductionist labeling. Pro-life is defeated by pro-choice. For Americans, life is good, but choice is better. Reduce your argument to a winning label, and more often than not, you win. The reverse is also true. Reduce the other side to a losing label, and they lose. Ronald Reagan did not lead the battle against another nation with different ideas about governance. He fought a holy war against the evil empire.

To be honest, non-believers like myself use the word, “religion” as a pejorative. In all fairness, religious people use “atheist”, and even “science” in the same way. A religious person might say, “Your science leaves you cold and without answers in matters of the spirit.” A non-believer might say, “If we used religion to launch rockets, we would have never left the atmosphere.”

But what happens if we remove the labels? If we are forced to talk about science without using the word, we would be left with other words like observation, measurement, experimentation, repetition, and falsification. Take away religion as a word, and what we have left are other words like faith, hope, believe, wish, invisible, spirit, and miracle. One ounce of repeatedly observed measurements outweighs a ton of invisible spirit miracles. Not the same!

Conclusion

Declaring a thing a difference of opinion assumes that neither side has the facts. Arguing over the number of bedrooms in my neighbor’s house is a difference of opinion because neither of us knows for sure. My opinion is probably better than yours because, at least, I’ve seen the outside of his house. You, most likely, have not. However, disagreeing over the number of bedrooms in my own house is not a difference of opinion. It is your opinion against my fact. It is your magic mind weapon vs. my nuclear bomb. You can try to say that it is just a difference in weaponry. But once both are deployed, you probably wouldn’t finish the sentence.

Agreeing to disagree is weak sause. Unprovable opinion is never equal to repeatedly observed fact. Religion and science are not on an equal playing field. Religious education is oxymoronic: a subject I will write about at another time. I will not sit idly by and have my laws, social mores, and human rights be determined by people who believe that the bible is on a par with Isaac Newton’s Principia. Nor should you!

David Johnson

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Social Activism: The Religion of the Non-Religious (Part 2)

Before getting started, I want to acknowledge the fact that it has been a while since writing my last post. It has been a personally challenging week. You might want to look over the previous post, as I will do little by way of reintroducing the theme. I’m just going to pick up where I left off as if no time had past. Thanks for your patience.

I suggested the religion of social activism has a set of doctrines that are as important as those of any creedal religion. Rather than detailing the specific doctrines as I had intended, I will attempt to summarize these doctrines into broader themes. One of these themes is the advancement of social evolution divorced from any practical, current reality. This is what I consider to be radical utopianism.

Let me be clear. I am all in favor of advancing the pace of social evolution. I have also said on a number of occasions that I am a utopianist. However, I must qualify those statements with the caveat that I recognize that there are many interim steps that must be taken between where we are, and where I would like us to end up. Further, I recognize there are many practical realities that render my utopian vision impossible at the current time. Finally, I recognize that my utopian vision is mine, alone. It is not the one, right vision of the final stage of social evolution. There are other, valid interpretations of an ideal future.

My experience with serious practitioners of the social religion lead me to the conclusion that many in this camp have a radicalized version of utopia that is not firmly rooted in the reality that I know and understand. One example of this can be found in the issue of immigration that is currently raging in the state of Alabama. Let me just say that I am very sympathetic of the cause of my undocumented neighbors. I understand where they are coming from. I know the issues very well, and the people who struggle with them.

However, many do damage to the cause just by seeming so radical, as to alienate the majority of people who are living with practical realities that make this such a difficult issue. The argument is framed in the most divisive of ways. You either agree with us, or you’re a racist. That kind of radicalism is, for me, a bridge too far.

The radicalized view of immigration is a beautiful vision. It suggests that we are all brothers and sisters regardless of borders and artificial lines drawn on a map. One gets the since that this group has no interest in immigration reform, but only in the annihilation of all immigration law. That is simply not going to happen any time soon. Though I would love to see that day come before I die, I have no reasonable expectation that it will. Right now, in our current stage of social evolution, we need boundaries and borders, as much as it pains me to admit it. We cannot simply declare ourselves more evolved than our fellow man and declare war on the idea of immigration law. That is unrealistic and unproductive. The religion of social activism tries to advance us to an idealistic place by skipping over things like practical concerns.

Another tenet of the social faith is that there is one, right vision of the ideal state of human kind. Naturally, this philosophy leads to the worst kind of intolerance and polarization. I have found there is no difference in the level of tolerance of the loving left, and the rigid right. The dark side of the liberal utopian seems to be a deep-seeded hatred of anything that smacks of conservatism. From the same mouth that flows words of love, justice, and solidarity, come some of the worst torrents of embittered vitriol against fellow human beings that happen to be of a conservative bent. I can only describe the anti-conservative rhetoric as poisonous. Negative stereotypes and even hate-speech seem to be perfectly fair game when referring to conservatives. It is a blind spot of which they seem to be completely unaware.

One of the people I know who is extremely active and productive with regard to charitable work is also the meanest, bitterest, most abrasive and judgmental person I have ever encountered, especially once you get on the wrong side of her worldview. She is either unaware, or unconcerned about the dichotomy. She is far from alone when it comes to this trait. People who believe they have the perfect vision for how others should live, tend not to suffer fools well: fools being anyone who disagrees with that vision. Such people are bigoted, greedy, selfish, backward, narrow-minded, sub-human slime. Needless to say, this does not make for an environment conducive to negotiating middle ground. This type of radical allism is a universal sign of the true believer of any religion.

Finally, there is the matter of motivation. The practitioner of the social religion will insist that they are strictly motivated by a desire to help others. In no way is their activism a matter of selfish fulfillment. They see themselves as saints, practically martyrs. They are the most selfless people they know. That is unfortunate, as I do not trust anyone who claims to be completely selfless in his or her desire to help me.

I believe there are no healthy, selfless motivations. At the very minimum, helping others feels good. Wanting to achieve that feeling is a selfish motivation. There is also a certain element of power dynamics in providing aid to another. When you provide aid to another, you gain a measure of power over that person. On a grand, political scale, standing up for the rights of others can bring you a great deal of power. The power brokers of social activism become powerful in their own rights.

The ultimate goal of every anti-establishmentarian is to some day, become the establishment. They want their vision of the body politic to be the framework of reality, as opposed to the one that is in place. Those are perfectly reasonable, and selfish motivations. People who do not see their own, selfish motivations are far more dangerous than those who do. The person who is convinced that he is motivated by absolute good, can become convinced that you are motivated by absolute evil. That person is not your friend.

Is it possible to be a social activist without drinking the Kool-Aid of the religion? At this point, I honestly do not know. I will let you know when I do.

 

David Johnson

Beyond Tribe

I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the republic for which it stands, one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.

This is the time of year when we revel in our tribal comfort.  Once a year, we set aside our differences to join hands in unity.  But this is a little like the sons of Abraham joining hands in unity and pretending they do not represent a tribal religion.  Ironically, when they join hands in unity, they represent the ultimate in tribal religion.   Americans are seldom more tribal than when we are united under the red white and blue banner.

While it is true that tribal impulses played a part in our evolutionary progress, that time has long passed.  We have graduated from caveman school, and a lot has changed.  There is a lot of psychological baggage we need to jettison for us to successfully advance to the next stage of human development.  Tribalism is one of them.

The Pledge of Allegiance:  a doctrine I have long refused to publicly proclaim, is America’s ultimate statement of tribal dedication.  It, like all such tribal creeds, is full of hidden contradictions and self-deception.  There is nothing there that inspires confidence in one who calls home, any square of land outside of these blessed borders.  I am left to conclude that even if we achieve this mythical union that we hold so dear, we would not necessarily have promoted a greater humanity.

I pledge allegiance to a greater humanity.  It doesn’t have a flag.  The United States does not represent humanity.  It’s flag is too small.  My allegiance includes the idealism of an empowered citizenry.  However, that republic remains only an ideal.  It does not yet exist.  What passes as a republic of empowered citizens in America is a lamentable joke, and receives no portion of my pledge.

One nation under god is a target for war.  I will go to war against such a country.  To hell with such a country.  When nationalism becomes Zionism, becomes theocracy, your time has past, if it ever was.  When one nation under god is replace with, one world under humanity, sign me up.  Till then, one nation under god can only survive as long as it does not encounter a stronger nation under a stronger god.  We know how that story ends.

As far as the rest, indivisible, liberty and justice for all, who really believes that we have achieved all that, or that the flag represents all that?  Outside of this holiday, we are as divided as any country in the world.  We do not offer liberty and justice for all, even when limited to our own borders, nor have we ever.  This has always been more fantasy than fact.

Today, I wear my Repeal HB56 T-shirt, with my LBGTQ button binned to it to remind me just how far from the mark we are.  At the Unitarian Church where I attend, when the pledge is spoken, (if it is) I will not just remain silent; I will walk out.  It is my intention to do the same wherever this action is feasible to do.  I will not be seen as joining in while my tribe pounds their chest in defiance against other tribes.  I separate myself from such behavior.  I will stand outside of, and beyond tribe.  This is my protest.  This is my pledge.  This is my prayer.

 

David Johnson

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

Sins of the Father Chapter Nine

Chapter Nine

 

Messiah

 

 

 

The New Testament

 

When we think of the new testament, we often think of the last 27 books of the bible.  That is a mistake as the division in the testaments is a device of men, not of god.  The first century Christian never conceived of an old testament and a new testament.  For them, all sacred writings were nothing more or less than scripture.  Why then, do we make this artificial distinction in sacred scripture?

The reason is both obvious and curious.  We make a distinction in scripture because of the point at the division, something new was happening.  By the time Jesus came onto the scene, it was not your father’s Judaism.  They had fallen considerably in the eyes of the world, and in their own eyes as well.  It had been a very long time since anyone thought of them as a superpower.  When is the last time anyone thought of Turkey, or Greece, or Italy as a world beating superpower?  Whatever answer you come up with, it had been longer than that since the Jewish glory days.  Once, they were like the modern day America.  They sunk to something like a modern day African state.  They were not even worth spitting on.

They did not just slowly decline from greatness.  They were ruthlessly beaten down by every powerful nation within reach.  They were forced into a type of slavery that rivaled the Egyptian captivity.  It may have been even worse.  They were systematically stripped of every vestige of identity.  At times, they had lost their collective memory of who they once were.

That sort of domination does bad things to the one being dominated.  We have seen a bit of what that is like in our own American history.  When we took slaves from Africa, we did not just capture them and force them to work.  We stripped them of everything that identified them as a people.  We destroyed their family groups.  We took away their languages.  We abolished their religion.  To make matters worse, we were not interested in replacing it with something better.  We raped their women.  We had brutal overseers beat them into submission.  We forbad them the privilege of learning to read and write.  We would not allow them to own property.  It was a very dark time for the American slave.

Some who conquered Israel did so with a genocidal fervor.  They set out, not to kill the people, but to obliterate the culture.  They did a pretty good job of it.  Perhaps some of the hatred leveled at the Jews was due to the Jewish attitude of superiority over the rest of the world.  The Jews were convinced that they were greater than all others because their god was greater than all other gods.  They took much joy in rubbing that fact in the face of a lot of people.  Nations were eager to show the Jews that their god was not as powerful as they believed.  This point was proven so thoroughly and for so long that even the Jews believed it.  There were only a handful that kept the faith.  As a nation, Israel was beaten to a pulp and left for dead.

This is why Judaism looked so different in Jesus day than it did in David’s time.  The Jews had forgotten who they were and absorbed the traditions and cultures of their conquerors.  We can get a glimpse of what the change must have looked like.  The American black is nothing like the African black.  They live in two different worlds and have very different world views.  The American black knows virtually nothing about Africa, from which their ancestors came.  They speak the language of their captors.  They have the values of their captors.  They practice the religion of their captors.  They marry the women of their captors.  That is the sort of makeover the Jews had gone through.

Suddenly you see things in the gospel accounts that were foreign to the ancient Jews: things they seemed to accept without question.  We see the synagogue appear out of nowhere.  Money changing was a requirement to pay temple taxes.  The Jewish hierarchy was subject to Rome.  There were multiple denominations of Judaism.  As an average Jew, it was impossible to know who to listen to.  They had little idea of what orthodox Judaism was, let alone what teacher had the purist teaching.  It was a mess.

What remained from the glory days was the desire for justice.  They wanted their freedom.  They wanted their nation back.  They wanted to overthrow their enemies and reestablish the dominance of Israel.  They wanted god to show himself and fulfill his promises which the Jews saw as outstanding.

The trouble was figuring out exactly how god was going to fulfill his promises.  Different branches of Judaism had different ideas on the subject.  The bible gives us only one of those views, but in the real world, it was never quite so clear cut.  There were some that resonated with the message of Jesus.  There were plenty more that did not.  The Christian bible is rather self serving as it presents only the books and ideas that help tell one particular side of the story.  Even so, that is the story we have.  As Christians, to paraphrase a country song, that’s our story and we’re sticking to it.  What the Jews of the bible clamored for was a redeemer, a savior, a messiah.

There is still the question of what type of messiah they had in mind.  What did salvation look like for them?  From what did they want to be saved.  When answering that question, we will also discover the answer to another equally important question: when did they expect this salvation to take place.

The easiest question to answer is from what did they want to be saved.  You can rest assured that salvation was something very different for them than it is for us.  We might say that we want to be saved from the consequences of our sins.  Some might even want to be saved from the reality of sin in their lives and that which permeates the environment throughout the world.  For still others, salvation is just an assurance that they will not go to hell.  Yet others want to acquire the joys of heaven.

For most Christians, salvation is a two part proposition.  We somehow accept the offer of salvation from Jesus and in doing so, we are saved from that moment.  This initial stage of salvation, though, carries few tangible evidences of that salvation.  For most, their salvation is a matter of faith as they have no other way to prove it really happened.  As I have stated before, and probably will again, their lives are just as much a mess today as it was before they were saved.  Their marriage is still falling apart, their health is still declining, and their bank account balance is still shrinking.  Our enemies still have power over us and we are still helpless to fight back.  One might be tempted to ask, from what have we been saved?

The real salvation that brings an end to pain and sorrow and tears and toil does not actually happen until the second coming.  A Jew might be tempted to ask how many times does our messiah need to come?  Why do we even need a second coming?  It seems the first one didn’t get the job done.

For the Jews, salvation had only one meaning.  They wanted to be saved from oppression and suffering.  They did not have a nuanced view of sin.  For them, if you wanted to be free from the bonds of sin, you just had to stop sinning and make the proper atonement.  They would not have understood a dialogue about sin between two modern Christians.

For them, sin had tangible results.  Forgiveness meant that the consequences of sin would be lifted and they would have a fully restored relationship with god.  A fully restored relationship with god meant that they would prosper in a tangible way.  You could say that the Jewish gospel was the original prosperity gospel.  They did not serve god because they felt warm and fuzzy about him.  Most of the time, they were afraid of him.  They served god because he offered them tangible and immediate protection and prosperity in this life, not in some future life to come.  For them, that protection and prosperity was all wrapped up in the nation status of Israel.  In short, they wanted to be a superpower again.  At the very least, they wanted to stop being the world’s whipping boy.

Some Jews made it their mission in life to help make this dream a reality.  Some did it by forming terrorist cults and slitting the throats of their enemies one at a time.  In Jesus day, there was no military.  Terrorists were the closest thing to an army the Israelites had.  The terrorist method did not work.  There was no army, and there could be no military victory.  The Jesus sect found a way to declare victory without ever firing a shot.  That, in essence, is the story of the new testament.

 

 

To Manufactured Triumphs

 

In Star Trek the next generation, season 7, episode 4, “Take Me Out to the Holosuite,” Captain Sisko encounters his arch rival from the academy.  It is a Vulcan with far superior speed, strength, mental capability, etc.  The Vulcan brings his ship to the station for repairs.  While there, he challenges Sisko to a game of baseball, just to carry on the old rivalry and humiliate the captain further.

Sisko accepts the challenge and takes it all too seriously.  He whips his crew into shape for the big game.  The outcome of the game was as expected: a lopsided victory for the Vulcans.  Rather than being humiliated, Sisko and his crew rise above the petty rivalry by some good humored taunting and a manufactured, rhetorical victory.  It was a heartwarming story at a time in the characters’ lives when they could really use a victory.  There was no way to attain an actual victory on the scoreboard, so they did the next best thing.  They simply manufactured a victory.  It was one of the greatest manufactured victories of all time.  The greatest manufactured victory of all time goes, hands down, to the Christians.

Before taking a closer look at the manufactured triumph, let us look again at the victory the Jews had in mind.  Remember, they had been in captivity for longer than any of them could remember.  They could only imagine what it would be like to be a free, autonomous, and powerful state.  Their sacred stories told of such times.  They understood those stories to imply that the promise of a victorious state was an everlasting oath.

Also remember that they had not seen what they considered to be justice in a very long time.  Most of them had never experienced anything resembling fairness.  To them, justice had been too long delayed.  They were in despair that god may have completely forsaken them and left them for dead in the hands of their enemies.  They cried out for deliverance.  It was not a spiritualized sort of deliverance, but a tangible one.

It was much the same when the children of Israel were enslaved in the land of Egypt.  They were being tormented for reasons beyond their comprehension after a long period of prosperity in the land.  They suffered under the lash and cried out to god.  They were not asking for some type of spiritual solace.  They were asking for a literal deliverance.  They were looking for the same type of deliverance in Jesus’ day.

For the captive Jew, that deliverance would come in the form of a messiah.  Once again, this was not some over spiritualized concept.  A messiah was nothing more than a king with god’s blessing.  The term, anointed one, has to do with the ceremony of appointing a king.  Christ is just another word for messiah.  It was not a particularly spiritual term and it was not specifically reserved for Jesus.

In fact, there were many messiahs.  Saul, David, and Solomon were all considered messiahs as they were anointed ones of god.  They were not god, they were simply god’s servant in the role of a king.  Son of god and son of man also did not refer to god.  Nor were they terms reserved exclusively for Jesus.  In fact, son of god most directly referred to the Davidic line of kings.  Son of man was also in use long before Jesus came on the scene, the point is, none of these were particularly spiritual terms.  They referred to special men appointed by god to fulfill a role.

References to Jesus as the son of god, son of man, and messiah, marked him out as one contending for the kingship of Israel.  That is the only thing messiah indicated to anyone who associated the term with Jesus.  As it had come to be used in his day, a messiah was a deliverer.  He would not be a peace time king like Solomon, rather, he would be a conqueror.  To be any other kind of messiah was to be no messiah at all.

Now, you can begin to understand why the Jews throughout history, have rejected Jesus as a messiah.  To them, he was no messiah.  He has not restored the throne of David in the heart of Jerusalem.  He raised no armies and overthrew no oppressors.  His followers did not grow prosperous or victorious in any tangible way.  Not only did Jesus not save Israel, he might be blamed, by some, for its destruction.  Things certainly got worse, not better.

In no tangible way did he fulfill the role of messiah.  Even if he did all of the legendary miracles ascribed to him, that would make him nothing more than a prophet, perhaps even a son of man, as they understood the term, but not a king.  In order to make Jesus into a messiah, he and his followers would have to redefine almost every word in the Jewish dictionary.  That is precisely what they did.

 

 

“Everything You Know Is Wrong”

 

Some years ago, there was a Weird Al Yankovic Song called “Everything You Know Is Wrong.”  Yankovic is a musical comedian who exchanges the words of popular songs for words with comedic value.  In this particular song, Yankovic evokes many dreamlike images.  The images conflict with each other.  In this song, contradictions abound.  Every aspect of the song represents one impossibility after another.

The chorus does not clear up any of the mysteries in the verses.  It emphatically states that…

 

“Everything you know is wrong.  Black is white, up is down and short is long, and everything you just thought was so important doesn’t matter.  Everything you know is wrong.  Just forget the words and sing along.  All you need to understand is everything you know is wrong.”

 

Surely, Yankovic never intended to write a gospel song.  Unwittingly, that is exactly what he did.  With the words of the chorus quoted above, Yankovic gave a clearer and more accurate summary of the gospel message of Jesus than any preacher I have ever heard.

Every aspect of the message and presentation of Jesus screamed to the people that everything they knew and expected and hoped for was wrong.  The meaning of traditional acts and common words was transformed into something different.  Jesus even made it clear that the teachers of the law, regardless of denomination, had everything exactly backward.  Consider the sermon on the mount.  It starts out with a bang and just gets better from there.

 

“God blesses those who are poor and realize their need for him, for the Kingdom of Heaven is theirs.  God blesses those who mourn, for they will be comforted.  God blesses those who are humble, for they will inherit the whole earth.  God blesses those who hunger and thirst for justice, for they will be satisfied.    God blesses those who are merciful, for they will be shown mercy.  God blesses those whose hearts are pure, for they will see God.  God blesses those who work for peace, for they will be called the children of God.  God blesses those who are persecuted for doing right, for the Kingdom of Heaven is theirs.

“God blesses you when people mock you and persecute you and lie about you and say all sorts of evil things against you because you are my followers. Be happy about it! Be very glad! For a great reward awaits you in heaven. And remember, the ancient prophets were persecuted in the same way.” (Matt 5:3-12 NLT-SE)

 

In these few sentences, Jesus redefines what it means to be blessed.  This was not the Mosaic view of blessing.  This is not a Davidic formula.  David would be praying that god smash out the brains of his enemies’ babies.  This is also not a prophetic formula.  Job would not recognize any of this as a blessing, nor would the wisdom writers.  No one in Jerusalem and in all the known world considered themselves blessed because they were persecuted.

Consider the people who are supposed to be happy and considered blessed by god in the Jesusic formula.  The poor, the sad, the humble, the unjustly treated, the merciful, the peacemakers, and the persecuted.  Under the suffering sinner, or the generational curse formulations, most of these people were in their condition because they were getting exactly what they deserved.  In these few verses, Jesus contradicted the Patriarchs, Moses, the kings, and the prophets.  That was only the beginning.

With his next breath, he tells them that they are not useless, but useful.  They are the salt of the earth.  More to the point, they were the light of the world.  A shining light should not be hidden under a bowl.  They were not to think of themselves as the shame of the world, but the light of the world.  The world would see their good works and glorify the father rather than laugh.

Next, Jesus informs them of his commitment to the law.  It is the most important thing to Jesus.  It is his purpose to see it fulfilled.  He makes it clear that whoever breaks, or teaches someone to break the smallest of laws will be least in the sight of god.  It is at this point in his speech where he begins to redefine much of what people understood to be the law.

Thou shall not kill became thou shall not hate.  Thou shall not commit adultery became thou shall not lust.  Disagreements were to be settled out of court.  Divorce which was regulated under the law of Moses was strictly forbidden with few exceptions.  Swearing solemn oaths was no longer allowed.  The old ideas about justice such as an eye for an eye, also regulated by the law, was now wrong.  There should be no retaliation or seeking legal recourse for being wronged by another.  Now, if someone steals from you, you should give them even more.  If someone hits you, make yourself an easier target for the next blow.  Jesus is just getting warmed up.

 

“You have heard the law that says, ‘Love your neighbor’ and hate your enemy. But I say, love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you! In that way, you will be acting as true children of your Father in heaven. For he gives his sunlight to both the evil and the good, and he sends rain on the just and the unjust alike. If you love only those who love you, what reward is there for that? Even corrupt tax collectors do that much. If you are kind only to your friends, how are you different from anyone else? Even pagans do that. But you are to be perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect.” (Matt 5:43-48 NLT-SE)

 

Which part of the law did Jesus get that from?  Be perfect?  Really?  He goes on to tell them that they are giving incorrectly and praying incorrectly.  Then, he drops another bombshell.  He tells them that the way to have their sins forgiven is by forgiving others.  He emphasizes this by saying that if they do not forgive others, they, themselves will not be forgiven.  There is no such doctrine of forgiveness in the law.  Back then, god was into smiting the enemies of his people, and his people were looking forward to it.

After telling them that they were fasting incorrectly, he dropped yet another bomb.

 

“Don’t store up treasures here on earth, where moths eat them and rust destroys them, and where thieves break in and steal. Store your treasures in heaven, where moths and rust cannot destroy, and thieves do not break in and steal. Wherever your treasure is, there the desires of your heart will also be.” (Matt 6:19-21 NLT-SE)

 

In this passage, Jesus redefines what it means to have treasure.  Storing up earthly treasure was the goal.  That was, after all, the whole point of prosperity.  Jesus casts earthly wealth in a bad light.  What did that say about the ancients who were rewarded with earthly wealth?

Jesus when on in this manner throughout the rest of his ministry, redefining what it meant to be a Jew in good standing, and what reward and expectation should be like in this brave new world.  The people were no longer poor, or hungry, or sick, or abused; they were blessed.  Their reward was waiting for them in the heavenly realm.  All they had to do to get it was to keep the law and be perfect as the father is perfect.  You may think you kept the law by casting out demons and doing good deeds, but you still may be sent away as a stranger to god.  Suffer well and bless the ones causing you to suffer.  Be satisfied, even happy with your lot in life.  Bear your unfair treatment quietly and be humble.  That is the new definition of victory.

The rest is history.

Jesus’ followers crowned him king even though he left the scene with promises to return with heavenly hosts.  The kingdom was invisible, not of this world.  The treasure was in the heavenly bank.  There was a mansion waiting for each faithful disciple.  The lord would take revenge in his own good time.  Consider persecution a badge of honor, in fact, it is a sign of righteousness.  Don’t try to save your life: that is the best way to lose it.  Don’t try to be first in line.  Give way to others; by doing so, you will be first.  Everything in the life of the Jew was recast so that it was no longer a bad thing, but a good thing.  They just had to hang on a little longer and their reward would be arriving soon.  That has been the line of the great religious hucksters for the last two thousand years.

Sins of the Father Chapter Eight

Chapter Eight

 

Apocalypse

 

 

 

A Whole New World

 

There is a common theme shared by all of the afore mentioned formulas of sin and suffering.  Original sin, generational curse, and suffering sinner all lack a necessary component of justice.  Original sin is great for explaining why the world has gone to hell in a hand basket.  It just does nothing to explain why wicked people prosper.  Suffering is the default setting and reward is random.  There is no justice in that.  Generational curses make it impossible to keep up with who is supposed to suffer and who is supposed to prosper.  The problem is that if you happen to be a part of the generation that is cursed, there is no hope of redemption offered to you.  Again, Justice is thwarted.  The suffering sinner solution is only effective on paper.  It sounds fair but you do not even have to look out of your window to realize that life is not fair.  What they needed was a formula that took the best parts of all the existing philosophies with the addition of a justice component.

Just any justice component would not do.  Suffering sinner offered a justice component, it just didn’t work as advertised.  It was too idealistic.  They needed the type of justice that would be considered fair, yet was not subject to measurement.  They needed justice that transcended human comprehension or experience.  They needed a way to convince people that even though life was unfair and that they were suffering without cause or disproportionately, It would still work out well for them in the end.  Also, the evildoers who were nonetheless prospering, would get their just deserts in the end.

Here again, the problem is with experience.  Good people died without relief, and bad people died without paying the piper.  This view of the end where justice is served was like nothing ever experienced in this world.  That was a problem until people started to think that perhaps justice did not have to be experienced in this world.  Perhaps justice could be experienced in some world to come.  What type of world would that be?

The answer is that it would have to be a whole new world, or at least a whole new world order.  It would require many things that were inconceivable in this world.  For there to be justice for all people throughout history, there would have to be a resurrection from the dead.  Whether that resurrection is spiritual or physical does not matter.  There just has to be some reality where people who were wronged in this life would be rewarded in the next.  God would make it up to them somehow.  The same is true for the evildoers.  They would have to be raised from the dead so that they could experience the punishment that was long overdue.

Resurrection is not the only new thing needed to provide ultimate justice.  An explanation was required for why things went so wrong, and stayed so wrong for so long.  Part of that explanation is that there were other forces at play.  It was not just god versus man.  God is clearly too powerful for his good intentions to be thwarted by us.  There had to be some other cosmic force with which god had to contend.  If god is the personification of all things good, then it made sense that there had to be a personification of all things evil.

Other apocalyptic ideas also came into view.  If there was to be justice for those who were wrongly treated during their lifetimes here on earth, then they must live some place presently that is pleasant.  Even we believe that justice delayed is justice denied.  It only makes sense that there must be a region for disembodied souls to wait for the final justice to take place.  There must be a place for the good and a place for the wicked.  It would not be fair for them to be in the same waiting room.  Eventually, this grew into the doctrine of heaven: a place of eternal bliss, and hell: a place of eternal torture.

With all of these new apocalyptic tools, we can fashion a better justice component.  With a better justice component, we can finally fashion a doctrine of sin and suffering that everyone can live with and will withstand the test of time.

 

 

Suffering Servant

 

With the apocalyptic ideas in place, we can now introduce the fourth explanation for sin and suffering.  Because there are so many tools, and because these tools did not just spring into being all at once, there are many variations of the central theme.  I call it the suffering servant solution.

With the suffering sinner explanation, bad things happened as a result of you doing bad things.  Good things would happen if you stopped doing bad things and started doing good things.  There was a one to one relationship between works and reward.  For the suffering servant, the equation was turned completely upside down.  It actually was more in line with the reality people experienced.  If you were prospering, you were probably doing so by oppressing good people.  If you were suffering, it was probably because you were doing what was right.

Not to worry, though.  A time is coming when your suffering will end and you will be prosperous, if not in this life, then in the life to come.  As for those who caused you to suffer, they will be the subjects of godly vengeance, if not in this life, then in the life to come.  If justice is put off until the next life, the justice will be infinitely magnified.  You will not only have joy and prosperity, you will have infinite joy and prosperity.  The same goes for the ones slated for torment.  You will not just pay for your finite sins, you will pay infinitely.

The suffering servant model is the clear winner of the eschatological battle for the Christians.  It is the most satisfying explanation of sin and suffering we have.  It incorporates a justice model that, though not fully comprehensible to us, still gets the job done.  The big questions are now resolved but that leaves many little questions yet to be answered.  Though the proponents of this view share broad agreement, there is still much to be worked out.

Some of the details seem minor but create major doctrinal challenges.  We are introduced to a whole new set of questions that have numerous and conflicting answers, even in the bible.  The old testament and the new just cannot seem to get on the same page.  That is the first of a number of problems the apocalyptic view has to face.

 

 

Beginning of the End

 

When did these apocalyptic ideas start to take shape?  What marked the beginning of this new end times view?  This is a fair question as you do not find most of the major ideas of the apocalyptic view in the old testament, yet they abound in the teaching of Jesus and his followers.

Among the things you do not find in the old testament is a doctrine of heaven and hell.  There is no clear teaching of an afterlife that includes reward and punishment.  There is no doctrine of Satan as the personification of evil, or a hint that he is in control of things in this current age.  These are major themes of apocalyptic theology that are just not present in the vast majority of scripture.  Why?

This requires a lot more attention than it has received in my experience.  In Judaism, there is no doctrine of heaven and hell.  That is because they only use the old testament scriptures.  There is nothing in the old testament scriptures that indicates eternity in a different realm of reward and punishment outside of this world.  For the Jews, this world is all there was, and ever would be.  If there was life after death, that life would be here on earth.

When god warned Adam and Eve of the consequences of eating the forbidden fruit, he told them that the day they ate of it, they would surely die.  I would readily agree that death is no picnic, but compared to hell, death, as the song says, aint no big deal.  That was only the first of many occasions god could have unveiled the reward of heaven or the threat of hell.

Throughout the old testament, god spoke to his people through prophets and other spokesmen.  He promised them many rewards for serving him, as well as many punishments for disobedience.  God is never shy at such times, he colors his promises with lavish detail.  The children of Israel knew exactly what was awaiting them based on their behavior.  Never once did god promise them a home with him for all eternity.  Never once did he threaten the wicked with life after death in torment for all eternity.  Throughout the old testament, there simply is no such thing as heaven and hell as we understand it today.

Also conspicuously absent from the old testament is the character of Satan, the personification of evil.  What you find is that the people of god were subject to the myths, superstitions, and belief in the false gods of their captors.  They borrowed much from the religion of the Egyptians, and even more from the Babylonians.  They had much to fear during their time as captives.  They also had much to explain.  Why was their god not delivering them from the clutches of the enemy even after they repented?  For some, a powerful archenemy of god must have seemed very appealing.  Unfortunately, god himself, dismisses the notion of any rival.  As we will later see, god takes the credit for the good and the bad that happens to Israel.  There was never an enemy of Israel that god did not direct and control.  According to the god of the Jews, there is no devil.

 

 

Eternal Life

 

The cornerstone of the apocalyptic solution to sin and suffering is an afterlife where all will be made right and justice will prevail.  Without an afterlife, there can be no Christianity.  According to Paul, the whole point of the resurrection of Jesus was to lead the way for the general resurrection of the dead, and the ushering in of a new age.  If Christ did not rise, then all is meaningless.  Resurrection and eternal life are the lifeblood of the new testament.  Surely these doctrines have been around from the beginning.

Unfortunately, along with heaven, hell, and the devil, resurrection and the afterlife of eternity did not make it into the old testament, at least the pre-exilic parts of the old testament.  There is a distinct difference in character of the books written before the exile and those written after.  I will not attempt to provide a history of the exile.  Let us just say that many bad things happened to the people of god.  They never quite recovered.

One of the things that happened was a drastic shift in their worldview.  All of their previous answers to the question of sin and suffering went right out of the window.  Their experience graphically showed them that they could not count on the old formulas for justice.  Between the time of 200 BC and 100 AD, the genre of literature called apocalyptic writing was at its height.  These writings were all presented as dreams or visions from god.  There was usually an angel involved to guide the seer.  The purpose of these visions was to give the seer a glimpse into the near future so that they could know and convey to others that justice was on the way and that the end was coming soon.

There are two keys to understanding apocalyptic writing.  The first key is that they all were primarily concerned with the issue of justice.  The second, and perhaps more important key is that they were intended for a contemporary audience, not a future one.  None of the apocalypses are about us.  They were to assure the people of the day that justice was on the way and would arrive very soon.

A growth of the doctrine of resurrection and the afterlife can be traced to the post-exilic period.  This is where life forever changed for the Jew.  The Jews of Jesus’ day were very different from the Jews of millennia past.  In many ways, they had to redefine themselves and rebuild their identity.  In doing so, they became more fractured than ever before.  By the time Jesus came along, there were at least seven distinct flavors of Judaism.  They did not all believe the same things, nor did they agree on a cannon.  One of the things on which they most definitely did not agree was the doctrine of resurrection and eternal life.

You have heard of the Pharisees and the Sadducees.  You already know that they were two competing sects of the Jews.  There is relatively little information to go on as most of what we know about the Sadducees comes from the writings of their enemies.  As with all histories, the winners get to write it.  I will add a few things to the record that you might not know and that make the battle between the two groups very interesting.

The Sadducees were the religious conservatives of their day.  They largely rejected the oral tradition that had been handed down and curated over time.  They only considered the torah: written law, to be authoritative.  They also rejected the rich commentary tradition of the Pharisees.  They believed that the Pharisees did violence to the purity of the books of Moses by their endless interpretations.  They believed the Pharisees were too susceptible to the surrounding culture.  In other words, the Pharisees were shameless liberals.  The Sadducees were strict interpreters of the true text of holy writ.

Another interesting fact about the Sadducees is that they were of the lineage of Levi.  They were of the priestly line.  Theirs alone was the responsibility for the temple.  The Pharisees had developed a broader understanding of who was in charge.  It would seem the Sadducees had a better case.  They were the rightful leaders of the temple and protectors of orthodoxy.

Here is where it gets interesting and relevant to the topic at hand.  The Sadducees did not believe in the resurrection or the afterlife.  They rejected the fundamental tenets of apocalyptic teaching.  They did not do so arbitrarily.  They did so on the basis of scripture.  Such teaching was not in the Pentateuch, therefore, it could not be from god.  They did not believe in an expanding cannon.  They would not have looked to the writings of the prophets for authoritative teaching any more than we look to Luther or Calvin.  We consider what they had to say, but we see them as flawed and mistaken in many aspects of their teaching.  The Sadducees, the religious conservatives, the priests, the keepers of the faith and defenders of orthodoxy were opposed to the innovative teaching of eternal life.  They were not alone.

 

“ O LORD our God, others have ruled us, but you alone are the one we worship.  Those we served before are dead and gone.  Their departed spirits will never return!  You attacked them and destroyed them, and they are long forgotten.” (Is 26:13-14 NLT-SE)

 

“O God, remember that my life is but a breath, and I will never again feel happiness.  You see me now, but not for long.  You will look for me, but I will be gone.  Just as a cloud dissipates and vanishes, those who die will not come back.  They are gone forever from their home—never to be seen again.” (Job 7:7-10 NLT-SE)

 

“It seems so tragic that everyone under the sun suffers the same fate. That is why people are not more careful to be good. Instead, they choose their own mad course, for they have no hope. There is nothing ahead but death anyway. There is hope only for the living. As they say, “It’s better to be a live dog than a dead lion!”

The living at least know they will die, but the dead know nothing. They have no further reward, nor are they remembered. Whatever they did in their lifetime—loving, hating, envying—is all long gone. They no longer play a part in anything here on earth. So go ahead. Eat your food with joy, and drink your wine with a happy heart, for God approves of this! Wear fine clothes, with a splash of cologne!

Live happily with the woman you love through all the meaningless days of life that God has given you under the sun. The wife God gives you is your reward for all your earthly toil. Whatever you do, do well. For when you go to the grave, there will be no work or planning or knowledge or wisdom.” (Eccl 9:3-10 NLT-SE)

 

“I also thought about the human condition—how God proves to people that they are like animals. For people and animals share the same fate—both breathe and both must die. So people have no real advantage over the animals. How meaningless! Both go to the same place—they came from dust and they return to dust. For who can prove that the human spirit goes up and the spirit of animals goes down into the earth? So I saw that there is nothing better for people than to be happy in their work. That is why we are here! No one will bring us back from death to enjoy life after we die.” (Eccl 3:18-22 NLT-SE)

 

That is about as clear as it gets: Those we served before are dead and gone.  Their departed spirits will never return, Just as a cloud dissipates and vanishes, those who die will not come back, There is nothing ahead but death anyway, So people have no real advantage over the animals. How meaningless! Both go to the same place—they came from dust and they return to dust. For who can prove that the human spirit goes up and the spirit of animals goes down into the earth.

What can we say then about the doctrine of eternal life?  We know that it was not a universally held belief by the ancient Jews.  It was outright rejected by the keepers of orthodoxy and strict interpreters of the written law.  It was never taught by Moses.  Pre-exilic Jews would not have understood justice in these terms.  For them, Justice was supposed to happen in the here and now.

I must ask myself which is more likely.  Was apocalypse always true but never taught or written about for the first few millennia, or was it an adaptation of various myths and cultural beliefs of the people who ruled them during the bad years?  I am forced to conclude the latter.  We have a detailed history of first things, from the creation of the world to the creation of the nation of Israel.  We have an account and explanation for everything that was important to them.  We have the law in painful detail.  We have genealogies and inventories and census data.  If it was important to the Jews, we have it summed up in the books of Moses.

What we do not have is any hint of apocalyptic teaching.  Judgement and justice came from god who had no rival.  Righteousness was a matter of keeping god’s law.  Reward and punishment were handed down in this life.  It seems that justice delayed was justice denied for them as well as us.  Where then, is the justice of the apocalypse?  When is it supposed to arrive?  What form will it take?

Beyond Heaven & Hell Part 3

The Second Death

The Christian scriptures: Revelation, to be precise, four times describes hell as the second death.  How many deaths do we need?  How many times does god have to kill us before his justice is satisfied?  This sounds like a rhetorical question intended only to mock something that sounds silly, but there is more to it than that.

The bible opens with the story of Adam and Eve in the garden.  The implication is that they were intended to live forever.  That is presumed because the punishment they were threatened with was that if they ate from the wrong tree, they would surely die.  The punishment for sin, at least in the beginning, was death.  Count them: only ONE death.  There was no hell.  There was no second death.

The Ecclesiastes writer verifies this many times throughout the book in no uncertain terms:

I thought to myself,
“What happens to a fool will happen to me, too,
so what is the reward for being wise?”
I said to myself,
“Being wise is also useless.”
The wise person and the fool
will both die,
and no one will remember either one for long.
In the future, both will be forgotten.

I decided that God leaves it the way it is to test people and to show them they are just like animals.  The same thing happens to animals and to people; they both have the same breath, so they both die. People are no better off than the animals, because everything is useless. Both end up the same way; both came from dust and both will go back to dust.  Who can be sure that the human spirit goes up to God and that the spirit of an animal goes down into the ground?  So I saw that the best thing people can do is to enjoy their work, because that is all they have. No one can help another person see what will happen in the future.

A baby born dead is useless. It returns to darkness without even a name.  That baby never saw the sun and never knew anything, but it finds more rest than that man.  Even if he lives two thousand years, he doesn’t enjoy the good God gives him. Everyone is going to the same place.

This is something wrong that happens here on earth: What happens to one happens to all. So people’s minds are full of evil and foolish thoughts while they live. After that, they join the dead.  But anyone still alive has hope; even a live dog is better off than a dead lion!
   The living know they will die,
but the dead know nothing.
Dead people have no more reward,
and people forget them.
 After people are dead,
they can no longer love or hate or envy.
They will never again share
in what happens here on earth.

And for good measure, here is one from Job 7: another wisdom passage:

As a cloud disappears and is gone,
people go to the grave and never return.

These are just a few of the passages found in the Hebrew scriptures on eschatology.  We are like animals with the same spirit that shares the same fate.  The wise and the foolish have the same end.  Everyone goes to the same place.  Again and again, the message is given that once it’s over, it’s over.  The shadowy world of the grave was considered the final resting place for everyone.  There was no expectation of a later, bodily resurrection and life continuing on.  That was neither an expectation of the Torah or the wisdom literature of the Hebrew scriptures.  One life; one death.  That is how it was understood for the vast majority of the bible.  In the beginning, god offered death for sin.  It was only a singular death.  So who’s idea was the second death.?  When was it decided that one death just wasn’t enough?

A Punishment that Fits the Crime

There are many other problems with hell.  The most egregious seems to be the complete unfairness of it all.  It is not justice to over-punish for a crime.  A parking violation that drew a fine of a million dollars would be struck down in court for being unfair by any standard.  Everything about the mainstream understanding of hell is unjust.  It is a punishment that fits no crime any human is capable of committing.

Try to imagine the ultimate crime for a human.  Perhaps some crazy dictator gets his hands on a stockpile of nuclear weapons.  In one final act of insanity, he sets them all off, killing everyone on earth.  Many will die instantly, while others will die slow, horrible deaths.  What is the appropriate punishment for that person?  Let’s say it took a year for the last person on earth to die.  Is there any reason his punishment should go longer than a year?  Perhaps he suffered a day for every person he killed.  That is about 7 billion days.  Perhaps he suffers the same amount of torture he put everyone else through.  That is still a finite amount of torture.  At some point, that person will have paid his debt to the society he destroyed.  Even for that person, unspeakable torment for all eternity is far too much.

Now, consider the average occupant of hell.  These are not people who committed the ultimate crime by any stretch of the imagination at any point in their lives.  These are people who, at worst, committed a few acts of murder.  On average, they cheated on a spouse, lied on their taxes, shoplifted a scarf, was rude to an employee, cut in line, sold something for more than it was worth, gave a partial day’s work for a full day’s pay, in other words, for being human.  These are the crimes that if left unforgiven, will have a person screaming in torment for all eternity.

It gets worse!

Last time, I pointed out that getting into heaven had a lot to do with what you believe and the intensity in which you believe it.  Moral excellence is not enough.  The same type of thing is true for getting into hell.  One need not be morally impure to be cast into hell.  The person who lives a morally perfect life is as much a candidate for hell as the moral reprobate.  If getting into heaven is about what you believed, then getting into hell is about what you didn’t believe, or believed incorrectly.

I grew up in a denomination that believed everyone was going to hell who was not a member of that denomination.  They also thought anyone who worship with the accompaniment of a musical instrument was hell bound on that basis, alone.  But we need not use such extreme examples to make the point.  Let’s say a person believes all accepted, mainline, orthodox, Christian teachings with one exception.  That person just didn’t believe in the virgin birth.  She believes that Jesus was of purely human origin.  Mainstream Christians would condemn that person to hell on the basis of that one heresy.

What if a person did not believe in a literal devil, or hell?  Such disbelief is enough to qualify that person for eternal damnation in the hottest spot of hell.  The example from Matt. 7 that I gave in the previous post presents us with people who claim Jesus as lord, who do his will to the best of their understanding and ability, yet for something not even explained to them, they end up in the Hitler wing of hell.  That is not justice by any measure.

Another obvious reason hell cannot be just punishment is that hell represents infinite punishment for finite crimes.  No matter how much damage I decide to do, I am only one person running with scissors.  I can only cover a finite amount of space in a finite amount of time to do a finite amount of damage.  Once I am caught by the authorities, they will punish me for my crimes.  They may even execute me.  But for god, that death is not enough.  He will raise me from the dead so he can introduce me to the second death: the death that is not as much death as torture.  He will punish my finite crimes, infinitely.  No moment’s crime deserves to be punished eternally.

Finally, according to the Christian scriptures, hell was a placed designed for the devil and his angels.  I have three problems with this.  First, why does god need a torture chamber?  If he has rogue angels, why not just kill them?  I see no justification for a loving god to keep a sadist’s playpen.

Second, if hell was created for the devil and his angels, why aren’t they there?.  Why are they allowed to roam freely about the earth?  Why are they allowed to prey on innocent humans?  Are not the angels more powerful than the demons, and god more powerful than Satan?  If so, why haven’t they all been rounded up and thrown into the pit that was prepared for them?

Third, and finally, if hell was created for the devil and his angels, why would any human be cast into such a place?  If humans must be punished, why did not god prepare a place for wayward humans that would  provide a more appropriate punishment.  Humans are capable of doing some very bad things, but they are not demons, and should not be treated the same as demons.  Even humans have enough sensitivity not to put petty criminals in with violent felons.  We have different levels of punishment for different levels of crimes and different types of people depending on age and gender. The god of the bible is content to throw almost all humans into the place best suited for the devil and his angels.

I believe I have made a reasonable enough case for a Christian to at least reconsider his views on the literal existence of heaven and hell.  If you are convinced of the literal existence of these places, I would love to see in the comments why you are so sure you are bound for heaven, especially considering that the vast majority of people are bound for hell, and even those who think they are serving god may be hell-bound as well.  What mechanism do you use to insure your eternal destiny?

For me, heaven is an abstraction.  The real problem is hell.  There cannot exist both a loving, merciful, and fair god, as well as a literal hell.  To maintain logical consistency, you have to give up one or the other.  In truth, once you give up one, it only follows to give up the other.  If you give up your notion of god, there is no basis to continue believing in an afterlife of any kind.  If you give up on hell, then you have given up on the bible which teaches about hell.  In doing so, you also give up on the teachings of Jesus regarding hell.  You give up any confidence in the bible as a reliable witness.  Since everything we know about god a Christianity comes from the bible, you will also give up on god.

Hell is a problem that cannot be surgically removed from the Christian story.  It either exists with all the problems I have outlined, or it doesn’t, thus dragging down the credibility of everything else the bible has to say.  One of these days, I will do a comparative analysis of holy books.  It is interesting that most religious people accept one holy book as sacred truth, and all the others as blatant fiction.  Most could not explain why they accept one over the other, even though they share many similarities.

See you in the comments.

David Johnson

Quick Take

I will be posting a lot more of these short posts that contain a single thing that either just popped into my head and posted without much thought, or an event that set me off.  Feel free to criticize them.  Just know that these are not the same as my more carefully planned essays.

Today at church, someone was mentioning child abuse, and abusers.  I asked what she thought should be done with people who, for whatever reason, was an in curable, unredeemable recidivist.  Her answer notwithstanding, another person who had also suffered abuse, represented her Christianity by taking umbrage to the question and suggesting that everybody can be redeemed.  Indeed, she had forgiven her abuser, and by that very act of forgiveness had redeemed him and the whole situation.

The first problem with this response is that this person could only think in religious terms.  When I used the word, redeemed, I intended no religious connotation.  I meant it as a synonym for rehabilitated as a fully vested member of society.  The strident commenter immediately thought about salvation of a soul and personally moving beyond a traumatic event.  This is one of those cases where religion has ruined the language.

The bigger problem is that the respondent, thinking she was demonstrating her piety, mostly demonstrated a shortsighted type of narcissism.  My question had nothing to do with how an individual deals with abuse.  It frankly makes no difference to the bigger picture whether you forgive or not.  It may make a great deal of difference to you, personally, and how your life flows from that event, but that is a self-centered way of approaching the issue.  Necessary, but self-centered.

What the lady was not prepared to deal with was the fact that her personally forgiven felon is out on the streets and free to strike again.  She was so wrapped up in her own personal forgiveness, she did not consider all of the other potential victims of this attacker.  Again, religion trumped a rational discussion about a real problem.  From her perspective, god can cure anyone  of anything.  Therefore, we should have faith that god will redeem this person and change their criminal behavior.

It never once occurred to her that in the vast majority of instances, her god does not free drug addicts of their addiction, and even more seldom, change the behavior of a child molester.  Her god has no problem with chronic recidivism.  Yet reality does not shake the faith-based fantasy that the life of the molester will miraculously be fixed because she has used the power of forgiveness.  There was no point in arguing the point because religious fervor had already cut off the possibility of a rational discussion based on what really happens in the world.

We did have an opportunity to talk again and clear up any misunderstandings.  As for the person to whom my question was originally directed, her public answer was that she just had to have faith that everyone was redeemable or she wouldn’t have the stamina to go on.  Privately, she acknowledged that there are some people with problems that we simply cannot fix and she had no idea what we, as a society, should do with them.

This is just an example of how the application of religion makes progress with real-life issues more difficult to deal with.  Once you paint everything with a faith-based, magical gloss, you never have to deal with certain problems.  Perhaps, this is why America, a professed, Christian nation, has never dealt with certain problems.  Real problems can only be dealt with once we remove that magic gloss.

Dealing with real-world issues is just another reason why we have to move beyond religion.

David Johnson

Beyond Prejudice: Race (Part Four)

I closed my previous post by suggesting I would spend equal time discussing what blacks have to fear in America.  I changed my mind.  It would seem self-evident that historically, and presently, blacks have much to fear.  Since I used an example involving a neighborhood in my last post, I will provide on example to start this one.

A working class, black woman with two children and no husband, living from paycheck to paycheck, sees a mini van pull up to the house next door.  Filing out of the moving van is a white couple with two children.  The day before, a professional moving company stopped by to fill the house with furniture and boxes of personal belongings.  This is clearly a family of privilege.  Why are they moving into this neighborhood?  It is not a bad neighborhood, but it is old and neglected.  If it was not, most of the people living there wouldn’t be able to afford their mortgage and property taxes.

Now, a new class of people are moving in.  A word comes to mind that scares you to death: gentrification.  This was once a rich, white neighborhood forty years ago.  It was abandoned and left to ruin.  Now, they are coming back to retake the neighborhood.  Houses are being repaired, along with streets, sidewalks.  A tennis court is going in, as well as a park and plenty of green spaces.  It won’t be long before the property value rises so high, new working class families will not be able to moving in, and property taxes will expand to the point where current residents will have to move out.  Even what appears to be a positive change to the neighborhood can be cause for fear.

However, the same warning applies.  Not all caucasians are the same.  It was caucasians that enslaved blacks, true.  But, it was also caucasians that freed them, and lost much blood and life in the effort.  Not all whites are upper-middle class.  Some of the most impoverished people in America are white.  White people commit crimes and perform acts of valor.  As with blacks, it is impossible to tell much about the person based on race and ethnicity.  In America, anyway, a book cannot be judged by its cover.  People cannot be judged by the hue of their skin.

That makes life considerably more complicated.

Now, we have to evaluate people on the basis of their actual culture, not their presumed culture.  If skin color tells us nothing about the culture of a person, then we are forced to withhold judgement until actual signs of culture appear.  We also have to ask ourselves what constitutes culture, and which parts of our culture are worth defending at all costs.  I suspect most people have not done this type of evaluation.

In a church setting, music and preaching styles are the two biggest factors that define culture.  In a stayed, refined, high-church setting, all are welcome as long as they are willing to abide by the rules of the majority culture.  You should not walk into such a church expecting to transform the choir into something you saw in “Sister Act”.  You should probably keep your loud, vocal flourishes and exuberant “amens” to yourself if you want to fit in.  Your race has nothing to do with it.  Challenge the dominant culture and you can expect to be shown the door, or at least offered the cold shoulder.

Churches that manage to create some type of cultural fusion are the ones most likely to be multicultural.  I find that Charismatic churches do a pretty good job at this.  Unless churches are willing to bend a little on music and preaching styles, they will likely be, predominately, a single-race church. They value their culture over the fellowship of diversity.  I believe that when musical preference becomes more important than the fellowship of other human beings, the church has hopelessly lost its way.

Let me be clear.  Even by its own lights, such a church is no longer a bible-based institution.  It is merely a culture club for certain types of believers.  To be even more clear, to Hell with such institutions! Anyone who places minor cultural preferences above actual human beings has lost what it means to be both a church, and human.

 Unfortunately, this is the state of the Christian church in America. That is not to say that all churches suffer from this melees, but a startling number do.  We have elevated the God of preference to the height of idolatry! I have no room in my heart, nor politically correct words for idolaters!  
What people need to be asking themselves is, are my cultural markers important enough to warrant separation from the fellowship of other human beings. If not, then it’s time to start weaning yourself off of your cultural preferences that have reached the state of idolatry.  Race-based preferences are not just another form of idolatry, rather it’s a symptom of idolatry. It has nothing to do with race. It has to do with fear, mostly of cultural loss.
In order to overcome race-based prejudices, we need to redefine culture.  Culture should be about how we live up to our calling as humans.  Do we value education and curiosity about the way the world works?  Do we value the life and happiness of our neighbors around the corner and around the world?  Are we willing to share our surplus with those who have a deficit?  Can we pursue our own happiness while not hindering others from doing the same?  Can we see and appreciate the full humanity in a stranger, especially one less fortunate than ourselves?  These are the issues that define the culture of an intelligent species worthy of evolutionary advancement.  If the most important cultural markers for us are a persons preference for entertainment, dialect, and apparel, the meteor that crashes into the earth and ends all life as we know it can’t come soon enough.
David Johnson

Beyond Labels

I have a confession to make.  It is taking me much longer to compose this series or posts on prejudice than I anticipated.  I thought I might knock out the entire subject in two of three posts at the most.  It took me four posts to give a proper introduction to religious prejudice.  Racial prejudice is a lot harder.  It should be easier in some ways, as I have devoted much of my life to the subject.  But, that is part of the problem; I have information overload.

My typical stream of consciousness style of blogging seems inappropriate for a subject this important.  So, I guess what I am getting at is that I need just a little more time to come up with the right approach for such a sensitive issue as racial prejudice.  Thank you for your patience.  As a primer to the subject, I will write a paragraph or two about labels.  This is not a full treatment on the subject.

The one thing I want to say about the subject is that ALL labels are bad.  All labels are not only bad, but dehumanizing.  They are a way of removing the human from the equation so that we can deal with a person, impersonally.

In war, we do not kill people.  No human being has ever been killed in war.  Instead, we kill Japs, Chinks, squint-eyes, rag-heads, barbarians, monsters, enemies, and the like.  Once we learn to see the person on the other side of the gun barrel as something other than a person, I gets a lot easier to kill it.

This same dynamic works for all types of things where hate and distrust are involved.  Rather than acknowledging a difference of opinion with another human being who might have a valid point, we are forced to deal with conservatives, liberals, moderates.  Religiously, we deal with Baptists, Catholics, and Mormons.  Once we have them categorized into a set of creeds, we no longer have to consider their humanity.  To bring this point home, I grew up in a denomination that believes that everyone outside of that denomination is going straight to Hell.  Denominational labels were the difference between possible, eternal life, and certain, eternal damnation.

Even the labels we consider positive are bad for much the same reason.  They dehumanize the ones we label.  We don’t idolize talented entertainers; we idolize stars and superstars.  Once a person becomes a star, they no longer have the rights of a normal human.  They are hounded, relentlessly.  We feel we have the right to know every detail of every moment of their lives.  Privacy does not apply to stars; it only applies to humans.  It is not a stretch to say this very attitude is what killed Princes Diana.

Racial labels are the ultimate, dehumanizing labels.  Race does not just lend itself to prejudice, but dehumanization.  Food for thought.

I’ll be back in a day or two to pick up the thread.  Comments are welcome and appreciated.

David Johnson

Beyond Religious Prejudice: Part Two

For this post, let us build three tabernacles.  Or, if you prefer, let us construct three, imaginary, agrarian-based religions.  The first is an ultra-conservative group that believes their crops will not grow unless they sacrifice a newborn baby to the nearest volcano once a year.  These Volcanists have a low tolerance for any other group because the faithful practice of their religion is a matter of life and death.

Next, we have the Behaviorists who believe that crops do not need human sacrifice, as such.  What is required is for people to behave in a certain way.  Only then, will the god of corn and beans be appeased.  This is a much more mainline group.  They have little tolerance for the Volcanists, but even less for the third group.

That third group would be the naturalists.  They study agriculture from a more scientific basis, and have decided that the growth of crops requires neither the sacrifice of babies, nor the practice of good behavior.  They have observed that the ultra-conservative Volcanists still have poor growing seasons: about the same as everyone else.  They have also observed that in the Behaviorist group, crops grow just as well for people with notably bad behavior.  Instead, they believe that certain laws of nature have been set into motion, and it is up to us to figure out the best ways to apply them for producing good crops.  Naturally, these are the liberals of the bunch.

Each group has a strong prejudice against the other, even though, living in close proximity, they have to be cordial to one another.  They are all driven by fear, and thus, can never experience true fellowship with one another.  The conservatives scapegoat the other two groups because those groups are selfishly abstaining from the necessary infant sacrifice that is required for everyone to eat.  The liberals are deathly afraid of the conservatives because they believe that at any moment, the conservatives will come and steal the liberal’s newborns and toss them into volcanoes.  The mainline group is afraid of both sides.  They fear the extremism of the conservatives, but at least they respect it because, at least, the conservatives honor god and try to do his will the best they know how.  They fear, and sort of hate the naturalists because the mainliners believe that the liberals do not honor god, and believe that they can grow crops without the direct intervention of god.  The liberals respect neither extreme acts of religious faith, or piety.  They put their faith in their own ability to grow crops.  Not only will god punish everyone for the hubris of the Naturalists, but the Naturalists seem to repudiate everything the other two groups stand for.

Against this backdrop, we have the seeds of all manner of prejudice.  How could it not?

The conservatives believe in a god that cares more about proper religious observance than he does about human life.  The mainliner’s god cares only that you behave according to his will.  The god of the liberals has very little work to do, and demands almost nothing, having done the bulk of his work in the beginning.  The liberals tend to be a more intellectual group that considers the others superstitious and mentally lazy.  The conservatives believe the other two groups do not honor god, and rely on their own ability to do what only god can do.  For the conservatives, the arrogance of the other two groups is overwhelming.  The mainline group is caught in the middle, and clearly sees the flaws of everyone else.  They are the only ones who are levelheaded enough to understand the truth.  Everyone else is a mission field.

Now, let’s take those three groups and add about 41,000 other Christian denominations to the mix, all believing that they have the inside track on god and religion.  That is the current reality of our time.  Every one of us looks askance at the other, suspecting the other of some grave misunderstanding of god’s will, and causing the world to be a slightly worse place than it has to be.  Conservatives are still blaming killer tornados and tsunamis on sinful people who know not god, and therefore, get what they deserve, while liberals blame conservatives for not having enough respect for nature to study and treat it appropriately so that life can be more happily sustained by all.

You will notice that all of these prejudices begin with our understanding of god.  Is god a busy bee who is constantly flitting about doing this and fixing that?  Is he more or less at rest, acting on our behalf only when our behavior matches his ideals.  Finally, is god less personal and more of the engine that started the universe, but not the drivetrain that steers it?  (Sorry, I know nothing about cars).  Your ideas about god govern your religious prejudice towards other people.  In other, more inflammatory words, religion breeds prejudice.  In fact, I would argue that it is impossible for it to be any other way.

A big part of the reason for that is revelation.  If you believe that god revealed to you the words of life, then you are special.  Your knowledge is superior over everyone else’s.  God spoke to you, either through a clear reading of his word, the opening of doors, or a fire in the belly.  God told you exactly what he wants, and you become something like a prophet.  When someone else contradicts your clear revelation, they are challenging both you and your god.  Therefore, we have not only prejudice, but hostility towards people of other religions.  Other people range from being a little wrong about questionable matters, to hopelessly godless, and kindling for the eternal flame.

In the end, it is all driven by religious fear.  We fear that our city will be blown away by storm, or that our nation will suffer financially, or our understanding of god is wrong, and thus the understanding of ourselves.  We fear missing out on Heaven, or more likely, the inheritance of Hell.  We fear that if we are religiously wrong, we will lose our sense of self and be utterly at a loss of who we are and how we should live.  We fear that we have pursued a false path for our entire lives, and have been made fools of.  Religion has us so full of fear; it is a wonder that we can navigate the world without medicine cabinets full of anti-depressants and panic pills.  In fact, it seems we can’t.  Even ecumenical movements are a lot more fearful than they seem, showing no tolerance for the intolerant.  In such places, political conservatives are openly bashed.  They have a hard time feeling comfortable or welcome in such places.

I was invited to the house of a Unitarian who seemed to be an extremely nice person.  She confided in me that she can deal with any religious point of view, but she absolutely draws the line at political conservatives.  I have found this attitude to be common among religious liberals.

I believe we can do better.  I believe that conservatives and liberals can learn to get along because we all want our crops to grow.  What separates us is our god, our revelation, and the religion that we use to serve him.

Join me next time as I tackle racial and cultural prejudice.

David Johnson

Beyond Prejudice: (Part One)

Theoretically, this should be an easy subject for me to write about.  In many ways, I have devoted my life to the subject.  That is quite another story.  I have largely dealt with racism, but I realize that racism is not the only type of prejudice out there.  In fact, in this first post in the series, I will talk about a few ways that prejudice (used loosely) can be a good thing.  I will also be using prejudice and stereotypes interchangeably, even though there are gradients of meaning.

Prejudice is another way of saying “prejudgment”.  On the surface, that sounds like a bad thing, but in fact, it is a necessary thing.  We cannot take the time or risk to independently judge everything and every situation we encounter.   Most of what we do has to be a judgment call.  It is a part of our evolutionary survival instinct.  The fight or flight instinct as to kick in fast in a dangerous situation.  Perhaps the bear you happened upon is a friendly bear that just ate his fill of berries.  You don’t have time to ponder the question.  You have to condense everything you know about bears into a fraction of a second and turn it into swift action if you want to live.

The more vulnerable you feel, the more prejudice you will be if your survival instinct is working properly.  I sell personal items a few times a year on Craigslist.  This is usually facilitated by meeting a potential buyer in a public place like a coffee house or bookstore for the exchange of goods and money.  I recently had a text exchange where I suggested the potential buyer and I meet.  I did not make a clear that I was referring to a public place.  The response was that, being a woman, she was hesitant to come to my place to examine the item.  That is not what I was suggesting.  But she felt vulnerable in that situation.  Therefore, she used a form of prejudice for self-preservation.

In fact, I would say that all prejudice is adopted as a form of self-preservation.  People have no prejudice about things they do not fear.  All prejudice stems from the fear of loss.  It is not always loss of life.  Sometimes, it is the fear of the loss of a way of life.  This is why churches can be said to be the most segregated groups in America.  A church is, first and foremost, a social group.  It is a society of people who share a particular, theological culture; culture being the key word.  A black person, even if made to feel welcome at a white church, would be hesitant to become a member of that church for fear of losing certain culturally important aspects of life, which they most likely would.  The same is true for a white person who ventures into a black church.  It is less about hate and distrust, and more about the loss of a way of life.

Black slavery in the American South was less about a sound business plan, and more about a way of life.  Successful, black rappers often spend a great deal of time in the hood with their bros, even though they can afford to be anywhere they want to be.  It is not about money, but preserving a way of life.  Historically white colleges and universities were afraid of allowing admission of black students into the institution.  It had little to do with the belief that such students couldn’t keep up; it had everything to do with preserving a way of life.  Black colleges are no happier to see white students gain admittance for the same reason.  The fear of loss is a survival instinct.  And the more you have to lose, the more prejudice plays a role in your decision making process.

This is all very understandable and very human.  I have come to understand that it is not evil; it is natural, and we all do it at different times for different reasons.  It is, however, not the optimal way of being human.  We must continue to socially evolve beyond our fears.  We must also stop idolizing our way of life as if it was sacred, and its loss would diminish us.  While grasping our old way of life, we miss out on a new way of life that might be even better than what we knew.  No baby voluntarily exits the womb, but no adult would ever voluntarily go back.  The way to defeat prejudice is not to vilify it, but to show the fearful there is nothing to fear.  This is a different way of approaching the problem, even for me.  I’m literally exploring this concept as I write.

Thank you for joining me in the exploration.  Next time, I will focus on religious prejudice, where it comes from, and how to overcome it.

David Johnson