Archive for the ‘Morality’ Category

Beyond Happily Ever After

Let’s see if you can guess this movie:  There’s a good guy and a bad guy.  The bad guy does something bad and the good guy tries to stop him.  The bad guy seems to be winning and then in a rather expected plot twist, the good guy gets the upper hand and saves the day.  The bad guy gets punished and the good guy lives happily ever after.

The answer: Just about every action movie ever made.

We all love this type of plot.  Who doesn’t love to see the attractive and engaging protagonist that represents our sense of goodness and justice save the day?  Who doesn’t love to see the villain who has offended our sense of morality get what’s coming to him?  Most movies and stories are intended to end at the happiest point.  The hero gets the girl.  The victim is rescued are rejoined with the ones they love.  Peace and order is restored.

The story has to stop there because it gives us our “happily ever after”.  No one wants to see the story between the hero and the damsel after that epic kiss at the end of the movie.  If the cameras were still rolling afterwards, we might see that the damsel hates the hero’s daddy issues and inability to keep his toenails trimmed.  We might see the hero’s dismay when he learns that women, even perfect ones like the damsel, pass gas.

We all long for happily ever after and reality destroys it.  No one wants to see a farting damsel.

And then there’s the villain.  He only has a few options in a happily ever after story.  He either gets destroyed, imprisoned; or there’s a sequel where he gets another shot only to fail again.  And like our hero, the story stops at the villain’s punishment.  We don’t want to see anymore after that.  We rarely ever see the villain coming to his senses and becoming penitent.  We rarely ever see him becoming a good guy and reconciling the damage he’s done in his own volition.

To put it simply: Infinite joy for good guy + infinite punishment for bad guy = happily ever after.

Here’s the rub:  This model of how we treat the bad guy makes for a great story, but I feel that we Christians use this model in real life way too often – and that’s not very Biblical.

From a Christian perspective, there’s two ways to look at God in regards to punishment.  One view is that God is some bifurcated, homicidal schizophrenic Zeus figure that would roast us all if it wasn’t for Jesus calming him down.  This view is absurd.

There’s another view that believes that punishment exists not to satisfy blood lust, but to bring reconciliation and forgiveness.  This view believes that punishment has a reason, and that reason is love.

Let me put it this way:  I punish my two sons whenever they do something wrong. I punish them because I love them.  If I never punished them, they would grow up to be horrible human beings and I would be a horrible, unloving father.   If I were to punish them to just satisfy my anger, then I would be a child abuser.   I punish them out of love.  Love and punishment should never be separated.

But punishment is often dwelled upon without even the thought of potential reconciliation. When was the last time you saw on the news that someone had committed a heinous crime?  Did anger and a need for vengeance flair up in you so much that you wished he would die?  Did the hope for peace and restoration for both the victim and the bad guy ever cross your mind?  Can we really, in our finite and imperfect judgments, so easily write someone off as irredeemable, that we would make wrathful punishment the end of their story?

Or, what if we embraced the audacious optimism that everyone was capable of righting their wrongs; that all were worthy of potential redemption?  What if even the most soulless men on Earth still had a spark of humanity that was worth saving?  What if we used punishment as a means to correct and bring wholeness instead of a venue for satisfying our anger?

It may not make for an entertaining movie, but it just may make for a more beautiful happily ever after.

Today Is A Day Of Mourning

Today is a day of mourning.

Today I am corporately mourning the events of 9-11-01 alongside every American.  The pain manifested from that horrible event can be and should be shared by everyone in this country.  Today, it is more than appropriate to remember the victims, honor the fallen heroes, and support those who are still dealing with the very real pain of having a loved one taken from them.  I suspect the wound of losing someone who possessed a piece of your heart never fully heals – much less after ten years.  These people need our unyielding prayer and support.

But this is only a fraction of my mourning.

This is one of those bitter realities of human nature:  For those of us who did not directly suffer from the events of 9-11, we choose one day of the year to corporately reflect and mourn on behalf of those who directly experienced pain.  But come tomorrow morning, the hubbub of life and chaos of a new week will kick in and the emotions of the day before will largely fade into oblivion.  I suspect this is normal and acceptable.

But the mourning and discontent I’m experiencing will bleed over into tomorrow, and the next day, and the day after that…

The theme of my mourning is particularly evident on a day like this.  At a 9-11 tribute today, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen said in his speech,

 “From this place of wrath and tears, America’s military ventured forth as the long arm and clenched fist of an angry nation at war…And we have remained at war ever since, visiting upon our enemies the vengeance they were due and providing for the American people the common defense they demand.”

At the same tribute, Joe Biden vowed to keep fighting, “until Al-Qaeda is not only disrupted, but completely dismantled and ultimately destroyed.”

And then the Navy chorus sang “Amazing Grace.”  Because nothing wraps up a speech about wrath, anger and vengeance quite like words of Amazing Grace.

My mourning is derived from my Christian perspective, but much of it is simple common sense.  Many of my atheist friends see the faulty logic as well.  A war that was sparked by a terrorist attack that killed less than 3,000 has claimed more than 1 million lives.

And ten years later, we’re still spouting off about vengeance and anger.

Now, I can understand how someone who isn’t a Christian can adhere to the logic (even though it’s wrong) that you must make war to have peace.  But for those who are followers of Christ, there is no excuse.  Jesus emphatically preached non-violence.  You can’t argue the fact.  You can’t get around it.  Jesus’s teachings go directly against the War on Terror.  And if you are one of the many Christians out there that have mixed your nationalism with your religion and believe that the mass murder of hundreds of thousands of innocent lives is somehow God ordained, you’re grotesquely perverting the Gospel of Christ.

Truth burns like a hemorrhoid sometimes.

So this is my mourning:  I’m mourning the deaths caused by the 9-11 tragedy.

I’m mourning the American and Muslim deaths caused by this ridiculous war.

I’m mourning the deaths of thousands who die from starvation and disease daily that could have been saved with money that was spent for bloodshed instead.

I’m mourning our country’s financial situation that can’t afford this war.

I’m mourning Christians who feel uneasy about this violence but have been taught that asking questions and going against the grain is wrong.

I’m mourning Muslims and Christians who have been brainwashed by their pseudo-religions into thinking that this violence is the answer.

I’m mourning Atheists who have never been shown the real Jesus, only a fake one who is a warmonger.

I’m mourning for the broken heart of Christ.

I’m mourning for those who have lost someone in this violence that has been sold a false hope by our government that says healing comes through vengeance.  Healing never comes through vengeance, it comes through forgiveness and reconciliation.

And those of you whom I have offended should know that I am also mourning my own hypocrisy.  3 years ago I would have been on the other side of this proverbial fence and argued that we need to bomb those godless bastards into submission.  I still deal with my own violence every day.  But I realize that my own warring nature is a result in a lack of trust in a God who showed the ways of peace through Jesus.

Today is a day of mourning.  Tomorrow will be as well.  May we all mourn until that day where we finally become intent on reconciliation and peace and not bloodshed.

Dueling Liberals I: The Death of Bin Laden: How Should We Respond?

SUNDAY SUNDAY SUNDAY!  Two champions of thought will battle it out on the philosophical battlefield on a quest for fame and glory.  These two mental heavyweights will tackle the world’s most difficult problems.  Two opinions enter the arena, only one comes out.  Who will be victorious?   It’s…..DUELING LIBERALS!

Okay so it’s not exactly like that.

My friend Tony and I have decided to go tandem on some writing.  In this article, (the first of hopefully many) we will tackle a deeper question or issue from our own perspectives.    We have a unique relationship.  We both went to the same Bible college, both are avid writers; and we are both incredibly out-of-the-box.  We’re both “liberals” in a sense that we both strayed from the milieu of our conservative alma mater.  But we strayed in very different ways.  And this will show in our responses.   Tony writes from a more naturalistic perspective while I write from a more progressive Christian worldview.

Oh, and if you’re excited for some heated debate, we don’t actually ever “duel”.  The title just sounded cool.  Sorry about that.

The question we’re discussing is, “How should we respond to the death of Osama Bin Laden?”


Tony’s response:

I’d like to open with the two-fold challenge often put forth by Christopher Hitchens.

First, imagine some moral act that a person of religious faith could perform that is inaccessible to an atheist or agnostic.

I can’t think of anything, and in the many years Hitchens spent debating the brightest theists and apologists of our time, he has yet to encounter a compelling response.

Second, imagine an act of immorality, something truly horrible or destructive that could only be performed by a person who believed they were operating on divine command. A person of faith.

You’ve already thought of something.

You know that somewhere, at this very moment, a suicide bomber is content with the thought that before long he will be in paradise and the infidels he immolates along with himself will be sent to Hell. He believes he will be reunited with Osama bin Laden, but not before greeting his seventy-two virgins.

To once again echo Hitchens, somewhere, right now, a little girl’s face is being burned with acid for the crime of wanting to learn to read. A young woman is being blamed for her own rape and urged by her father to kill herself in order to preserve the honor of her family.

Somewhere a Christian is telling their child that a classmate or friend will burn in Hell because his or her parents go to the wrong church. This year, millions of children will be born under a death sentence because The Church believes that AIDS is bad but condoms are worse. These people are told that condoms cause, rather than help prevent, the disease, and this lie comes directly from the Vatican.

We can all agree that these are truly evils of our time, but they are committed in the name of belief, of faith, and quite often against a person or group because they cling to a different ancient holy book.

In contrast, nowhere, right now or ever, is there an atheist, scientist or philosopher destroying a telescope array, a nuclear facility or research laboratory. Nowhere is there a free-thinker or skeptic leading a suicide cult or brainwashing their children to hate people of other cultures, religious backgrounds or sexual orientations. Scientists don’t declare fatwa against other scientists over differing interpretations of peer-reviewed research in a journal of medicine, or for drawing cartoons of Albert Einstein.

But somewhere, a person whom many might deem a “militant atheist” is sipping a cup of coffee, reading a book on philosophy or evolution or studying one of the various world religions, and they are thinking long and hard about how to make this world a better place. One thing you can be sure of is that he will never blow himself up, he will never threaten you or me with torture or death, to accomplish this goal.

What I’m arguing for is the virtue of non-belief in unproven, unverifiable metaphysical claims. I’m not necessarily arguing for atheism, agnosticism, skepticism, the scientific method; I’m only standing against unmerited belief.

It’s not that metaphysical speculation isn’t interesting or worth pursuing, but that this speculation, unchecked, can all too often give otherwise rational people unwarranted confidence that some atrocity is not only moral, but required of them by their creator.

I ask you, has a building ever crashed to the ground as a result of too much intellectual humility, rigorous research or skeptical inquiry?

So what do we do with the news that Osama bin Laden is dead?

Sadly, the culture that created him, the culture which believes certain unverifiable propositions about the after life and God’s will, still exists. It only takes another brainwashed child or teenager to take his place, and there are myriad prospects. The root of the problem, the basis for the belief is still fully intact. And the problem is not confined to radical Islam. (Notice I said “radical” Islam, certainly not all facets of the culture.)

* * *

Let us assume Christianity: Millions of good people are burning in Hell right now. But the Inquisitors and Conquistadors, the Popes who looked the other way amidst centuries of rampant Anti-Semitism in Europe, even during Hitler’s Final Solution; they’re all enjoying the company of Jesus and the Saints.

Let us now assume Islam: The aforementioned are in Hell alongside Martin Luther King, Jr. and Mother Theresa, but Osama bin Laden and thousands of suicide bombing terrorists are in Paradise, each with their many virgins.

Morality in both of these paradigms is not contingent upon your actions or the quality of your relationships, your impact on or contribution to society; but upon your belief in unverifiable, brute statements about this world and even more incredulous assertions about the nature of the next. You simply must be irrational to be good in this life and thereby gain a reward in the next if either of these systems are true.

As a Christian, there must be some measure, however small, of irrationality present to want to spend eternity alongside Jeffrey Dahmer, the serial killer who accepted Christ on death row, instead of, say Ghandi, who is consigned to Hell for the evil deed of not accepting Jesus as his personal human sacrifice.

Consider the Christian image of being washed in the blood of the sacrificial lamb, I mean really imagine it, and try to tell me with a straight face that this image represents the height of moral achievements.

However, up until now, all this rhetoric amounts to little more than an emotional appeal. I don’t want either of these scenarios to be true, but that doesn’t make either of them false. I don’t want either Dahmer or bin Laden to be rewarded eternally given the lives they lead, but emotional weight adds nothing to Truth value. Luckily, there are many other options on the table.

* * *

What I offer is a firm basis for morality, a morality that improves with the frequency, quality and precision of our moral inquiries; inquiries which religion (in the developed world) has only recently given up punishing with torture and death.

More to the point, what I offer is the same moral progress for which Christianity often tries to take credit. Why don’t we, here in America, burn witches any more? This still happens in Kenya in the wake of Christian missionaries spreading the “good” news. It’s still in every Bible in every hotel, on every coffee table and in every church pew, that we “shall not suffer a witch to live”. In America we ignore this verse. In other countries, to this day it spells death for schizophrenics, seizure sufferers and unruly children.

What’s most telling is that we can pinpoint a moment in history when these things were acceptable in Europe and America and, by comparison to that point, make a positive assertion of moral progress between then and now. We can track it with unbelievable precision. Whether or not the God of the Bible really achieved the atrocities for which he is given credit in the Old Testament is of little consequence on this matter. A more salient point is that we used to hold it moral to kill not only the guilty, but entire families, because we believed they had offended God.

On that point, would anyone who believes in the Bible honestly assert that Jeffrey Dahmer’s parents should have also been executed for his crimes? How about his extended family? Of course not. That would be a severe injustice and terribly immoral. But there is clearly a time in history to which we can point when this was considered not only moral, but obligatory. Today it most certainly would not.

This is moral progress, and it does not come from any religious text or belief. It comes from free thinkers and doubters and heretics. Consider that the word heretic literally translates from the Greek to mean, “One who is able to choose.” We commit heresy every time we challenge some notion of morality according to some ancient religious text, and I would suggest that we are virtually always better off for it.

* * *

In my worldview, Osama bin Laden is simply dead. So is Jeffrey Dahmer. So is Hitler, Stalin, all the Inquisitors and Crusaders and Jihadists and suicide bombers. They’re gone, and those of us who are still here are faced with handling the aftermath of their choices.

In my worldview, Ghandi is also dead, but we have no need to be sad that he didn’t make it into heaven. Ghandi’s impact on the world remains. So does Buddha’s. And the same goes for Jesus. We can be happy that all these people not only lived, but left something positive in their absence.

In my worldview, we progress morally every time we object to any religion’s oppressive, hateful, divisive or exclusive claims about how to live in this world.

Moral progress is clearly moving away from bronze age sentiments on how to live and who to kill. This is demonstrably true. If God does exist, I believe it is more than probable that he, she, or it has very little to do with most of those who claim to follow him.

This does not tell me anything about the afterlife, and I cannot argue one way or another on that front. I have no evidence upon which to judge such claims. But as far as this life goes, we’re still here, and the belief systems which gave us both the Inquisition and the Taliban still exist. This is the world I am concerned with as it is the only world of which I can reasonably speak or change.

In my worldview, it falls to us to make things right, here and now, and one of the most immoral things we can do is leave it up to some idea of God to settle accounts after we die. But what is arguably more evil than inaction would be to give billions of people permission to raise their children to hate infidels, homosexuals or people of other religions or races, all so we can feel “tolerant”.

It is our responsibility as rational, reasonable moral agents, as equal members of our race, to hold both people and cultures responsible for their impact on our world, to speak out against the indoctrination of hate and oppression with an appropriate measure of criticism. These conversations have never been easy, but in a country where slavery is now abolished, women can vote and own property rather than be property, where homosexuals are on the verge of being equal members of society, I can tell you that we are, slowly but surely, moving in the right direction.

Osama bin Laden is dead. We, the living, must decide how we want the world to look in his absence.


Joshua’s response:

Osama Bin Laden has a new secret location, and there’s been much speculation of exactly where that’s at.

Bin Laden is in hell, wrapped in a gasoline Snuggie, while all the people that were killed in the Twin Towers are in heaven throwing rocks at him.

Or, he’s enjoying his virgins…but they all look Chris Farley with the body hair of Robin Williams and the voice of Kathy Griffin.

Or heck, maybe Bin Laden is indeed being lavishly rewarded by a militant Islamic god.  After all, there are about 1.5 billion Muslims in the world, and they ALL share the same extremist beliefs.  And 1.5 billion people can’t be wrong, right?  (I really wish there was a universal symbol to denote sarcasm).

Approximately 150,000 people die around the world everyday (according to Yahoo Answers – and you know they’re always legit) and yet the eternal fate of one man is still talked about weeks after his death.  And the world ultimately disagrees with itself.  Bin Laden is in hell.  Bin Laden was reincarnated and came back as dung beetle.  Bin Laden’s life force was returned to the universe.

Even my own religion, Christianity, can’t agree on an opinion. God is in sorrow that he lost Bin Laden’s soul.  God is rejoicing that evil was eradicated.   Bin Laden is in hell with Gandhi, Hitler, and everyone else that wasn’t a Christian, regardless of how good or evil they were. Or, he’s in the deepest part of hell with Hitler while good people like Gandhi are in an easier part of hell – like hell with room service.  Or, Bin Laden’s body and soul were completely annihilated.  Or maybe he’s in purgatory, which is unfortunate for him because I don’t see any Catholics volunteering to pray him out.

But here’s the moment you’ve been waiting for. Here is my wise and well-studied opinion about where Bin Laden’s soul is as we speak…

I don’t know.  And I really don’t care.  *Cue gasps from the audience*

I mean seriously, with only 24 hours in the day and a finite amount of brain power, don’t we have better things to do?  Do we really think that whatever we believe about Bin Laden’s new secret location will change the inevitable, whatever the inevitable may be?

“Holy crap, Josh!  Aren’t you a Christian?  Shouldn’t you be all freaked out and passionate about where souls go in the afterlife?”

I wasn’t planning on putting a Christian spin on this, but since there’s a good chance that you, the reader, at least know enough about Christianity to be shocked at my apathy, I feel I should explain myself from a Christian perspective.

To put it in really simple terms, there are things in the Bible that are really clear, and there are things that are super ambiguous.  Jesus’ commands to love and take care of people: really clear.  The Bible’s descriptions about the afterlife: super ambiguous.  This is where I feel Christians get it wrong.  They’re so concerned about the afterlife that they fail to take care of the here and now.  And this has all sorts of ramifications.  When Christians get this backwards, they care more about being pious and how to act instead of emulating the one they choose to worship.  And being pious has cornered the Christian market.  Don’t do this.  Don’t do that.  “Oh be careful little eyes what you see.  For the father up above, throws lightening down with love…” 

Just the other day I was reading an article by Chuck Colson where he addressed a concern about how more and more Christians are being more concerned about poverty and the environment instead of homosexuality and the sanctity of marriage.  This is a concern?  Really?  It sounds more like progress to me.

But this isn’t just about Christianity; this is about good old-fashioned common sense.  Why be concerned about one dead man when there are hundreds dying and suffering in our neighborhoods that we can actually help?  Osama Bin Laden is dead, and I have a lot of thoughts about this – it’s a mixed bag of logical, psychological, spiritual and emotional perspectives.  But ultimately, they don’t matter.  But my thoughts and emotions on poverty, racism, and social injustices, those are things that count.

If you’re still unsatisfied with my response and really want to know my humble opinion on Bin Laden’s new secret location, here’s my official stance.  I believe that Bin Laden wasn’t killed – he escaped the Matrix and is now fighting the computers with personality handicapped people like Neo, Trinity and Morpheus.  And that pretty much sounds like hell to me.

Why I Am Not Pro-Life

“If only my enemy were bigger than my apathy, I could have won”.

~Mumford and Sons

So I had a strange conversation with my toilet the other day.  I was cleaning the bathroom and finishing by wiping down the small strip of tile behind the toilet.  How it gets dirty back there is beyond me.  There I was, bent over and armed with a paper towel and some generic cleaner when all of a sudden my toilet whispers in my ear.

“I am the King of Spain”.

I stop cleaning and suppress an incredulous look as to spare the toilet’s feelings (he’s a little sensitive).  Politely, I say, “Toilet, clearly you are not the King of Spain”.

“Oh yes I am,” ensured the toilet, “now BOW to your King!”

Now, I’ve had some fairly deep conversations with my toilet and I know he’s not completely devoid of logical reasoning, so either he was just joking or he truly flipped his lid – pun intended.  “What makes you think you are the King of Spain?” I inquired.

“Because I am,” the toilet said, flatly.

“But you’re not”.

“Oh yes I am!” repeated the toilet.

By this time I’m getting a little frustrated and decided that I wasn’t going to let the toilet win this debate.  “Listen toilet, you seem to have flushed all your logic down the drain (again, pun intended).  You are not royalty, you’re not Spanish, heck, you’re not even human!  You are made of porcelain and pixie-dust and the greatest thing you will ever achieve in life is not the ruling of a country, but assisting in the potty training of my two-year old son.

“No YOU listen, peasant!  All those things don’t matter.  I am the King of Spain simply because I say I am.  Now BOW TO YOUR KING!”

((End Scene))

I’m being intentionally weird for a reason.  I’m about to throw a seriously heavy topic at you so I thought I’d soften it with a little strange levity.  And I promise I have a point.  The point is that one cannot be something by simply claiming it to be so.  There has to be some sort of action involved.  Even if toilets could talk and think, it would be absolutely ludicrous for one to believe that it is the King of Spain simply by believing that it is.

Just about as ludicrous as me believing I’m Pro-Life by simply saying that I am.

Now don’t get me wrong, I really wish I could call myself Pro-Life, but I can’t.  And this bothers me, but not enough to actually do something about it.

I guess it would be appropriate at this time to give my definition of Pro-Life.  To me, the label “Pro-Life” has nothing to do with one’s belief regarding abortion.  Sure, I’m against abortion, but that doesn’t make me Pro-Life, it makes me opinionated.  I feel to put the Pro-Life label on someone who doesn’t believe in abortion without any other qualifications is an absurd gesture.  By this logic, the murderer who blows up the clinic and kills numerous doctors and nurses is Pro-Life – and that’s just not right.  The term “Pro-Life” deserves much more than that.

To me, being Pro-Life means that you actually care enough about the lives of others and their suffering to actually DO something about it.  Being Pro-Life isn’t about blindly giving to a charity with paltry funds earned in excess; it’s about investing, really investing in the lives of the less fortunate without qualification and with potential self-sacrifices.  And it’s not all about money.  It’s about releasing oneself; one’s time and convenience and tears and skills and mental stability to those whom God loves just as equally.

And I really want to be Pro-Life.

Now, I want to make it clear that I believe it is a vastly foolish thing to impoverish oneself in order to fight things like poverty.  A fireman does not intentionally set himself on fire to do his job, although it might happen accidentally.  Unless God tells me otherwise, I honestly don’t feel convicted by spending some money to drink soda and keep my apartment warm in the winter.  But I want to do at least something – SOMETHING to make this world a better place.  I want to get to the point where I can see a needy friend and realize that paying for his electric bill one month is far more important than me playing a new video game one month.

So here is my current status: I’m bothered.  I’m bothered by the fact that there are urban schools in my own city where black kids get the crappiest of education.  I’m upset that large regions of Africa are places of literal hell on earth.  I get oh-so-slightly emotional when I read news articles about disasters that obliterate people’s well being en masse.  I get stressed out when I think about epidemics like war and hunger and AIDS and racism and child prostitution.

But not enough to do something about it – and that bothers me.

It’s a sad condition I am in, to care enough to be uncomfortable but not enough to act  – but still enough to feel a good dose of self-loathing.  So maybe I’ll start an AA group, Apathetics Anonymous.  And maybe I’ll find miserable like-minded people; and the misery of our collective company will grow and rise to face the giant of our apathy…and we’ll act.  Perhaps our combined efforts won’t soothe the suffering of the masses, but maybe one mouth will get fed, one child will be loved, one widow will be comforted and one lonely prison inmate will feel like a human again – and that would be enough for the time.

And maybe we could eventually say, “Why yes, I AM Pro-Life”.  And say it with an honest smile.

Now, that would be a beautiful thing.

Conversation Sparker #1 – Is Lying Always Wrong?

Here’s my first attempt at vlogging!  I’d like to know your opinions – watch the video and give me a comment.

Tag Cloud