Thursday, December 27, 2007

What it means to be A Christian…

..or not.

You are dying. As you lay in the hospital bed, with the ambient noise of the nearby nurses’ station and people passing, you can feel your body shutting down. The doctors have stopped bothering to run tests—there is no good news to be found. The staff continues to care for your body, but you can see their eyes are concentrating on other patients. Other tasks.

Death is so imminent you have lost the fear of it, due to its inevitability. The “Get Well” Cards have limply bowed their faces; knowing their words of promised health have failed.

And in this long pause between worlds, a young intern rushes in. He seems live and vibrant and vigorous.

“Look, I know they say you are dying. I know what you must be feeling. I was once dying, too. I was just like you are now. Only I took this blue pill. You won’t believe what it can do. If you take it, I promise you life will never be the same. Ever.”

What’s the harm? If it was poison, it would only shorten the delay by hours. Even pain might be relief to this calm passing. So you take the pill with little expectation. But…then…you can start to feel…different. Your stomach starts to soften. Your heart begins to pound with enthusiasm rather than exhaustion. You can feel blood pulsing through your arms and legs and face. You stop gasping for air, and gulping it instead.

“See? See? I told you this was something, eh?! These little babies really do the trick!”

The trick? In Spades!

“Now, I ask you to do a favor for me. I’m only one guy, and there are worlds and worlds of sick people out there. I’m giving you a handful of these pills. All I ask is you give out as many of these as you can by the time you walk out of this hospital.”

As many as you can? Is he kidding you? This is fantastic—a whole new life. A moment ago you were dying, and now you feel as if you could run a marathon! Only a handful? You want more—buckets and backpacks and bushels of the blue pills. You aren’t going to one hospital—oh, no! You are going to every hospital in the city. Heck, every hospital in the state! You are going to be giving out more blue pills than imaginable.

“Look, start with this handful. When you are done, I will be certain to find you and give you some more. ‘kay?”

Pishaw! He will have to find you before you have left this floor. So you bound out the door, ready to share this pill with the first person you meet…which happens to be me.

“Whoa…slow down their fellow! You sure are excited. What has you so riled up?”

You tell me about the blue pill. Seeing my hospital gown and presuming I have need of such a thing, you start to push one toward me.

“No, no thank you. Turns out I have no need for your blue pill. The funny thing is this—I, too, was not doing well. Thought I was dying. And some lady told me about this clever breathing exercise and…well…next thing ya know, I am on my way to dress and leave.”

“The queer part is she told me the same thing—to show everyone on my way out this breathing exercise so they could be well, too.”

You think joining forces would be a swell idea.

“Well…I did think about it for a minute or two. But I look at it this way—I have a whole new lease on life. If I start to stop and give this breathing exercise out…that’s gonna take time. Time I now realize I have precious little of.”

You look at those blue pills…

“Think about it. This is no easy task. I am going to stop and show every one of those people how to do this breathing. That could take hours.”

You are going to have to explain these blue pills to every person, too.

“Some of them are not going to believe it, so I will go through my medical history, explaining how sick I was, explaining how I didn’t believe it at first, and how it has helped me.”

You may have to give some medical history…

“And some of ‘em are going to reject me, regardless of what I say. I am not so sure I can handle that type of rejection.”

Rejection always hurt you more than most.

“So do I want to spend the next 8, maybe 10 hours of my life, working my way out of this hospital, room by room by room, when I could be out appreciating the gift of life this lady gave me? Besides, I think she was moving on to the next room. When she saves that patient, they will go room by room giving out the breathing exercise. Heck, my doing it too is a waste of good resources…way I figure it!”

The young intern WAS headed toward another room. And it sure seemed like a lot of blue pills to pass out. They feel more like little blue anchors in your hand.

“I’m sure someone else will hand out your blue pills. Maybe a doctor or nurse—you know—someone more gifted and qualified in explaining blue pills. Hey, I’ve got some tickets to the Giants/ Patriots game; want to come? Maybe we will run into some sick people there, and give ‘em the blue pill or breathing exercise. What do ya say?”

There will always be sick people. What difference really does it make if you hand out those blue pills today, this afternoon or tomorrow? Tomorrow would be a better day anyway—the Giants and Patriots aren’t playing tomorrow.

And the day passes. And the week. Every year or so, during the spring cleaning, you come across a baggie of blue pills and resolve that THIS will be the year you call the young intern ‘cause you gave all of them out. Some years you even put the baggie in the car for the next time you drive by the Hospital. By Fourth of July they have moved back to the closet to make way for the firecrackers.

And then you find yourself on the internet explaining your story, how you believed in the blue pills, and if only other people would take these blue pills, they would be well. And how, just like everyone else, you think the idea of giving out blue pills to sick people is grand and noble and good, but you are just too busy. Not enough time.

Someone else can do it; ’cause you are too occupied…just…like…everyone….else.


  1. Dagoods, always loved your insights and the way you thirst for knowledge - I think this past year in blogging with you I have both come to appreciate your sharpness and have learned a lot from it. Have a great holidays and a Happy New Year!

  2. Hmmm... I'm just not getting it.

    Is this an allegory to Christianity? If so, it seems to fall a little flat: Christianity isn't effective at much of anything beneficial, and Christians are obnoxious precisely to the degree that they do peddle their magic pills.

    Is it an allegory to skepticism, rationalism or atheism? Again, that interpretation raises puzzling questions. Because, of course, rationalism (provably) denies magic pills. Once medical science has exhausted its remedies, that's it, you're SOL.

  3. Ah—I was too cryptic. At times I bore of the straightforward argument, and try to stretch into some variant. This was not intended to be an exact analogy, and was more to bring out a few points lightly than one point deeply.

    A common misconception about Christianity is that any “good works” are motivated by expected reward in heaven. For many, probably most—that is simply not true. They are more an outgrowth of appreciation of what one thinks they received from Jesus.

    Have you ever gotten a new device, or seen a new movie, that you really, REALLY liked? Typically, when a person does so, they love to share it with others. They want others to have the same appreciation/joy in watching this movie, or having this device. When I first got a DVD player, I wanted ALL my friends to come over and watch a movie—just to show them what they (in my opinion) would want as well.

    When we use the term of “good works” or talk of Christians giving up of their own finances to help others, it would not be in the form of a “sacrifice.” It should be a joy to do so! It would ludicrous to think I was “sacrificing” my evening to show my friends my new DVD Player. In the same way, it should be ludicrous for a Christian to think of giving up their time/money in terms of “sacrifice.”

    In the Christmas season, providing for a poor family so we don’t have a gift this year should not be looked at with great awe, and a “wonderful Christian act.” It should be standard operating procedure, out of appreciation for what Christ did for them.

    That is—if they really believed what Christ did.

    Further, this lifestyle of unselfishness would be a reflection of one’s perspective of eternity. Last Saturday my wife and I went out for our anniversary. (17 years) We reserved dinner at a restaurant known for providing way too much food. I skipped breakfast and lunch in anticipation of this meal. What a waste to fill up on grilled-cheese sandwiches so I was not hungry for lobster tail!

    In the same way, if a Christian really thought they were scheduled for an eternity of Billions and Billions of years in a place we could only describe as “heaven”—what would they care of what they eat, drink or live like today? They will have millions of years of ambrosia—how about hamburger instead of steak so that others can eat today?

    Even more, what is offered on this earth is miniscule in light of what heaven would be like. Here we get one (1) chocolate Kiss—there it will be like Willy Wonka’s. Here we get one night with friends—there it will be a frat party lasting 1000’s of years. If you knew you would be spending the next 100 years in Willy Wonka’s—would you give a rat’s whisker as to whether you got a chocolate Kiss—or would you give it to someone else?

    Instead what I see are Christians equally scrambling over one (1) chocolate kiss. As if…dare I say?...they don’t think there really IS a heaven. As if this Earth is all they’ve got. It is the man in the movie theater screaming at me of the massive fire raging in the lobby at that moment, and then sitting down next to me, complaining the movie is starting 2 minutes late. Does he really believe there is a fire? Not very convincing to me.

    I have done the debate on the actuality of Christianity. I know the Bible better than most Christians. I know the arguments, the claims and the allegations. What I see is that these arguments have little effect. It is absorbed and discarded under, “God is mysterious” or “We just have to have faith” and only very rarely actually addressed.

    For these few blog entries (and a few others) I focus on the more pragmatic side of Christianity. O.K.—you tell me you believe in it—act like it. SHOW me you think this thing called “faith” has the actual depth and meaning and purpose you claim in your arguments.

    Notice how Christians veer away? How they are scared to practically apply Christianity? Instead I get exegesis as to how the Bible is actually saying Christians get to act like non-Christians. How, as long as it isn’t a technical sin—the Christian can act like the non-Christian.

    Hey—if they don’t act like there is a fire in the lobby—why should I believe ‘em when they say there is?

  4. I read the whole thing and I ended up a little confused too - but after reading your comment I get it - it makes sense now - still some great story-telling if you ask me (very parabalic if you ask me).

    "It should be standard operating procedure, out of appreciation for what Christ did for them." (Dagoods)

    Great point and I agree 100% - it should be the standard.

    "Instead what I see are Christians equally scrambling over one (1) chocolate kiss. As if…dare I say?...they don’t think there really IS a heaven" (Dagoods)

    I have to say I also agree with this point - I may not like it - but on a general scale this is true.

    "SHOW me you think this thing called “faith” has the actual depth and meaning and purpose you claim in your arguments." (Dagoods)

    There is one small problem with this - for me anyways - I don't know you. But I well explain this for you so you get where I am coming from.

    "Notice how Christians veer away? How they are scared to practically apply Christianity?" (Dagoods)

    Time to explain my version of the faith - picked form the gospels and letters in the NT (or some examples at the least).

    (1) I have a nice huge 37' tv set - got it as a Wedding present alomst 3 years back - was worth some $500.00 or so. Now I am planning on buying a new tv this year sometime (a flat screen) and possibly a Wii or something (i know i seem greedy). Both the tv and the X-box game system I have I am giving away for free - not expecting a dime for them. Previously I gave away a computer to my friend because he did not have one. I also said the same thing about my $5000.00 car I bought - if I don't use it - it's whomever needs it (no money needed). Basically, I think communities should function like this.

    (2) I agree faith is riddled with crap due to Capitalism and the ideas behind money. I have a brother in law who is moving into a new house and wants to sell me his old home for $230,000 - which he bought for under $100,000 - and I told him 'no'. I live by an ethic that demands fairness and if he can't offer me that or that to his own family - sell the house to a stranger for all I care - it's useless to me. Basically, I am a little sickened by the idea my wife's brother can't find the decency to offer her a fair deal - but wants to make a nice profit to move into a bigger home.

    (3) I allow people to stay with me in their time of need and provide for their needs if this is the case also - just because I have some livelihood doesn't mean they should not share in on that while with me. I use that time to be a stepping stone for them to better things - but I make no qualms about money spent on them in the name of their well being.

    In the end, my faith has impacted the very core of how I live and I have no problem with that. I have not come to be born sdo I could be rich or something - I have come to understand that over time. My whole being is dedicated to the well being of those around me - and those as fortunate as me to be poor (although now I am in spirit on this). The idea is communal well being and each taking care of another when the time is called upon...something the church lacks but could use a huge eye opening in.

  5. I have to admit I don't know that much about Christian theology. The closest I ever got to Christianity was spending about 10 years in the Quaker community, and the Quaker dedication to what appear to be Biblical principles such as nonviolence and at least non-ostentation is matched only by their indifference to the Bible itself and their contempt for any kind of external authority.

    I don't agree with all of SocietyVs's ethical principles, but they all seem to make a great deal of sense. And that's the question: Why do you need faith to do something sensible and reasonable? I mean, wouldn't you do exactly the same thing even if you knew for sure God wasn't watching over your shoulder?

  6. The closest I ever got to Christianity was spending about 10 years in the Quaker community, and the Quaker dedication to what appear to be Biblical principles such as nonviolence and at least non-ostentation is matched only by their indifference to the Bible itself and their contempt for any kind of external authority.

    Indeed, even now, as an atheist, I have no problems whatsoever attending occasional Quaker meetings, as my (liberal Christian) wife and I casually search for a means for social networking and fellowship, with a minimum of dogma, authoritative theology, etc.

    Among the things that I like about Quakers, is that rather than offer a plethora of various Bible studies, they offer committees for discussing and taking action on issues they care about: such as human rights issues, countering stupid wars, and humanitarian efforts.

    Some of the more liberal Meetings don't identify themselves as Christian, allowing the individual attendee to define what "The Divine/Guiding Light" means for them; I prefer to identify it as my own human consciousness.

    Things I don't quite agree with would include their absolute stance on pacifism (though I have to admit to ignorance of any specific war in history that was truly just); and the authority given to even the Divine Light, which, if I'm correct that it's not truly some spiritual entity that is separate from ourselves, is just as suspect as anything else.

    Still, the great thing about Quakerism is that you listen to the voice of your own light, not giving undue attention to what other people say they are hearing from their light. And I have yet to find anything but positive apparent effects of their particular brand of theism.

    Perhaps the only real complaint that could be leveled against them is the too-casual acceptance of theism itself, rather than promotion of more thoroughly skeptical views. Still, as I've blogged, I've got no real beef with theism in and of itself. It's a pity that the only Meeting much near us seems to be a dwindling group of mainly over-the-hills, which quells some of the main reasons we'd be interested in joining a group.

    (Sorry for the silly tangent, just happens to be something of interest to me.)