Monday, May 21, 2007

A Question I can’t get my mitts on…

How does an eternal being create fear of death?

I often see theists make claims that “because WE have such-and-such a trait, GOD must likewise.” A very common one is that we are social and desire relationships, therefore God must be more than one person. Or that we have an innate sense of Justice that reflects God must be just.

But isn’t this picking and choosing what attributes to attach to a god, and avoiding some problematic ones?

One of the most convenient reasons for being theistic at all is to answer that question, “Where did ___ come from?” “How did the universe come into being?” Why is there anything instead of nothing? And for this “god” is created as a reason. A god that is necessary (non-contingent) and eternal (without beginning or ending.)

To be honest, I haven’t wrapped my hands around the idea of how time can begin. (With or without a god). But assuming that somehow god is outside of time, or can start time without time already existing, this would mean god would have the requisite knowledge of what time was. That god may not be able to experience what it is to have time pass, but has the knowledge of what that would look like.

That is hard enough to grasp.

Yet even with that knowledge, in order to create entities that had the fear of the passing of time, god must have that knowledge too. Unless we are going to say that god fears its own death (!) then we must limit God’s understanding to being head-knowledge only, and not experience-knowledge.

By way of an inadequate analogy, I may have knowledge of what it means to give birth, but I have no experience in that regard. (“Inadequate” because my knowledge comes through interaction with women who have. Where would a god get knowledge of fear of death from?)

However, if there are items in which god has knowledge, but no experience, isn’t it possible this includes the ability to have relationships? To be just? To love? That the creator of the universe understands the existence of such things, but has never experienced them for itself?

The question I can’t get my mitts around is this: if we experience it, MUST a creator as well? If “yes” what does a god experience that we do, if “no” then what can we say about a god that has any meaning?

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Not My Fault

We all cringe a bit when we see someone get caught for doing something wrong, and they begin to throw the blame on someone else.

“Not my Fault!”

Not to pick on her in particular, but Paris Hilton was just found guilty of probation violation. What did she say? “My Publicist didn’t inform me I was not able to drive.”

“Not my Fault!”

Anyone who has small children can watch this repartee occur in almost machine-gun like precision:

“She hit me!”
“He hit me first!”
“She called me a name!”
“He made a face at me!”
“She started it!”
“He started it!”

It seems as if our natural human tendency, upon being discovered in the wrong, is to defensively determine some other person or circumstance to blame, in order to alleviate (even if just a bit) the responsibility of the action. To spread the blame. To share the fault.

I was recently struck by how Christianity is able to do this with the Sin Nature. To spread the blame, just a bit, with the fact that this is simply who they are. They can’t help it. If you get nothing else out of this blog entry, please get this:

It is not a sin nature. It is you.

If you think about it, Christianity put together a pretty smart package. For 1000 years, Judaism placed the blame squarely on the humans. The Israelites failed to follow God. God punished them. The Israelites followed God’s laws—God rewarded them. One was held (sometimes immediately) accountable for one’s own actions.

It would seem it was decided that this wasn’t working. Humans were not getting better. Humans were not getting worse. The same problems that existed 1000 years earlier, continued to exist. Tradition was perpetuation of the sameness, with no apparent end in sight. And therefore the concept of “Grace” enters Stage Right. An idea that God will pardon you upon the far simpler action of belief, rather than this constant retribution/reconciliation cycle.

In one fell swoop, one can be sanctified, justified, rectified, glorified, purified and –fied in every good way possible. Almost seems too good to be true. And it was. Because these sanctified, justified, etc. people continued to sin. Exactly as before. As Paul says in Romans 7:14-15, 17-21
For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am carnal, sold under sin. For what I am doing, I do not understand. For what I will to do, that I do not practice; but what I hate, that I do…. But now, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me. For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) nothing good dwells; for to will is present with me, but how to perform what is good I do not find. For the good that I will to do, I do not do; but the evil I will not to do, that I practice. Now if I do what I will not to do, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me.
Paul rightly sees that even after the belief, after the justification, after the salvation, the person continues to struggle with moral decisions. There is no “quick fix.” No “magic bullet.”

Notice that last verse carefully, though. “It is no longer I who do it but sin that dwells in me”

“Not my fault.”

Oh what a convenient excuse to rest the blame. The person genuinely doesn’t want to sin. Of course they end up sinning anyway. They are genuinely repentant and will to never again. Of course they blow it. What is to blame—the person? Nope—it is that insidious sin nature within.

It is not a sin nature. It is you.

The Christian can claim it is the fault of Eve. Wicked, wicked Eve. Once she bit that fruit, all humanity, including the person, was doomed to inherit a sin nature. But for Eve…it would not be there. It is not their fault. Or they can blame biology. That they were “born into sin.” It is the fault of the human condition of existing in which each person is given, through their parent’s DNA this pernicious sin nature that no amount of praying, pleading and prying will ever remove.

If they are born with it, and cannot rid it (even with God’s intervention)—how are they totally to blame? We may as well “blame” them for breathing, or having a heartbeat!

This attitude was brought forcefully to home when I read a Christian blog raising that stale, oft-repeated observation that women must dress modestly in order to quiet the sex-crazed beast found in every heterosexual male on the planet. And as I was shifting through the familiar, “We are Men and can’t help it. It is who we are. We see a belly button and go ape” (you probably know the routine better than I) all I was hearing was “It’s not my fault. It’s not my fault.

I see Christians that blame the female for what she is wearing, but not the male. “Oh, he can’t help it, the ol’ horn dog! That’s just who he is.” wink, wink. Nudge, nudge. “You shouldn’t dress like that, because the boys will think you want sex.” Nothing about the boys being the problem—they have that sin nature. Can’t help it. Not their fault.

In fact, it is almost treated as a game. That the boys will think that way regardless of what a female wears (by the by, doesn’t this say more about where the focus should be made?) so cover up as much as possible to make the “game” as hard as possible, but they will be thinking those nasty thoughts regardless. ‘Cause that’s just who they are.

“Not my fault.”

I’ll let you in on the worst kept human secret of all time. If I see a woman in a bikini, my mind will wander for a moment. However, likewise, if I see a money-stuffed wallet on the ground with no one around, my mind will wander for a moment then, too. If I hear a particular juicy piece of gossip, my wind will wander.

Each of us is constantly barraged with opportunities to make moral decisions. Do I let that car in? Do I give money to that homeless person? Do I respond to this phone call in anger? Do I take the money and run? Do I share the gossip? And yes—do I initiate contact with the woman in the bikini in hopes of being unfaithful to my wife?

There is nothing spectacular about having a moment. An instant where, as creatures that have the ability to weigh moral consequences, we think, “What if I take this farther in that direction?” It is not having a moment that makes anyone special—it is what we DO with that moment.

A problem with Christianity is that it has become so sex-conscious that while it recognizes and attempts to deal with “moments” in a variety of other fields, when it comes to sex, it fears having that moment at all! Because while that moment may be justified with greed, or slander or hate, it is never, EVER to be allowed with sex. Even the thought is wrong.

Yet men recognize that is biologically impossible. That thought comes regardless. Rather than recognize it for a moment and deal with it—Christians must determine a way by which to never have that moment.

And the easiest thing to do is cover up the female. Make it their fault. The poor male is stuck with his sin nature—not his fault. The poor male must avoid this moment—not his fault. So impose restrictions on the female and if they fail their part, then the man is one-more step removed from fault.

“Not my fault. Is the sin nature. It is her fault.”

It is high time that Christianity realizes that it IS their fault. That, as a human, they need to start taking full and total responsibility for their actions. They need not feel shame, nor honor in it. All of us have regretted a moment where we wished we hadn’t done something we did, or didn’t do something we wish we had. Stop laying excuses on some “sin nature” and start owning up to being human!

It is also high time that Christian males realize those thoughts ARE going to come, it is not a matter of fault as much as a matter of biology, and to start dealing with them appropriately, rather than attempt to quash them by placing the blame on the female. While I don’t hold the Garden of Eden story to be historical in any fashion, it sure was spot on with Adam’s response as to his own decision—blame the woman!

It is not some biological inheritance of a sin nature, like your dad giving you a propensity for heart disease or your mother giving you a propensity for breast cancer, in which you are doing the best you can with the heredity you have—this is you! You make the decisions. You take the credit. You take the blame.

Please stop telling me you couldn’t help it because of something you have no control over. You do. You chose not to. That’s O.K.—it comes with the package of being human. But start taking responsibility for yourself, rather than surrender to the inevitability of laying the blame on something you claim you have no control over.

At best that is biology. At worst—it is an excuse.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Tip the Scales in my Favor

Much of the practice of law involves negotiation. The opposing attorney, the judge and I already know the law and the likelihood of the outcome, based upon the facts. The only thing left to do is see who can negotiate out a settlement.

We often “split the Baby.” (A term we use, ripped right from the story of Solomon. 1 Kings 3:16-28) A remarkably simple idea that if one side is willing to pay $10,000, and the other is willing to accept $20,000, then we will “split the baby” at $15,000. We even play with the concept, by demonstrating righteous indignation that we most certainly will not split the baby, and come up with a resolution of $15,500 or $14,500 to demonstrate to the world how we have justifiably defended our client’s position.

With this idea ever prevalent in the back of our mind, we are extremely careful as to what number to initially commit to. If I am pursuing a case, and they offer $10,000, requesting a counter-offer, I know that a $20,000 counter-offer will likely result in a $15,000 settlement. A $25,000 counter-offer in a $17,500 settlement. Of course, the other side knows that too, so their initial offer is likely to be $5,000.

My opponent starts extremely low, I start extremely high, and we play cat-and-mouse in attempting to see who will move the fastest to some middle ground.

Thanks to Guy Sonntag, I recently read a discussion between Andrew Sullivan and Sam Harris regarding those old stalwarts: “Faith” and “Reason.” Sullivan concluded that his position was the most valid, partly because he does not rely solely on faith, nor solely on reason, but has a “balance” of the two.

I see that come up so many times in our discussions. “I am not a fundamentalist. I am not an atheist. I am ‘balanced’ because I am a liberal theist.” “I am not this extreme. I am not that extreme. I am ‘balanced’ because I am in the middle.”

Somehow, we have come to glorify “balance” as if it is always the better position. “Extremism” is bad, so “balance” is good. There are two problems with this.

First, there are some things that the extreme actually IS correct. We would find the following statement silly, “I am not a geocentric theorist. I am not a heliocentric theorist. I am balanced because I hold that the sun and earth orbit each other.” On some things, we have to pick sides.

But the second, and greater problem I see, is that we can almost always make ourselves balanced, by determining the two extremes. A fundamentalist wants to be balanced? Pick the extremes of “hyper-Calvinism” and Pentecostal. Landing nicely in the middle. An inerrantist wants to be balanced? Pick the extremes of errancy and inerrancy in the copies. Claim inerrancy ONLY in the original writings and bingo—you are balanced.

Watch—I can do it too. “I do not hold to the Christian God. I do not hold to the non-Christian God. Look at me! I am nicely balanced between those two!” Do you see how easy it is to be balanced?

Just like a lawsuit that I want to settle at $15,000, I try to get the two extremes to be $10,000 and $20,000; that way, I am sure to be “balanced” right where I want to be--$15,000.

I got to thinking—how DOES one claim they are in a “balanced” position on faith and reason. Where is the middle ground, and how do we know when we have achieved it?

Perhaps it would be helpful to first understand what the balancing act is not. It is NOT the battle between opposite contentions. I would hope no one claims that “faith” is the opposite of “reason.” The opposite of “reason” is “unreasonable.” We are not saying that faith is “unreasonable.” Further, the opposite of faith is “lack of belief.” It is quite conceivable to reasonably have the lack of belief in something.

It is not as if we pile all the reason at one end of a line, and place all the faith at the other, and claim they are opposites. Assuming a “1” as reason and “10” as faith, we are not saying that a “1” has all reason, and lack of belief, and a “10” has unfounded belief and no reason. That some balance person must be at the 5 – 6 range. Treating these two as contrary and opposite only leads to trouble.

Secondly, I think it is important to see that none of us is 100% faith or 100% reason. The reality of the scales of balance is that we have a mixture of faith and reason, at times employing them both on the same premise. Humans are multifaceted, and rarely make decisions based solely on one category or the other.

I think what the person is implying when they say they are balanced between faith and reason is more analogous to the scales of justice. The scales with two free-standing platforms in which one places weights on each side to see the scale tip back and forth, eventually to rest either perfectly level (perfectly balanced) or demonstrating which side is heavier by being lower.

That faith and reason are not contradictory as much as separate creatures. We place 5 pounds of “faith” on one side of the scale and 5 pounds of “reason” on the other, and the scale tips to an even balance.

Two questions immediately pop out at us: 1) How do we measure the quantity of “faith” or “reason” and 2) Where is it written that we must have perfect balance between the two?

What does 5 pounds of faith look like? We understand that if we put 6 pounds on one side of the scale, and 4 pounds on the other, that the scale would tip heavily to the 6 pound side. If I see a Christian exerting 6 pounds of faith and only 4 pounds of reason, can I confidently point out, “A-ha! You have too much faith!” That seems silly. And how do I measure 2 pounds of reason to be applied to the premise to bring them back to “balance”?

Further, is it not possible that some decisions have more reason, and others have more faith? If I am making a religious decision, and my scales are at 6 pounds faith and 2 pounds reason—is that balanced enough? Or MUST I apply more reason, in order to claim the title of being “balanced”? If I am taking a math test, should my scales be at 2 pounds faith and 6 pounds reason? What about determining inerrancy? Or scientific evidence for the universe’s existence?

There are so many different discussions that take place with different amounts of proof, and different possibilities, that to claim perfect balance between faith and reason seems an impossible task.

What becomes clear is that there really is no way to measure faith or reason, nor weigh them, nor determine what an appropriate “balance” between the two is. I fear the claim of “balance” is more of an accusation toward the other person (no one wants to be “un-balanced”) than with any real meat to the concept.

Just as I cleverly appear to be very, very “fair” in setting a number in my negotiations so that we end up at a middle number where I really want it to be—this seems to be a tactic to claim that one (unlike their opponent) is seeing BOTH sides of the picture, and applying BOTH faith and reason. No lop-sided decision here, no sirree!

I am less than impressed with a person claiming to be “balanced” between faith and reason. I suggest we call the person on this claim, questioning where it is written that we must be balanced, how we know when we are within the correct zone of balance and how we can add an appropriate quantity of the immeasurable concepts of “faith” and “reason” to reach that balance.

Who is it reading these scales and shouting out, “We have Balance!” and how can we know when we have achieved it?