A week ago tonight my best friend, Josh Allen, was killed in a car wreck. The other young man was killed as well. Two men, in what many would call the “prime” of their lives, dead. I do not know the other guy or anything about him. I do not harbor resentment or anger towards him. We all make mistakes. Some more consequential than others. So here is what I do know.
Josh was my friend because he took time to invest in me. He listened to me. He rebuked me when needed and challenged me in numerous ways. He did not care how far out my theology questions went, he still loved me for who I was and am. He saw potential in me. He trusted me and I trusted him with my deepest doubts, fears, and short-comings. Josh was a Christian, a believer and follower of Jesus, the carpenter turned rabbi from the town of Nazareth. Josh was not the kind of man who says one thing but does another. He believed in heaven and hell and the redemption of mankind through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. It made him who he was.
His death does not alleviate my questions surrounding my own Christian faith. But it does spur me on to continue loving people with the depth that my friend did. What I learned in his passing is that he had a lot of people who considered him their best friend. But I also know that none of us were his best friend. Honestly, his wife was his best friend. And that is how it should be. And for those of us who claimed him as our best friends, we need to take the lessons we learned from Josh about caring and spending time with other people as our own way to live life.
The two greatest commandments in the Christian faith according to Jesus in Matthew’s account of the gospel is to love God with all that we are, and the second is like it, to love our neighbor as we love ourselves. Let me go a little deeper for you on this thanks to a friend of mine in Colorado. These are not commandments that you can choose to obey or not. The Greek is written in such a way to render these two statements as declarative statements. You WILL love YOUR God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength. You WILL love others as YOU love yourself. Whatever your God is will be evident to the world around you. If your God is the pursuit of money, then people will be able to tell that. If your God is recognition of your achievements then people will be able to tell. Josh’s God was Jesus Christ. It was evident in what he said, how he talked, the way he treated strangers and friends, and how he gave of himself so that others would be pointed towards his God.
Now the second commandment works the same way. You will love people in direct proportion to how you love yourself. If you do not love yourself (in a healthy way, a kind of appreciative way of the value you bring to the world around you) then you will show this to the people in your life in how you treat and act towards them. Honestly, I do not know how Josh invested in so many people. He was methodical in his use of the time given to him each day and somehow he managed to love his wife and son in the middle of it all. I know that Josh had a healthy view of himself because his value or self-worth came from his belief in Jesus as his Lord, Savior, and God. He found value in himself because of what he believed about the Bible as a whole, and how he applied its teachings and theology to his own life.
What impact or legacy did he leave behind? Was there something else he could have done with his life that would have had as positive of an impact? These two questions stick out in my mind. His legacy is Jesus Christ: today, yesterday, and forever. Josh’s impact is going to continue for generations. I cannot imagine someone telling me that Josh’s life was pointless because he was seeking to spread ancient customs and traditions instead of truly bettering humanity through rationalistic and scientific approaches. Josh brought hope to those hurting, help to those in need, a listening ear and wisdom beyond his years to those searching for truth, and more. I do believe Jesus brings division, but so does anyone who believes anything at all. Beliefs divide us. But we need to be more like Josh. Willing to listen and to engage in dialogue so that we can meet the needs of humanity.
And for Josh those needs included restoration with our Creator through not just believing in what Jesus did on the cross, but in following the teachings of Jesus. So I encourage you with this post to be true to what you say you believe, and be willing to engage and invest in others who believe differently than you. It is what Josh would have wanted because it is what Jesus asked Josh, and anyone who believes in Him, to do.
May the God of Forever provide comfort, mercy, and joy to Shelley and Josiah in the years to come.
Missing my friend,
Well, as promised, I have finished reading The Moral Landscape by Sam Harris. Below are my thoughts on some things that popped up while reading the book. Overall, most of his arguments make sense. But until he can do more rigorous neurological testing the arguments do not pose a threat to anyone claiming to have “insider” information on the afterlife and the complex world of human moral consciousness.
However, on page 78 he did list his objections to religious truth that he had addressed in an earlier book, Letter to a Christian Nation. The main points are listed below in his own words:
- Many revealed religions available to us with mutually incompatible doctrines
- The scriptures of many religions (including Christianity and Islam) countenance patently unethical practices like slavery
- The faculty we use to validate religious precepts, judging the Golden Rule to be wise and the murder of apostates to be foolish, is something we bring to scripture; it does not come from scripture
- The reason for believing that any of the world’s religions were “revealed” to our ancestors (rather than merely being invented by men and women who did not benefit from a 21st century education) are either risible or nonexistent – and the idea that each of these mutually contradictory doctrines is inerrant remains a logical impossibility
I could try to answer these points, but I don’t have a solid answer for 3 and 4. I am sure that some evangelical scholar has written a rebuttal to Dr. Harris’s book, Letter to a Christian Nation. If I find it I will put the link here. If not, then search for it yourself.
Another topic that Dr. Harris covered was psychopaths. One story that he told in the book about a contemporary psychopath was absolutely horrible. That lead me to a series of questions about what to do with psychopaths until neuroscience gives us some sort of way to “rewire” these lunatics. Should we kill psychopaths after they have committed a horrendous crime, in other words, should justice be death? What if we enacted laws that said any person who has committed child molestation in any form would be put to death as well as physical, mental, and emotional child abuse? What impact would that have on society? Now couple these thoughts about crime and the death penalty with what Dr. Harris talked about regarding freewill (some of which I will discuss below) and a whole slew of moral justice dilemmas enter the scene. I was fascinated by the last ¼ of the book as he talked about neuroscience, psychopaths/sociopaths, our prison system, and the future.
Along this line of thinking, if there was one thing I pulled away from the book that I was certain of, it was that our prison and jail systems are outdated. True justice equals reformation and reconditioning of those who commit crimes. Our money should be going towards cognitive therapy treatment and conditioning to release these individuals back into society as productive, not destructive, members. More could be said here, but that was not the point of the book.
The following are some of the key statements Dr. Harris makes in his chapter about freewill. I think these are very important to consider, especially since the foundation of Christianity is that we have a choice to make regarding whether Jesus is truth or not.
“All of our behavior can be traced to biological events about which we have no conscious knowledge: this has always suggested that free will is an illusion.” Pg 103 with neurological examples to back it. Essentially this section showed where chemical reactions in our brain already determine what our decision will be once we are conscious of a “choice”. Harris argues that the choice is an illusion that our consciousness plays on us because they can show where the decision was made before the person was even aware of a decision needing to be made.
“Clearly findings of this kind are difficult to reconcile with the sense that one is the conscious source of one’s actions…I, as the subject of my experience, cannot know what I will next think or do until a thought or intention arises; and thoughts and intentions are caused by physical events and mental stirrings of which I am not aware.” This is the key to what he is saying. Be sure to grasp/understand this. Your thoughts and intentions are a biological byproduct, not a choice of consciousness. That is not up for debate. It is proven.
“Where our intentions themselves come from, however, and what determines their character in every instant, remains perfectly mysterious in subjective terms. Our sense of free will arises from a failure to appreciate this fact: we do not know what we will intend to do until the intention itself arises.” Pg 106 So here he is saying that they do not know what causes your brain to produce the intentions that arise before they arrive in your conscious thought. We can theorize a lot in this case such as current decisions are based on past experiences and learned behaviors, but we need more scientific inquiry into the human brain to learn more. It does not, however, mean that freewill still exists as you currently understand it, but that freewill, if it does exist at all, happens before we are aware of it.
So what I believe Sam Harris is saying is that “we are a product of our environmental conditioning”. Does that mean we do not possess free will? Not sure. One of the quandaries he talks about earlier in the book is that we know that losing 30 pounds will in general create a more healthy and beneficial life for ourselves but we can’t seem to act on this knowledge to make it happen. We don’t change our eating and physical habits to effect the changes that we know we need to make.
I am not sure the two are related but my brain is telling me they are. If I want to create in myself a desire to lose 30 pounds (which I need to do at the present moment) then could I not educate myself and condition myself to effect the motivational change needed to lose the weight? By understanding that the decision I want to make (to lose 30 pounds) needs thought processes that I currently don’t possess then could I not empower my brain to make that decision through more knowledge and physical stimulus awareness? If so, is this free will? If it is free will at that point then he might point out that I could not have made that decision if the intention to make that decision were not already present. So then we would be like the big bang theory in need of explaining what caused our first intention.
So there you have it, some of my thoughts on Sam Harris’ book, The Moral Landscape. I will probably reread it at some point since some of it was worded above my current vocabulary.
So there I was, yesterday, riding back to the office with a coworker. This is not just any coworker. This a tattoo heavy, beer drinking, woman loving, thickly bearded, cool-tempered, man-of-a-man by today’s standards, who loves America, hunts/kills/eats food from numerous prey (oryx, bear, turkey, white-tail deer, elk, etc…), is divorced, estranged from his son because his wife got remarried and took the little fella to England, and he believes that there is a god, but that it isn’t the god of the Bible or that anyone has it right. He lives by an unwritten moral standard that we haven’t really talked about. His big hang-up with the Bible is its stance on animals, or I should say the lack-thereof. He doesn’t see how we are any better or of more value than they are just because we are conscious of our existence. He said it seems to him that our consciousness has made us worst off than the animals are. I will call him Maximus from this point forward.
The conversation yesterday turned into a lengthy discourse about what various Christian denominations believe, what the central points of Christianity are, the inability of people to keep to the moral standards that they claim to follow, and more. It was a hideous conversation as far as coherency on my part is concerned. Here is one of the questions that I was asked, “So Christians basically live to die and go to heaven?” This lead us into a series of explanations on my part that had Maximus re-explaining what he meant by the question.
The reality was that he was right, most Christians in America tend to live to die. We would not say it, but it is a part of our doctrine and we tend to fall more in line with the Baptist’s stance of “once saved always saved” so we go on living in this world how we want to live, rarely questioning our deepest held standards of right and wrong, and we take comfort in knowing that when we die we will be with Sweet Jesus in heaven. The ones who don’t fall into the “once saved, always saved” camp tend to be the quiet disciples of the faith who see evangelism as something that Baptist do well, but that they could never do themselves. If someone wants to know about Jesus then they will tell them about their life and how the disciplines of the faith impact their lives. I know that doesn’t cover everybody, but on the Protestant side of things that is how I see it played out. Catholics would fall more like the Baptists (I can see all the Baptists who are reading this planning on rolling over in their grave before they go to heaven at being associated with Catholics), while Pentecostals would be more in line with the faith in practice side of things, but definitely with the evangelism bit active. But now I am off topic. All of us fail to live in the here and now. Our belief in the after life and that we are going to get there because we have faith greatly impacts our approach to living here on this earth til then, be it for better or worse.
I would not call what I did evangelism. I struggle with believing in the Christianity that I know and have been taught. I struggle to identify myself with conservative evangelicals, fundamentalists, charismatics, Quakers, Pentecostals, Wesleyans, etc… All of this came across in my conversation with Maximus. I told him about the two greatest commandments: love God with all that you are, and love other people how you would want to be loved. Then I had to explain what the point of Jesus was. Have you ever had someone ask you, “I just don’t get how Jesus is supposed to have died for all of us?” It ain’t easy to answer. And that is another area of contention for me. In order for someone to believe in Jesus they have to believe the following (whether stated or implied):
1. That there is a God-being.
2. That God has created us and communicated/communicates with us.
3. That this God creator wants an emotional relationship with us as well as a thinking relationship.
4. That our Creator made us to live a certain way. (Moral and ethical standards)
5. That we don’t live that way. (Sin)
6. That we can’t do enough good things to make up for the bad. (Total depravity)
7. Because of this, God came to earth, lived a perfect life, and then was killed for us. (Atonement)
8. That we know all of this because the books of the Bible tell us about it all and that God had this plan in mind since before time began.
9. That if we believe in what God did through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus that we will then be able to have an emotional and thinking relationship with God restored. (Salvation)
10. And that we will live forever when we die with God. (But don’t picture harps, angels with wings, etc… and please don’t tell me I will live forever with ALL of my family. Every family I know does well to make it through a reunion without killing each other and even in ours we prevent this from happening by saying that you can’t talk religion or politics.)
In the end I told Maximus about Calvinist. That Calvinist believe in this thing called the elect. That God made certain folks who are going to go to heaven, and everybody else was made for hell. Here is how it is written according to one site I checked out:
In our Confession, Chapter 3, Sections 3, 4, and 7, we have this description of it: “By the decree of God, for the manifestation of his glory, some men and angels are predestined unto everlasting life and others foreordained to everlasting death” (3). “These angels and men, thus predestinated and foreordained, are particularly and unchangeably designed; and their number is so certain and definite that it cannot be either increased or diminished” (4).
“The rest of mankind, God was pleased, according to the unsearchable counsel of his own will, whereby he extendeth or withholdeth mercy as he pleaseth, for the glory of his sovereign power over his creatures, to pass by, and to ordain them to dishonor and wrath for their sin, to the praise of his glorious justice” (7).
To which Maximus replied, “that is awesome, I am going to decide right now that I am one of the elect.” I cracked up. I also told him that I feel like one of those people who wants to be the elect, but no matter how hard I search for truth I will never be considered one of them. And for my “once saved, always saved” friends, please do not hit me up with how I can be assured of my salvation. I am familiar with it all so back off and let me wobble in the little faith that I do have while I try to get others thinking about the Truth.
I just checked out a few books at the library and one of those is by Sam Harris, a neuroscientist who holds a Ph.D. and is famous for authoring the books The End of Faith and Letter to a Christian Nation. This book is entitled The Moral Landscape: How science can determine human values. I have only read the 25 page introduction at this point but I do plan on finishing the book. Expect to see at least one more post about the book, but it may need more than that.
In his introduction Dr. Harris comes across very adamantly that religion and science are opposed to each other on the issue of morality and that they cannot coexist. This perplexes me a bit since his aim is to argue that mankind is reasonable enough to be argued out of our religious beliefs regarding morality and into scientific morality. What I do like about his argument is that he claims that science will yield an absolute morality, or at least that moral relativism is detrimental to the well-being of societies. That premise I completely agree with.
I do not know if my readers have experienced this, but I do believe most of us have. From a Christian background and viewpoint we are not very open to discussing things that run contrary to our doctrinal dogmas, at least within the confines of our churches and especially hearing anything from the pulpit. While I do believe that most of us have questions about our faith traditions, I also believe that most of us would never raise those questions arbitrarily within our communities of faith. We wait until we are around someone we can trust to divulge our latest question or problem. Why is that?
Theory 1: Some people within our churches will not understand why any question even needs to be asked. They will see the question as challenging the very basis for their existence and how they go about living their life from day-to-day. We do not want to disrupt these people are have them petition to kick us out of their church.
Theory 2: We assume that nobody else has questions that are similar to ours. (This is a lie. I can tell you from years of questioning that most people have questions, they just don’t talk about it unless prompted.)
Theory 3: We are afraid of what the answers or lack thereof might do to our faith, our way of life, our families, our communities.
Theory 4: When those who hold positions of leadership start having questions about their faith, who will they turn to? Leaders will not talk about it due to the inherent pressure of their position and the false reality that they have to be confident and 100% certain.
There might be other theories, but I am tired and need to go to bed. The big issue I want to discuss here is that we cannot be afraid to engage in dialogue with those who disagree with us on major moral issues. Not shouting matches. Not violent opposition. Not spitting in someone’s face or yelling at them that they are going to hell. We cannot be afraid to voice our questions within our communities either so that those who are afraid of talking to us can see that it is okay to disagree and to have questions of their own.
Regarding Dr. Harris’ reasoning, if he wants to change society then it will not be with the swift blow of reason. Change is best done when people are seeking it for themselves. That can only start when we solidify ourselves by getting answers to our questions. Because we all know that most of the time once we have the answers, we just end up with more questions. And that is what is needed to move forward as a nation, and as conscientious people throughout the world.
Lies we believe about other believers within Christianity, especially at our own churches
1. “I don’t think they really are believers, have you seen (insert whatever here – their movie collection, their children, their cars, their house, how haughty, etc…)
2. “They are just pretending to be Christians, treating this place like a social club to make them feel better.”
3. “Why do they even come except to have everyone notice them?”
4. “Does anyone in this place open their Bible besides me? Oh, wait, I haven’t opened mine in a week.”
5. “Does anyone in this place pray besides me? Oh, wait, I haven’t prayed in a week.”
6. “Go ask so, and so, she always does those things for other people. Nobody else can do it or we might offend her.”
7. “Don’t look now, it’s the Brady Bunch. Everything is either perfect in their world, or they are hiding some dark secrets that we will never know about.”
8. “The only reason they are on stage is to glorify themselves, not to glorify God.”
9. “I am not going to talk to that lady, she is crazy. I heard she has twenty cats in her house.”
10. “I don’t think anybody in this place wants to be here, so why do we keep coming?”
What other lies can you think of that we use to belittle others within our congregations and to dissuade ourselves from stepping foot in church?
1 My soul, praise the LORD, and all that is within me, praise His holy name.
2 My soul, praise the LORD, and do not forget all His benefits.
3 He forgives all your sin; He heals all your diseases.
4 He redeems your life from the Pit; He crowns you with faithful love and compassion.
5 He satisfies you with goodness; your youth is renewed like the eagle.
6 The LORD executes acts of righteousness and justice for all the oppressed.
7 He revealed His ways to Moses, His deeds to the people of Israel.
8 The LORD is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger and full of faithful love.
9 He will not always accuse us or be angry forever.
10 He has not dealt with us as our sins deserve or repaid us according to our offenses.
11 For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is His faithful love toward those who fear Him.
12 As far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us.
13 As a father has compassion on his children, so the LORD has compassion on those who fear Him.
14 For He knows what we are made of, remembering that we are dust.
15 As for man, his days are like grass – he blooms like a flower of the field;
16 when the wind passes over it, it vanishes, and its place is no longer known.
17 But from eternity to eternity the LORD’s faithful love is toward those who fear Him, and His righteousness toward the grandchildren
18 of those who keep His covenant, who remember to observe His instructions.
19 The LORD has established His throne in heaven, and His kingdom rules over all.
20 Praise the LORD, all His angels of great strength, who do His word, obedient to His command.
21 Praise the LORD, all His armies, His servants who do His will.
22 Praise the LORD, all His works in all places where He rules. My soul, praise the LORD!
Scripture quotations marked HCSB have been taken from the Holman Christian Standard Bible, Copyright 1999, 2000, 2002, 2003 by Holman Bible Publishers. Used by permission. Holman Christian Standard Bible, Holman CSB, and HCSB are federally registered trademarks of Holman Bible Publishers.
- 3 Men Martyred, 12 Nuns Kidnapped in Muslim Brotherhood’s Push Through Syria (judeochristianchurch.com)
- The Chinese Dragon Flexes Its Military Muscle (tomohalloran.com)
- 2013 – The Technology Year in Review (gfi.com)
- Kerry: Obama prepared to use force in Iran after nuclear talks collapse (brandontward.blogspot.com)
- Cora’s Story (jandljensen.wordpress.com)
I am going to jump around in this post as I have several things going on in my head.
1. Raise your hand if you are tired of American Christianity as a Christian. Okay, that was only 3% of you out there. My frustration stems from a watered down version of the gospel of Jesus Christ and a complete lack of respect and fear for God. I admire Jews and Muslims for their piety. The reverence they have for their god is humbling. How many Christians have ever done any of the following on a continual basis:
a. taken off your shoes and washed your hands and feet before praying
b. memorized scripture for the purpose of prayer
c. gotten on our knees and faces in prayer to God
d. denied ourselves foods and drinks that are horrible for us to honor God (not just to be healthier for ourselves)
I have not, and I know there is danger in ritual religious traditions. I don’t know what to do with this nagging feeling inside me though regarding my lack of obedience, honor, and reverence for the God I believe in. It is in the Bible – “Therefore, I say this and testify in the Lord: You should no longer walk as the Gentiles walk, in the futility of their thoughts.” (Ephesians 4:17, but read all of that section down to 5:5) “Therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, I urge you to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God; this is your spiritual worship.” Romans 12:1 “Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches people to do so will be called least in the kingdom of heaven. But whoever practices and teaches these commandments will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you, unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Jesus as recorded in Matthew 5:19-20) The list goes on with commands to pursue holiness, righteousness, godliness, purity, etc…
But American Christians do not do these things (or at least very few do). Why? Ask yourself that. Why don’t I surrender every aspect of my life to God? We like our things, we like our food, we like our drinks, we like our entertainment, we like our lust, we like our power, etc… For me it is things, food, entertainment, lust, and the pursuit of power/authority over other people. What would my marriage, my parenting, my friendships, and my social engagement look like if I was truly a child of the Living God?
2. Is it possible that one day Jews, Muslims, and Christians will fight a united front in America against religious oppression? This is a dangerous line of questioning to post on the internet, but I want to plant the idea in your mind for you so that you are not shocked when it happens. And should that unified front be violent, political, in the form of separatist, or some other method?
Has the war on terror been created by those in power to keep Christians and Jews from becoming allies with Islam? I don’t believe that entirely, but I believe their could be just enough truth there to make me pursue truth to my prejudices and biases against Muslims. What are your perceptions of other cultures, religions, and people groups? What do you base those perceptions on? National news outlets? Newspapers like USA Today, The Washington Post, The New York Times? God forbid, movies and television like Homeland, 24, The Unit, Zero Dark Thirty, etc…?
What would we find if we were willing to take a risk and engage Jews and Muslims in our communities? I believe you would find way more similarities with Christians than what Christians are currently finding within society at large. And it better happen before dialogue about religious beliefs is illegal or forbidden.
3. I finally published my first book ever, a Christian novel. Only available through Amazon.com. I don’t mind sending you the pdf for free if you want it. I am not trying to make money on this book, just trying to gain some experience in the publishing realm. I might make a sequel to it, but I am not sure yet. The sequel would be based on the second point I discussed today.
Thanks for reading.
- Religion Does Not Belong at Public School Graduation Ceremonies (atheistrev.com)
- Muslim In Chief (thesleuthjournal.com)
- The Paralyzing Premise of Public Prayer (huffingtonpost.com)
- Quotes From Barack Hussein Obama On Islam And Christianity. (militianews.com)
- Christian-Jews-Muslims and Concept of God (makashfa.wordpress.com)