Concernedengineer has once again baited me into a response. This is my reply to his comment on the Ted Haggard post. If I have to work this hard, I'm going to post, rather than bury it in the comment section of a past post. This is long, but I think it belongs here because I think it illustrates the gulf between his worldview and mine.
”It is not wrong to desire justice and to speak truth. In point of truth, if you ever do become a Christian, I think that you would probably speak out with a strong, prophetic voice - something that the church needs.”
I was raised Methodist, and as a choir member, more active in the church than most young people. I met many good people that were doing their best to be good, upright citizens. I don’t object to the concept of fellowship, or human attempts at mutually assisted self-improvement. I object to hierarchical thinking, mind control techniques, and fanatical insistence that I believe a fairy tale. I also object to the scam-like construct that says I am a bad person if I do not believe without material proof (take it on faith). I am also not fond of the fear-mongering tactics of predicting dire consequences after death (of which the predictors can have no direct knowledge no matter how loudly they assert the “truth” of their beliefs) if I do not believe this fairy tale.
”You are right that authentic repentance is not just fessing up when you get caught. It is not false humility of acting humble and acting like you feel bad - as if by feeling bad you can somehow make up for the wrongdoing.”
I think we are close to complete agreement here. I believe that if a person was truly remorseful, they would seek some kind of help shortly after committing the act.
”When somene does wrong, they are lieing, cheating, stealing. The offense is real. Justice ought to be served. An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, and a life for a life.”
“Ought” and “Should” are truly dangerous words in the human lexicon. They can lead to lynch mobs and/or the victim mentality. The inherent problem with the “eye for an eye” construct is that it does not solve the original problem, even if it does provide a measure of karma-like justice. In some cases, it is fair for a perpetrator to live with the direct consequences of their actions, but we as a society have not put out eyes or cut off hands in a long time. We tend to think it barbaric when other countries indulge in this form of justice. The problem with the death penalty solution is the same as the reason that murder is immoral in the first place. If I take your life, I have taken something that does not belong to me and I cannot give it back. Executing a murderer doesn’t bother me, and might give some closure to the victim’s friends and family, and might prevent more murder, but it does nothing for the victim(s).
”But I maintain that if this exacting of justice is the end of the story, then the logical conclusion is that we are all failures. The logical conclusion is suicide. Just look at your life, and I'll look at mine. Do you really think it is possible to compensate for all of the wrongs you have done (including the right things that you have failed to do)? If you think it is, then your standard is really low and/or your opinion of yourself is really high. Either way, you are sticking your head in the sand if you think you have what it takes to justify yourself. So, then if you have a realistic view, you recognize that you do not have what it takes to live a truly just life. Acknowledging this truth is the first step to getting in touch with reality. Failing to acknowledge this truth is to play the ostrich mentality.”
This line of reasoning is a logical consequence of your worldview. The idea that we are all failures is a direct consequence of believing that there is such a thing as perfection or a perfect being. I see this concept differently, as sort of a Platonic ideal that acts as a logical limit, like zero or infinity in Calculus. As humans, we are born with antisocial and behavioral problems that, while possibly advantageous to individual survival, need to be extinguished as we are socialized.
"God is loving, merciful, and forgiving. "
One of the hymns I used to sing in church went:
(soloist) “The firstborn of the Egyptians he smote."
(chorus) "For His great love, Is without end.”
I think that was the first time my brain went, “Warning! Warning! Danger Will Robinson! Does not Compute!”
”I have a friend who was telling me a story about a guy trying to teach his children about the grace of God. He gave one of his kids a cookie. One kid got a cookie, while the other kid did not. When the kid without the cookie complained, the father said that the kid who got the cookie did not deserve it. It was simply grace.”
Wow. Convoluted, but hangs together on its internal, um, logic. “Deserve” is another one of those dangerous words. As in the example above, many times in social, and almost always in Natural situations, “deserve” only comes into play as the logical outcome of work toward an expected goal, or as a reward for actual or perceived behavior. Sometimes the results are disappointing in real life. In the example above, I would say that the father gave the child a good working example of “arbitrary”. I infer from the story that the one child did not share with the other, and note that he/she might not have even known that he/she was empowered to make that decision (or at least ask about it), having assumed that the decision was made by the handing of the whole cookie to just one child. Rigid authority often causes this kind of unquestioning paralysis.
If I see a dollar or five or ten lying on the ground, I have a choice. I can pick it up, or leave it for someone else to find. Chances are about 50/50 the next person will be no more in need of it than I, and will pick it up anyway, so I generally pick it up. I don’t think any invisible power has engineered this, I think I have experienced a synchronicity between two probable events: people lose stuff and people find stuff. Since I don’t need this windfall (usually) it will probably find its way into a charitable donation or an extra generous tip for some waitress. If I ever encounter a larger amount of money, I will seek to find the owner for reasons that I will leave as an exercise to the student.
”That's how it is with God. God has grace on people. It is a free gift that flows out of his love and mercy.”
Sounds pretty arbitrary to me, or is that covered under the “Mysterious Ways” clause?
”We are not all created equal. Some have certain gifts, talents, abilities, families, and opportunities that others do not. For some, refraining from telling a lie is really hard to do. For others, refraining from drinking too much alcohol is hard to do. For others, eating right is hard to do. One person's strength might be another person's weakness. One person might be gifted in an area that another person is not.
This knowledge ought to compel us to be compassionate toward one another.”
I think a new spin on the old gallows humor would go, “Until they perfect cloning, we’re all created equal, but the minute you’re born, some are more equal than others.”
I think this reality is enough to make a thinking person more accepting of another’s different strengths and weaknesses, but compassion is perhaps more complicated. I actually had to look up the word to be sure that common usage agreed with my understanding of its meaning (it did). Compassion as defined, encompasses both elements of pity, and a call to action. The ancient Greeks said, “The gods help those who help themselves” and I take a similar attitude. I feel no compulsion to help those who give all appearances of being ones who cannot be helped through their own unwillingness to change. Indeed, unless I am the proximate cause of someone’s suffering, I am under no obligation to choose to help that person. This does not mean that I won’t, it just means I don’t feel like I have to. Too, I think it is every person’s right to struggle against their own personal problems as a solo effort, if they so desire.
”Make no mistake. I was upset by the news about Ted Haggard. What he did was wrong. I hope that he is changing - really changing from the inside out. But I do not write him off as beyond hope or beyond redemption or reconciliation. He did wrong. He can't make it up. No matter how much he tries, he did what he did. He is incapable of making it right on his own. He should still do everything that he can to make it right. But ultimately, he needs to trust God - trusting that God will find a way to make it right.”
I’m with you right up to the last sentence. Isn’t that like asking someone else to clean up your mess? This seems like adding layers of insulation against responsibility. What is the logic here? God led/failed to lead in the right direction? God’s plan? Temptation? The excuses are many. The ownership is avoidable. Ted has feet of clay. He is not what his followers thought him to be. He does not need our forgiveness, he needs to tend his garden and shut the fuck up.
”The idea that you think you have what it takes to right every wrong you have ever done is arrogant. I do not mean any disrespect. I actually say that with compassion in my heart.”
Hmmm. It would be arrogant if I thought any such thing. While my wrongs are miniscule when compared to others, such as the deaths caused by the foreign policy of President Carpenter and Vice President Walrus, I do understand that some things once broken cannot be unbroken. I will have regrets until the day I die, unlike some who will rationalize horrific immorality away. I do not dwell on this, but I do not forget either. Every day I write the book.
”Jesus paid the price for us. This is the greatest gift of the world - the gift of God's righteousness. The gift is free, but it is not cheap. It cost Jesus His life.”
I was not there at the time. I did not exist. If this actually happened, I did not ask for this. You are no doubt familiar with the problem with this assertion that is stated, “I sacrificed myself to myself so that I would not have to break a rule that I arbitrarily made myself… even though I am all-powerful and nothing therefore prevents me from breaking my own rules.” In addition to that classic problem, I also have the problem of reconciling a “free gift” to one that apparently has strings attached. Have you seen the cartoon where the Devil says to Jesus, “I’m sorry? What was that you were saying about suffering for a few hours on the cross? We were just celebrating Confucius’ 2085th year of burning in Hell.
”Very rarely will anyone lay down his life for another, though for a good man, someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
If your god is truly omniscient, then he knew that he would rise from the dead in three days. So where was the sacrifice? Can you see the problem I have with this myth? If you read accounts of historical fact like The Charge of the Light Brigade, or A Bridge Too Far, or Iwo Jima, or millions of other sacrifices that took place so that we could live as free men, how does this compare to the big deal you make over one Roman-style hanging of an innocent man? How many dead throughout the centuries could lay claim to the same distinction? And, they stayed dead by all accounts too. Isn’t that a greater sacrifice? The story that sticks in my brain is not one of a poor bastard hung up on a cross. I once heard a tale of a Police Officer who dove into a storm drain in pursuit of a child who got sucked into same during a flash flood. The Cop had no chance of survival, and probably knew that, but could not stand by and do nothing.