Wednesday, March 23, 2011

I'm an Insensitive Jerk

I am an insensitive jerk, but not really.  It's complicated.  In my mind, sometimes I am.  You would never catch me face-to-face being insensitive to someone, unless it's by accident.  I have more couth than that.  Yet still, my internal dialog is not so nice at times.

For example, I was walking through the Denver airport recently and I got stuck behind people walking slow, and a little further on I stuck behind people standing, not walking, standing on the airport's moving walkway.  I got frustrated.

I got frustrated, and I thought about this study which linked slow walking to early mortality.  With this thought, a certain shallow satisfaction entertained itself, splashing in the muddy gutters of my brain.  These slow moving people will die sooner.  They deserve it.  Yeah, they deserve it.

Just then, the white-suited moral manager of my thoughts stood up, startled by the splatter of mud on his once-clean uniform, and yelled "Stop! What the hell is wrong with you?  These are people, real people, each with their own lives and their own loves, and everything that entails.  How can you possibly gain pleasure at the thought of their early demise?  And for what?  For causing you a little inconvenience?"

I sat down in a seat by my gate.  With a view of an automated walkway, I continued to watch people get scooted along at 1-2 miles per hour by the moving plates beneath their stationary feet.  I sat.  I sat and I thought about the bitterness which had crept into my head.

A curse of my hobby, it didn't take long for me to draw a parallel with Christianity:  This repulsive impulse I had was the same one that certain Christians have when they take a smug delight at the thought of God sending other people to Hell for all eternity.  I was gleefully condemning, just as they do.

It was the same, but different; and the differences were enormous.  My ugly condemnation was a combination of emotion merged with scientific correlation.  There was no right or wrong in the study.  There was no absolute truth.  There was just a statistically significant tendency which called to my more-base, egocentric nature.  More significantly, my better mind prevailed, acknowledging the dark thought for exactly what it was.

By contrast, the condemnation of a believer combines emotion with the Word of the all-powerful, all-knowing Creator of the Universe.  With God, there is right, and there is wrong, and there is absolute truth.  To God, any and all wrongdoers are worthy of eternal condemnation.  If God is condemning someone, then it must be right, because God can do no wrong.  So a believer should feel justified in his or her condemnation of others. 

What if a believer has second thoughts about that condemnation, like I had?  That is a tough position to keep.  Are you really going to keep believing, but say that God's condemnation is wrong?  Besides, Biblically speaking, you should not have any emotions about the condemned, just like God had forbid Aaron from mourning for his two sons after God had burned them to death.

Getting back to the point of this rambling message, I don't really feel I'm that different than people of faith.  I'd love to say that I only resemble them in their good ways, but that would be a lie.  Inside me, from time to time, splashing around in those muddy gutters of my mind, are many traits in common with the most heinous of Christian adherents.

But there's a difference; a difference which means everything.  My higher authority is myself, and my justification comes from what I have learned and continue to learn.  Most importantly, I can question myself without guilt, because I know that I don't know everything.

The same can't be said for those who believe God's Word, and because of that, I think it's only natural that these ugly facets of personality often manifest themselves in believers, and even get amplified, when they correspond with God's recorded condemnations.

How about you?  When you were a believer, did you struggle with these impulses?  Do you still hear the echos of past condemnation ringing in your head?  Do you feel more free to do the right thing instead of the written thing now?


  1. You're right, I like! Obviously I do still hear the echos of past condemnation ringing in my head, and obviously I hear my past condemning me.

    So a believer should feel justified in his or her condemnation of others.

    Do they ever? But ultimately I think you're right about our own personalities latching on to the traits we most identify with. If someone is condemning and smug they would probably have been snobby and smug if they didn't believe. And because they have the backing of God they are even more so.

    I am much less judgmental and much more empathetic and merciful now than I was as a Christian. I'm not really a terribly judgmental person, but as a Christian I expected more of others. I expected them to live by the principals in the Bible. Now I don't size people up to that ruler.

  2. Thanks D'Ma! I think, in general, I am like you in being less judgemental and more empathetic now too. I still struggle with compartmentalization, though. Us and them and the other guys. Like this example illustrates, it took me a moment to fully consider these people as people instead of just obstacles who happen to be people. Not that I blame that on my religious upbringing, but the faith didn't really help me see everybody as one people either. ;-) Like you, I think I'm continuing to get better overall.

  3. I didn't know you had this blog too!

    I'm not sure I am less judgemental now. I think I have the same tendencies that I had as a Christian. Number one, I hate injustice. As a Christian, I hated that I saw a non-believing world who judged my born-againism. Being atheist, I hate that a believing world judges my atheism.

    BTW, don't ever get behind me if you are in a hurry. *grin*

  4. Only because you asked...
    Yes I sometimes get pissed when people are insensitive to how their behavior impacts me, most commonly when I'm in a car. I did take some satisfaction in the thought that the guy who shot my younger brother with a crossbow and almost killed him might be hellbound (it helped to keep me from rushing him along). Can't say it was smug satisfaction though.

    Do some Christians fall into the trap of terminating the discussion because the moral authority is divine? Undoubtedly. Are they not paying attention? Probably.
    Does that mean the moral authority is wrong? Probably not.
    Only because you asked...

  5. @...Zoe -
    Thanks Zoe! As you can see, it's pretty new, so you didn't miss much. ;-)

    It seems that we are born to judge to some extent. You touch on an interesting point. I guess the main difference is how justified you feel in the judgement; whether it's just your opinion or if you think it's Divine Judgement.

    Thanks for the comment David. Obviously I don't know the full situation with your brother, but I think I can understand the thought of condemnation you had, and why it wasn't smug.

    If you happen to get back to check out this comment, I was wondering: do you think God follows moral rules? Or do you think God simply defines the rules? And do you think God is bound to those rules of morality? Why, or why not?

  6. My brother was shot in cold blood by his assailant around 15 years ago. That said he was in a place where this outcome was not surprising. Even so I was (oddly enough) thinking about it the day before reading your post.

    Do I think God follows moral rules? I guess I believe He is self consistent, and our rules are the best representation we have of His nature. So from that perspective I suppose the idea that He defines the rules is closest.
    Do I think He is bound by those rules? Again we have rules He has His nature, which He does not need to adjust or violate. So I guess the idea that He is bound by Himself is the most accurate.

    I think we have rules because we like having a framework for our judgments. Not many people (unless they are medieval princes or the modern equivalent) have the audacity to maintain the illusion that they define the rules. In any society the rules exist outside the individual, I think this is inescapable.

    The fact that we judge is, I think, a reflection of the image of the Ultimate Judge we were created in. It is worth noting that Daniel, Paul and others have stated that part of our purpose is to be judges. This is in keeping with the view that evil is a corruption of true purpose, and goes to Zoe's comment and your answer as well. Wise judgment requires insight, patience and perspective. I think this is why the scriptural warnings on judgment include the caveat that you will be judged as you judge. It all makes sense to me that way.

  7. Thanks for the reply, David. I'm sorrowed to hear that your brother got wrapped into some unfortunate circumstances. I sincerely hope that he's on a better path now.

    Wise judgment requires insight, patience and perspective.
    Well said indeed.

    ...He is bound by Himself...
    ...our rules are the best representation we have of His nature.

    This is where I start to have difficulties, and I was wondering if you see it similarly, or instead have another way of dealing with it:

    I would venture to say that the laws God gives us in the Bible show God's nature as well as illuminate part of a moral code which is independent of ourselves. This statement appears consistent with what you have said.

    Then I get to a verse like Deuteronomy 24:16:

    “Fathers shall not be put to death for their children, nor children put to death for their fathers; each is to die for his own sin.” NIV

    I think to myself, this is excellent in concept. The punishment for a sin should not be transferred to an innocent party. This seems like sound moral judgement.

    Then you get up to that classic story of David and Bathsheba in 2 Samuel 11-12, where ultimately God kills David's son because of David's sins of having committed adultery and having had Bathsheba's husband killed.

    (There are plenty of other examples in the Bible like this too, but David's is probably the most famous.)

    Here it seems like God has gone against His very nature. Or, if not, it seems that there is no absolute morality, no absolute truth, but rather that it is relative to the circumstances.

    How do you approach circumstances like this one, and still see God as being "self consistent?"

    I'd appreciate your insight here, but I know you didn't sign up for a debate, and you no doubt have other things which may take precedent in your life.

  8. I appreciate your concern for my brother, unfortunately I cannot report he is, but hope springs...

    It is interesting you selected this passage:
    “Fathers shall not be put to death for their children, nor children put to death for their fathers; each is to die for his own sin.” NIV
    Beyond the apparent obvious contradiction with David & Bathsheba's love child, my brother is an excellent example of a different problem with that passage. He is the product of a family unit in serious disrepair. He is 12 years my junior so we had different difficulties, but his substance abuse and assorted behavioral problems are obvious results of his childhood. In this sense his teeth are certainly set on edge because of his parent's sour grapes.
    He is old enough at this point to be responsible for his own decisions, but with a little thought it must be obvious that many children suffer for the choices of their parents.
    The answer I believe is that the passage is about the law administered by man not God's law. For example 24:1 provides for divorce, but Christ says that was for our hardness of heart (lest we murder wives we tire of, which we seem to do anyway :-( ).
    As for David's love child I think the problem is limiting our perspective. If you will allow me a bit of foolishness, can a woman choose whether or not to bear a child? Can she decide it is better for all concerned if the child not be born? How does she make that judgment? Can she be justified in that action? Is almighty God less capable of making such a decision?

    Of course we will always hold God to a higher standard than any mere mortal, but that's were I have a problem. How can we hold God to any standard? Who do we imagine ourselves to be?
    The end of the matter for me is Job 40:4
    "I am unworthy--how can I reply to you? I put my hand over my mouth."

  9. Thanks again for your comment, David. My (limited) perspective is different than yours, for sure, but I really do appreciate you taking the time to share your thoughts here.

    If you'd like to continue on a debate, you're welcome to email me at Regardless, you are more than welcome to comment anytime.

    I wish the best for you and your brother.