Thursday, June 16, 2011

Wrong, Right, and Left

Over at D'Ma's blog, she's got a couple of quotes which I love.
"Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness." - Mark Twain

"One’s destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things." - Henry Miller
Having had the luxury of international travel; Central and South America for work, and once to Europe for vacation.  It really is an eye-opening, perspective-changing experience.  In South America in particular, one of the most obvious differences is traffic.  INSANE!  Insane!

The photo is from Lima, Peru, at a pretty major intersection.  Is there a stoplight?  No.  There is a man standing in a slightly elevated platform in the median directing traffic with a whistle.  If I was driving instead of riding in a cab, I would have completely driven past him without noticing.

Then there was Buenos Aires, where I had to get from the national airport to the international airport via cab.  Apparently, the cab driver thought I wanted to fly from airport to airport, because I swear we caught air multiple times.

And just recently I went to Tijuana, Mexico.  They've got a number of traffic circles at their major intersections; large circles with multiple lanes.  It seemed to be pretty common for people to crisscross multiple lanes to get out of the loop at their desired street.  In the U.S. there would be accidents galore, swears, and honks, but there wasn't.  Drivers just took it slow, and let people cross as necessary.

It struck me that traffic is a lot like religion.  We all buy in to the traffic laws and driving etiquette of our native countries (at least to some extent).  When we see how some other country handles their traffic (like when we see how some other church handles their worship), we start to think that it's not right, it's not appropriate, or perhaps it's even crazy.

However, if you take a moment, and stand back from it all, you can learn something.  You can stop focusing on the gross differences, and start to focus on the finer details of why it works for them.  You begin to understand that there are several approaches which can work in determining what is wrong and what is right.

But most people do not venture outside their home church, let alone outside their own country.  Or if they do change churches, they go with the one that they like the best.  Their perspective is limited.  Right and wrong becomes rigidly defined.  Everything else is foreign, awkward, or even wrong.

Whereas traffic is a sort of a civil engineering problem with no truly ideal solution, religion is not the same way.  Religion has a right way and a wrong way; mans' way and God's way.  Yet if all of these different approaches to worshiping God really work, then the absolute is dissolved.  Black and white becomes gray.  Religion becomes a matter of social engineering; a matter of cultural norms and marketing.  With that being the case, you have to wonder just how True it all is.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

God Bless You

I travel a lot for work, and that means spending long hours at airport hubs waiting for my next connection.  Dallas.  Chicago.  Charlotte.  Phoenix.  Denver.  And, of course, Atlanta.  There's a joke in Christian circles that you have to stop through Atlanta on your way to Heaven.

Anyway, airports in general, and these hubs in particular, can be overwhelming for the uninitiated and the elderly.  It's fairly common find someone who is completely bewildered; staring at the departure list screens, looking at their tickets, looking back at the screens, looking all around.  They are bewildered, foreigners in a foreign land, even if they are native citizens to the country.

I try to take these lost souls under my wing, when I can.  Depending on the timing of my next connection and my reading of their mental state, I'll either point them in the right direction or walk with them until they get where they need to go.

"God bless you," they'll sometimes say in thanks.  I just say "you're welcome," give them a smile, and turn to go to my gate.

Every time it happens, I wage a friendly debate in my mind.  Should I tell them that I am an atheist?  To get them thinking?  To show them atheists can actually be nice and helpful people who contribute positively to society?

I remember reading a survey a few years back that showed Americans were more nervous about atheists than they were Muslims.  Certainly, atheists could use some good press.

I also remember back in college to a physics teacher I had.  After one grueling test, she was passing out the graded papers.  This guy, Mike, got his test back. "B."  Mike proclaims "Oh, thank God I passed the test!"  The teacher immediately fired back with "Why are you thanking God?  You put in the work. You studied hard.  And you earned the grade that you got."

At that time, I was ambivalent with the faith, but I remember thinking that was a bit over the line.  Mike was proclaiming "thank God" like a colloquial expression for happiness and relief, just the way some people might yell "God damn it!" without actually having the desire for God to damn anything.  But even if that was a true expression of Mike's faith, what was the purpose of the teacher's confrontation?  What would really result from it?  It just served to sour the mood.

Circling back to the airport, I hold my tongue.  What would really be the result of voicing my beliefs, or lack thereof, to this stranger who I have helped?  Would it get them thinking?  Would it help to give atheists a good name?  Would it just make me feel better to get it off my chest?


But maybe, it would just sour the mood.  Maybe it would taint the beauty of the transcendental moment of one person helping another person in need, without requirements, without presuppositions, and without an agenda.  There is far to little of that beauty in the world.  Why let a silly thing like beliefs spoil it?

Sunday, June 5, 2011

David's Law

"Her priests do violence to My Law and profane My holy things; they do not distinguish between the holy and the common; they teach that there is no difference between the unclean and the clean; and they shut their eyes to the keeping of My Sabbaths, so that I (God) am profaned among them."  Ezekiel 22:26 NIV
So, awhile back, I was having a little debate with a blog commenter by the name of David.  We ended up touching on God's Law, but never really resolved it the matter.

I encouraged him for more study on the matter, because I had a sense that his perspective may be incomplete or inaccurate.  He was kindly putting forth a viewpoint which I had heard many times before; the mantra of the Pauline view of the Law.

I hadn't studied Paul's writings in any real detail myself yet, so I reckoned that I should do just that.  I studied Romans, which David was pointing to in defense of  his position.

I also got some time to review what I had learned about the Law from the Old Testament (OT), and put that together in a post on the Law on my other blog.  In summary of that post:
"God gave the Promised Land to the Israelites for eternity, but they can only stay there, and kings can only rule there, while they obey the entirety of God's Law.  God established the Law forever, perfect, and unchanging, just like Him.  It is possible to obey the Law, and obedience does not need to be perfect in order to please God as long as you are truly repentant for your sins.  Such obedience will be rewarded with long life and abundant prosperity, which will in turn lead others around you to seek God."
The funny thing is that after reading Romans and reviewing the OT, you start to realize by just how Paul's theology misses the mark.  If you read the words for what they are and what they mean, you wonder just how Paul could have been successful with this rift from Scripture, but you stop wondering why the majority of Jews do not believe that Jesus was the Messiah.  And that circles back to the comments which David had made.  David had said:
"Your issue is solely with Mosaic Law and the implication of Mosaic Law as it relates to God's character.  Is Mosaic Law a valid representation of God's character?  I think you have demonstrated it is not. I maintain it was not intended for that purpose (please re-read my comments)."
David concedes that God's Law in the Old Testament is not exactly morally perfect.  You can see I have proved that point well enough to him, but David gives God a pass because it was not the intent of the Law to show God's character.  However, that is more allowance than God permits Himself.  God made the Law to be followed eternally, completely, and "as is" without any changes.  If the temporary work of my mortal hands demonstrates my character, surely such a permanent creation by God demonstrates His character, just like the charge Paul makes in Romans 1 that all creation has revealed God.

Elsewhere, David asks some interesting questions from the Pauline perspective:
"The problem is you are trying to convict God based on the Law. If God exists, was He righteous before the law? Did the ideas of good and evil exist before the law? How did we understand the difference before the Law? What is its purpose?"
Was God righteous before the Law was given?  Events like the flood massacre (Genesis 5-10) and the worldwide famine (Genesis 41-47) make the case that God will make the innocent suffer along with the guilty, which certainly suggests that, no, God was not righteous before the Law.  (But I guess that depends on your definition of righteous.)

Did the ideas of good and evil exist before the Law?  Absolutely.  Try searching for "sin" on Bible Gateway and you will find multiple Genesis entries (a.k.a. before the Law) on the matter.  A great example is Genesis 39:9.

How did we understand the difference before the Law?  Contrary to Paul's logic in Romans, people seemed to understand the difference without the Law, as noted above.

What is [the Law's] purpose?  Why not go with the explicit purpose given in Deuteronomy 6:20-25?

The bottom line is that you can't take the words at face value and have everything be reconciled between Paul and God (OT).  So believers must twist the definitions of the words to fit the square peg into a round whole. 

Forever, eternal, and unchanging don't really mean forever, eternal, and unchanging, because the Law was just a shadow of what was to come or what was to be fulfilled (not obeying the Law) through Jesus.  Sure.  If believing that makes you feel better, go with it.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Forever and a Day

I had a college professor who used to say:

"Words have meanings.  They should be used with care."

When you read something in the Bible, the Word of God, the book of Truth, you would think that they are reliable words.  True, interpretation from language to language does tend to cause some corruption to the meaning at times, but certain concepts transfer pretty readily.

Take the concept of forever, for example.  If God says that something will last forever, we should be pretty safe to assume that is synonymous with eternal, not "for a really long time" or "until the earth is replaced on Judgement Day" or "until the sun goes supernova and swallows the earth."  So when you see text like Genesis 13:15, where God gives a specific chunk of land on this specific planet to a specific group of people forever, you've got to stop and wonder how on earth that could be true.

This is especially puzzling when put in light of some of Christian eschatology which proposes that at some point in time this physical existence will cease to be.  Then, it seems, people are anxious to redefine forever.  Forever will come to an end some day, and then a new forever will begin.  It is all pretty amusing to me; the things we will believe.

If you've got some time, follow this link, which is a search on Bible Gateway for "forever."  Pretty interesting stuff...