Monday, June 24, 2013

What's Your Favorite Flavor?

Do you have a favorite flavor of ice-cream?  I like Pralines n' Cream, myself.  But I also like Heath-bar.  My daughter like straight Vanilla or Strawberry.  Can you imagine what it would be like if I told my daughter she was wrong to like Vanilla ice-cream?  "Listen, Heath-bar is right... Vanilla is wrong."  Aside from being an utterly non-sensical thing to say, someone might call Child Protective Services on me for emotionally stunting my daughter's individuality!

The same would go for music.  As much as I joke about music and laugh at people who listen to Nickelback, for example, there is unfortunately no real place to say that liking Nickelback is wrong (though there should be! :P).  People like the music they like because, for whatever reason, it catches them and suits their preferences.  No matter how bad I feel their preferences is, or how bad they feel mine is, it doesn't even make sense to seriously call the others' preference "wrong." 

Unfortunately, this is how truth about God and morality as largely seen today.  They are no longer seen, in general, as objective realities to be found out.  They are not seen as objective realities that trascend our lives and preferences.  They are seen as subjective values and ideals and preferences, similar to having a favorite flavor of ice-cream or favorite rock band.  They are seen as things that exist for and under us.  We transcend them, it seems. 

It is more about what you like and what makes you happy or not.  We pick our favorite flavor of ice-cream based on how it tastes to us and, perhaps in some cases, based on how relatively healthy or unhealthy it is given the flavor.  A fat-free frozen yogurt of a particular flavor might win out, for some people, over a super-rich, sugary, creamy two-scoop with caramel ribbons in it.  This is how many of us are today about morality and spirituality.  Beliefs are based on what is liked, and since these things are completely subjective it is viewed as just as wrong and crazy to tell someone their beliefs are wrong as it is to tell them that their preference of ice-cream is wrong.

It is hard to know how exactly we arrived here.  I think some of this may partly stem from at least two under-girding beliefs.  First, it is often believed that you can't really know the truth.  And since you can't really know, it is foolish, if not mean and rude, to insist that your way is right.  Second, it seems that many believe that religious beliefs are purely pragmatic.  They are as good as they are useful in making your life more well-rounded and happy.  If you want to believe in, as Dawkins put it, the "flying spaghetti monster", and it makes you feel happier and more fulfilled in life, then good on ya' because that is all that really matters.

And there are a whole host of beliefs that are either associated with or linked to these.  For example, religious and moral convictions, according to our modern cultural norms, ought to be as privatized as possible.  It is "wrong" to "push" your beliefs on someone else, unless of course you are pushing your belief that their beliefs should be kept private and expecting others to respect and obey that belief -then it is ok. 

The golden calf of our society seems to be that you should never make any kind of judgment about the thoughts and beliefs and values of anyone who thinks differently than you (because almost everything is viewed as subjective).  It is a common conviction is that it is wrong (or much, much worse than being wrong, it is offensive) to tell someone they are wrong... unless you are telling someone who doesn't imbibe all of these norms that they are wrong for telling someone else they are wrong, then it is permitted and sometimes even visciously encouraged.  How's that for a confusing double-standard?  It seems the only objective truth is that it is wrong to tell someone else their beliefs are wrong, except for when it comes to this belief... I guess.  Go figure.  This is just an outworking of the idea that religious and moral truth is like a favorite ice-cream flavor. 

I'm wondering when this line of thinking will invade other areas.  Can you imagine its effect on something like mathematics?  It is almost comical to think of the day when a teacher is fired for telling little Johnny that the answer he put on his math paper was wrong.  I envision something akin to a strange dream or cheezy sci-fi flick where students are rewarded for their effort alone and praised for coming up with an answer, any answer, and taught to be happy with their answer, their truth.  Pure subjectivism and hyper-individualism at its finest.

I'm no sociologist, so I will stop there.  My speculations may be totally off, but regardless of why this seems to be the predominant belief, or at least the loudest belief, in our culture, it is worth pointing out that it is.  It is also worth pointing out that these are beliefs not universally shared by humanity.  Other cultures do not hold these beliefs are gospel.  Other cultures see spiritual truth and morality as objective -they simply may not always agree on what that truth is.  So, what makes our so culture superior?  Be careful... Are we guilty of the same superiority complex that we accuse those religious conservatives of?  Isn't the real issue that this view says that those who claim to have superior knowledge of morality and spirituality are wrong to claim such a thing, yet in making that judgment you are taking the same kind of superior position you accuse them of?

The bottom line is this, for me.  Either Jesus is who he said, and either he did die and rise from the dead or he did not.  If Jesus really is from God and those things really did happen, then God does not afford us the option of taking those things and turning them into "values" and "ideals" and "ideas" and "philosophies."  They are concrete historical events, and they are events that, unlike many other events in human history, have a direct impact on your life.  If it happened, it changes everything and puts a claim on your life whether you like it or not.  Are you trying to tell me that doesn't give you a reason to be biased against them, that doens't give you a reason to find ways to avoid the objective nature of such a question by making it more subjective?

That is the thing that can be so frustrating about Jesus and his death and resurrection.  There is no real room, if you want to consider it seriously, to turn it into some kind of subjective nonsense.  It either happened or it didn't.  Either Jesus is the Christ who rose from the dead or Jesus was just some religious leader, among a sea of other crazy religious leaders over the centuries who died as martyrs, whose followers faked his resurrection in order to preach a message that would ultimately kill almost all of them, and by some weird twist of fate this sham which took place two-thousand years ago, the story of this man, somehow changed the world and, at the very least, Western civilization.  It doesn't matter if I like it or not.  It doesn't matter if it makes me happy at the moment or not.  It has no pragmatic value as a mere idea or philosophy.  It is an historic event and person, or it is not.

In around 53 AD, about 20 years after the death and resurrection of Jesus, well within the life-time of eye-witnesses to the events, the apostle Paul wrote in a public letter to the churches in Corinth:

"and if Christ has not been raised [from the dead], then our preaching is vain, your faith also is vain. Moreover we are even found to be false witnesses of God, because we testified against God that He raised Christ, whom He did not raise...and if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins... If we have hoped in Christ in this life only, we are of all men most to be pitied."

Paul is pretty straighforward... if it didn't happen, then our faith is useless, vain.  It means nothing.  Further than that, it is wrong, an affront against God to spread untruths about him.  See, there is no room here for turning "faith" into some kind of virtuous possession, a spiritual hobby that we think will make life feel better but has zero basis in objective reality.  This is not a philosophy.  If it didn't happen and we build our lives on it, a man may be free to try to make it "his truth" because he likes it (for whatever reason), but the truth is that we are of all men most to be pitied.  I know for me that that if I found out that it didn't happen it would change everything for me.  It is that kind of thing, that kind of reality or non-reality, that kind of fact or fiction.   Hopefully I have at least begun to answer why that would be the case.  If this is an historic event with an historic person, then we cannot relegate it to the realm of feel-good spirituality based on our likes.  It is not one option among a sea of ice-cream flavors.  It is instead a hard, concrete reality, like the reality of running out in front of a speeding truck.  It doesn't ask you if you like it or not -that question has no bearing.  Time to come down from the clouds.  If it is true, it claims your life -and for Paul and the people at his time, it literally did end up claiming their lives.  But if it is not true, it has no value.

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