Saturday, October 31, 2009

Why tolerance isn't enough

I send this blog out as a challenge. I contend that promoting secular tolerance to achieve world peace - or even just local peace - will not succeed.

The following is a quote that I'm sure many people would agree with:

"I am heartily sick of the type of religion that insists my soul (and everyone else's) needs saving - whatever that means. I have never felt that I was lost. Nor do I feel that I daily wallow in the mire of sin, although repititive preaching insists that I do. Give me a practical religion that teaches gentleness and tolerance, that acknowledges no barriers of color or creed, that remembers the aged and teaches children of goodness, not sin."

It would seem that what the world wants is ethics, not religious truth. It wants tolerance preached, not salvation.

Okay, here is what (I think) would happen, if you replaced religion with ethics, and salvation with tolerance.

Everyone says tolerance is a good thing; we can't fathom why people in some some extremist religions are intolerant of other races or religions. Here's the problem: tolerance only works as long as no one gets hurt. Most of us Americans, who have never experienced someone else of a different nationality, race or religion suddenly appearing and threatening our lives or our livelihood, can sit in our relative safety and prosperity and scratch our heads and wonder why other people just can't be tolerant. But suppose your neighbor down the street suddenly starts harrassing you, threatening you. Telling you that you have to move out of the neighborhood because, say, you voted for someone in the last election that he doesn't approve of. You stand firm. Then, one of your kids gets beat within an inch of his life by the neighbor's kids. How tolerant are you, at this point? Look at the long-standing enmity between the Israelis and the Palestineans. They both claim the same land as their homeland, and over the years there has been too much bloodshed over "the neighborhood" for them to risk "tolerance" anymore.

Now, consider ethics. Ethics is basically the study of morality, or the study of what makes actions right and wrong. It can be pretty much summed up in the Golden Rule, "do unto others as you would have them do unto you." Or as its put in the quote above, "gentleness and tolerance." Even people who disdain the Bible and the Christian worldview will usually acknowledge that the Golden Rule (straight out of the Bible) is very wise.

The problem is, no one keeps the Golden Rule very well. We may try, yes. Everyone has been hurt by someone else at some point, and has reacted by being hurtful in return. Since human beings aren't very successful at keeping this one over-arching rule, what we devised instead is a whole series of rules and clauses for dealing with different circumstances. For instance, the issue of abortion. If you applied the Golden Rule to this, we wouldn't kill unborn babies because we wouldn't want someone to come along and kill us because we weren't wanted or we happened to show up at the wrong time or too soon or under difficult circumstances in someone else's life. But the Golden Rule is very difficult - especially, say, for a fifteen year old girl that gets pregnant after her boyfriend got her drunk and date-raped her. So we create a new rule for girls in that situation, that it's okay to get an abortion. Well then other people will argue, but what about my circumstances? Shouldn't I be allowed an abortion too, because of this, or that? More rules. Or, a new rule that says that unborn babies aren't really babies with human rights until they are born, or until the third trimester maybe.

So ethics holds up fairly well if you don't mind having to deal with hundreds, or thousands of rules. And if you don't like an exisiting rule because it doesn't benefit your particular sitaution, you can hire a lawyer and fight the rule, or march and protest to hopefully enact change. A lot of religions are also very rule-based, but here's an interesting point: it's the very rule-based religions that are generally called the "organized religions" that so many people are really disgusted with because of rampant hypocrisy not to mention terrible historical events like the Crusades, the Inquistion, and all the bloodshed that occurred following the Reformation.

So if tolerance only works when one one gets hurt, and ethics only works if we burden ourselves with endless rules and laws, why do so many people still hate the thought of the alternative: which is a religion that preaches the need for salvation?

Because it means admitting that we're flawed. That we are lost and in need of a Savior. That we can't operate on our best level or even on a consistently good level without God. The Golden Rule wasn't designed to operate alone: it is the second of two commandments, and the first one is "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and all your soul and all your strength". The two rules weren't meant to operate separate from each other. To love your neighbor as yourself (or do unto others as you have them do unto you) you need to first have that deep love relationship with God empowering you to love others, to be able to forgive them even when they hurt you instead of inflicting hurt back at them.

What would it take to bring peace between two nationalities or culture or races or religions that have been at war with each other for decades? Suppose an Palestinean and an Israeli find themselves in a burning building. The Israeli passes out. The Palestinean is almost out of the building, but he goes back and rescues the Israeli, even though it means he gets so badly burnt that he ends up dying. How do you think the Israeli and his family would view Palistineans after this event? The long-standing fear and distrust and hatred would finally be broken. It might just be in one family, but a noble sacrifice has won peace.

The same religion that gave us the Golden Rule, also gave us the only means by which humans can truly live out the Golden rule: Jesus died for us, to rescue us from the burning flames, to set us free, to show us the way to peace.

Here are some other challenges I've made. I love hearing responses and I'm always open to discussion.

Worldviews part 1: the truth is we need help

Worldviews part 2: What about suffering?

Some thoughts on Avatar and why it is so appealing

Friday, October 23, 2009

lemons and lemonade, or, when it's all right to add sugar to your diet

Life has thrown us a real lemon - B.'s truck broke down and he found out that it will cost about $3000 to get it fixed. Ah, just when he finally has some good work for his business, and we were FINALLY going to get caught up on our past-dues, then this has to happen!

Okay, going to try to make lemonade out of this. Praise: at least B. has good work for his business right now, which means we can get the truck fixed, eventually. Praise: in the meantime, a friend of his has let him borrow a truck. Pretty much indefinitely. Praise: a lot less sugar in my diet these days, because I'm using so much of it to make lemonade out of these lemons!

No, the real reason why there is less sugar: a couple weeks ago when it occurred to me that in less than 4 months I was going to turn forty, I decided that turning 40 would be ever so much easier to take if I could shed some weight before the dreaded date. It would be really nice to start my fifth decade in life feeling better about myself phyiscally. So I asked my Mom if she would like to join WeightWatchers with me. Yes, its $40 a month, OUCH! However, the twins are completley potty trained now (another Praise!), which means I'm saving $40 a month in diapers. I was surprised, but Mom agreed.

I haven't really learned anything new at the meetings, and it does feel a little corny clapping everytime someone shares a success, but the bottomline is: it's very motivational. I already know the basic guidelines of eating healthy - lower your fat and sugar intake - five servings a day or fruit or veggies - lean meat and whole grains. However, I am more motivated now to eat a half a cup of berries and nofat yogurt instead of snacking from the vending machine. Also motivated to try some new recipes, and in general spending more time preparing food and cooking, instead of frequently choosing fast (and less healthy) meals.

I was not too sure about writing down everything you eat and calculating points (which can be time-consuming), but I decided to try it for a week, at least. It seems like it would be a lot easier just to go by the principles of hunger and fullness like I always have before. But one advantage to looking up points for everything and writing it down is that it does make me think before I eat instead of just mindlessly grabbing something. The WeightWatchers forms have little checkboxes for everything: did you take a multi-vitamin? Did you get at least 2 dairy servings a day? and how many servings of fruits/veggies? a checkbox for exercise, too (I am exercising more... leaving work a half hour early to go for a quick walk before picking up the girls). Anyway, this week (I'm on my second week now, lost 2.8 pounds my first week), I decided to add a checkbox to the form for "checking in with God" too, because I do still believe firmly in the that the more you involve God in your daily walk, the less food will have a hold on you (food is definitely an "idol" in my life).

Wow, I just read Beth Moore's most recent blog after finishing mine, and it seemed providentially in line with what I have just been writing about: not letting little temptations get the mastery over you: Like slaves in search of little masters.

Friday, October 9, 2009

tearful and beautiful

First, the tearful moment:
A friend posted this picture on Facebook and it yanked at my heart-strings, so-to-speak. The friend's husband is in Iraq; they have three small children. My husband's nephew is away for a five month stint on a Navy boat; he has two little ones. Another dear friend has a husband in Afghanistan for over a year; they have two small children. My heart and prayers go out to them.

I do believe in the necessity of having our troops fighting for the freedom and human rights of people in less fortunate countries than our own, but let us never forget the price we must pay for this blessed freedom. (Nor forget the price Christ paid for our ultimate freedom).

The picture also reminded me of when we were in the Spokane airport (2004, arriving for a visit to Stars' home) when a young woman came hurtling past me and threw herself into an incoming soldier's arms. While they embraced, everyone in the airport clapped. A moment I will never forget.

Less poignant, but no less beautiful: a few times a year God sends a sunset that takes my breath away. You'd think after a while that there just can't be any more variations on sunsets. A beautiful sunset still makes me stop and stare even if I saw one just like it the night before. But I don't think I've ever seen one with quite this mix of colors and textures.

Of course this picture doesn't do it justice - my camera is cheap, and the colors were already starting to fade by the time I got my camera. I was afraid if I tried to find a better "frame" (rather than our round pen and the neighbor's truck in the foregound) I'd lose the colors altogether.

The interesting thing about this view of the susnet is that I took it facing east. (I never knew you could have a 360 degree sunset effect until I moved to Wyoming). It's also hard to see in this picture, but the clouds had "virga" effect - virga is a meteorologic term for precipitation that falls from a cloud but evaporates before reaching the ground, common in desert or dry areas. We occasionally see it here on the Wyoming plains - a curtain of rain that never touches the ground. This is the first time I saw it with sunset colors though, and in particular these very unsual, sort of berry or plum-colored sunset colors. We tend to get very peach and orange-colored sunsets here, which you see in this west-facing photo of the same sunset. You can see how dark the clouds are, almost stormy looking. Besides being dramatic, dark clouds also sometime produce what I call the "golden moment" effect. The sun was blocked by the clouds most of the afternoon, but eventually the sun got low enough that it could "sneak" in under the clouds and get this fantastic mix of dark and rich golden slanting light. I always have to go outside and walk around in wonder in this "golden moment", almost feeling as if I have stepped out of my own mundane world and into a fairytale.
Sometimes you also get this gold piercing the dark effect when you are in a forest and the light slants a partiuclar way through the trees. I came up with a romantic name for this when I was a teenager - the "darklight".