May 26, 2011

Hate and the Westboro Baptists

You've probably heard already, but the Westboro Baptists are at it again.  They're apparently heading to Joplin Missouri to celebrate the tornadoes as God's punishment to a nation of sodomites.  This is the same group that pickets funerals of soldiers and has an agenda of hate that takes aim at virtually everyone but themselves. 

They have deservedly become the most despised people in America, but this is what confounds me: Their doctrine isn't so different than that of mainstream fundamentalists.  The Westboro fringe only go to greater lengths to promote their ideas.  Their leader, Fred Phelps, isn't alone in believing that God causes natural calamities wherever homosexuals are made welcome.  Pat Robertson has said the same thing.  In fact, a listing of Christian leaders who've made similar statements could fill pages.

But is that really who God is?  If so, I would rather not return to a Creator who kills innocent people for acting out on the instincts He imbues into them, but that's NOT who He is.  Summarizing His infinite patience and forbearance, Christ once said: "How often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings." 

That's my image of God.  As for Phelps and the other Westboro Baptists, their hate speaks only of the ugliness they've allowed to fester inside them and not of their Creator.

May 22, 2011

Aggression in its Most Elegant Form

On Wall Street, a measure of a person's suitability to the work is his or her level of aggressiveness.  I've participated in countless meetings where people were critically evaluated on the basis of this metric.  I'm sure other industries and settings are similar in this regard.  In fact, it seems to me that aggressiveness is deemed an indication of a charmed life.  We applaud people who refuse to lose and go to great lengths to get what they want.  Winning, after all, isn't everything.  It's the only thing. 

The problem with this is that when the results of voracious acquisitiveness are admired to the exclusion of the processes by which goals are accomplished, people go to harmful lengths to achieve success.  Doping in sports, white lies on loan applications, quid pro quos that line political pockets but hurt community interests are just a few examples of what invariably occurs. 

Recently the auto company, Nissan, added to our preoccupation with success at all costs with ads that include the words: Aggession in its most elegant form.  What group of geniuses thought that was a good tag line?  I suppose they figured we needed more road rage, not to mention commuters swerving in and out of lanes to save 30 seconds.  They must have concluded our byways needed a few more arrogant drivers who think a yellow light means "speed up" and that another drink (or business conversation on a cellphone) won't diminish their superior driving skills. 

After seeing one too many of these ads, I've decided to never consider buying a Nissan--not if the company continues to romanticize aggression as elegance.  My favorite writer, John Steinbeck, once summarized my point in the following way:
The things we admire in men, kindness and generosity, openness, honesty, understanding and feeling are the concommitants of failure in our system. And those traits we detest, sharpness, greed, acquisitiveness, meanness, eogtism and self-interest are the traits of success. And while men admire the quality of the first they love the produce of the second.
Let's all agree that aggressiveness that aims for success to the exclusion of fairness, honesty and generosity, is the opposite of whatever elegance claims to be.

May 21, 2011

How Did the Rapture Work Out for You?

If you're reading this, I'm guessing you weren't called home in the rapture.  Join the club.   

I wasn't horrified by my continued presence in mortality.  My wife and I often say (tongue in cheek, of course) that we know we're going to hell, but at least we'll be entertained by the surprised looks on people's faces when they realize they've joined us there.  In fact, I've not spent a minute even considering the possible timing of an apocalypse.  There's too many other things to worry about--things that we have some amount of control over--including: global warming, the growing divide between the haves and have nots and war. 

Here is where I stand regarding the obsession over the End Times.  If we diverted the energy many people spend in determining when the events in Revelation will happen in favor of activities that actually bless the lives of others, we'd be far better off.  There's a corollary among some of the LDS faithful, who spend oodles of money in trips to Central America to visit ruins that they believe are evidence of the civilizations described in the Book of Mormon.  These efforts are akin to apologetic thinking, which only comforts people in their beliefs and leads to no real improvement in their lives.  It's like painting by the numbers: decorous, but without a soul. 

Let's stop speculating about things even Christ said we can't predict and use that energy to solve real problems.  Is it a deal?

May 8, 2011

Aaron's Home!

My youngest son, Aaron, is home for a short break from school and that means live music is in the house again.  When he was growing up, evenings here were like having a stage-side seat at Yoshi's.  Well, that might be an exaggeration, but you get the idea.  I loved to hear him play.  I still do in fact.

I know this doesn't have much to do with the subject at hand, but for your enjoyment I'm attaching a video of Aaron and a group that he toured India with last year.  Play it to the end, because he finishes the piece out with a rousing trumpet solo.

May 1, 2011

Love Wins

Someone recently commented about my blog, saying my opinion of Leviticus as an obsolete law was wrong since, in his words: “The Ten Commandments are absolute according to the author.”  Clearly he thought I must repent of the view or suffer eternal torment.  It’s a sentiment I’ve heard before and so it didn’t surprise me. 

Since then an interesting thing happened.  The evangelist, Rob Bell, came out with his book, Love Wins, that proffers a view of Christianity that’s kinder than the version espoused by most religious fundamentalists.  He rejects, for example, the possibility of hell and damnation, putting stock in scriptures that speak of a restoration and reconciliation of all things both in heaven and in earth. 

His assertion is not without detractors.  Albert Mohler, the president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary says: “When you adopt universalism and erase the distinction between the church and the world, then you don’t need the church and you don’t need Christ, and you don’t need the cross.  This is the tragedy of non-judgmental mainline liberalism, and it’s Rob Bell’s tragedy in this book too.”  His point is that without the idea of a heaven and a hell, Christianity is little more than a moral philosophy. 

My reaction to that is: So what?  If a generalized and corrected belief in that moral philosophy results in a compassionate world uninhibited by irrational fear, so what?  Wouldn’t that please God?  And the idea isn't without precedence.  Prior to the convening of the First Council of Nicea, many Christians didn’t believe in the atonement and Christ’s lineage as the son of God.  Elaine Pagels’ histories of the early church summarize a debate that led to the cannonization of scriptures (such as the Gospel of John) that put Jesus at the center of salvation, while eschewing other sacred texts (such as the Gospel of Thomas) that acknowledged no such role. 

Bell also has a problem with the notion that people who haven’t professed faith in Jesus are to be damned.  He writes:

…for many the essential idea is that the only way to get into heaven is to pray at some point in your life, asking God to forgive you and telling God that you accept Jesus, you believe Jesus died on the cross to pay the price for your sins, and you want to go to heaven when you die.  Some call this “accepting Christ,” others call it the “sinner’s prayer,” and still others call it “getting saved,” being “born again,” or being “converted.”

So is it true that the kind of person you are doesn’t ultimately matter, as long as you’ve said or prayed or believed the right things? 

Clearly Bell doesn’t think so.  How could a loving God damn one of His children for not believing in the right thing?