In these posts, I’ve talked a great deal about “rights.”
I’ve talked far less about “wrongs.” This will be the subject of this installment.
Thus far I’ve argued that, as individuals, we have the absolute, inborn right to do as we choose so long as we do not, in exercising that right, infringe on the rights of another.
You might think that, by so arguing, I’m advocating a world in which each person gets to set their own standards, live by their own rules and ultimately live free of any constraints at all. To this I have two responses.
First, I haven’t really said that at all. I’ve already argued that we have the right to live free of external restraints, provided we are willing to suffer the consequences of doing so. I have the absolute freedom to drive down the highway at 100 miles an hour, so long as I’m willing to accept the speeding ticket and reckless driving charge that would likely result from my doing so. I have the absolute freedom not to pay my taxes . . . so long as I’m willing to spend a great deal of time alone in a dark room with bars on the door.
Second, and more importantly, I don’t want to.
Let me explain what I mean.
I mentioned earlier that I believe we are created to (a) live in real relationships and (b) make choices about how we interact with our world. But I believe that most of the time, we settle for fairly superficial shadows of the two purposes for which I think we were created. Too often, rather than living in real relationships . . . relationships where we actually put our selves out there to interact with the selves of others, we put on a facade, and blithely wander around interacting with other facades. We ask “how are you doing?” or “how’s it going?” or “how’s life?” all the while hoping against hope that what we don’t get is a real answer. We don’t want to hear, “life sucks right now. I’m upside down in my mortgage, I’ve been sick,Â and my wife and I aren’t getting along so well at the moment.” We want to hear “I’m fine.” Then we want to go on about our lives. That’s not a relationship. That’s the exact opposite . . . it’s theÂ avoidance of relationship.
You see this even in many marriages. David Schnarch, psychologist, therapist, and author of Passionate Marriage, says that when he sits down in a restaurant he can always look around the room and tell which couples are married, and which ones aren’t. How’s that? Because the married ones are the ones not talking with one another. Schnarch explains that many married couples have spent so much time with each other that they have realized which are the “taboo” topics . . . which subjects, when brought up, so irk the other partner that it’s just not worth it to bring them up. After many years of marriage for a couple like this, there are more sensitive topics than there are safe ones. Again, this is not relationship. It is the lack of relationship.
And what about choices? Every day it seems like we are coming up with new ways toÂ not make choices. Even the newest “hot” search engineÂ on the Internet, Microsoft’s “Bing” markets itself as a “decision engine.” Everywhere we look is another expert with another point of view assuring us that all we have to do is take this advice, read that book, make three easy payments of $19.99 . . . and we will be told what the “right” choice is.
If you’ve read much on this blog, you know I don’t trust “experts” much. This is why. Your typical expert doesn’t want to be told that he or she might be wrong . . . might not have all the information . . . or might just flat out not know what they’re talking about. They don’t want you to question . . .they just want you to do as you’re told. And to pay them for the privilege of doing it.
I’d rather make my own choices, thank you very much.
Relationships and choices. These are two things that set us apart as humans. Animals have functional relationships . . . their “marriages” are for the sake of procreation . . . their “friendships” for the sake of survival. They don’t have the ability to lock minds with another individual and realize thatÂ this . . . this is someone with whom I can relate. Here is someone who understands.
That ability is uniquely human.
So is the ability to make choices. In the animal kingdom, choice is driven by survivalism . . . compelled by instinct. In reality, it is hardly choice at all. We humans are different . . . ever since Eden we have been unique in our ability to make choices . . .
. . . unique in our ability to screw things up.
Yes, to err is human. It is the essence of what makes us human. We can strive to make wise choices, but it is our ability to makeÂ unwise choices that makes us so special. How counterintuitive is that??
What, though, does this have to do with the concepts of “right” and “wrong”? What does it have to do with the fact that I choose not to live free of any restraints or “morals”?
Simply that the choice of which standards I follow is guided by my desire toÂ live . . . to live fully from what it is that makes me human. To live deeply in relationships and to make every effort to make each and every choice consciously, aware of the ramifications and accepting of the consequences.
Therefore, I choose, among other things:
- To abstain from drugs – both illegal and (as much as I can) legal
- To abstain from eating certain foods
- To forego most vaccinations and stay away from antibiotics as much as possible
- To abstain from sexual promiscuity – indeed, from all sexual activity outside my marriage
- To seek a relationship with God apart from an institutional, organized church or denomination
These are just a few examples of my personal standards of external behavior. I do not demand that you follow them – or even necessarily think that you should. They are what is necessary forÂ me to live a life of genuine, committed relationships and genuine, informed choices.
In the first example, I choose to abstain from drugs because I believe that for me they would function as a shield to block out the realities of life . . . to avoid the difficulties and struggles – the choices – of a life lived fully conscious . . . and fully lived.
In the second example, I have read enough to believe that my body is adversely affected by certain foods to the extent that its functionality is impaired. I believe many people simply go on and endure this impaired functionality because they believe it’s worth it in order to eat certain things, or simply because they don’t think about it at all. That is their choice, and I used to do the same.Â Now I makeÂ a different choice.
In the third example, While I don’t necessarily buy into all the hype around vaccines, I think there is enough “reasonable doubt” in many cases to justify a cost/benefit analysis that comes down in favor of going without. I believe that in most cases the risks of side effects outweigh the risks of the diseases in question. As far as the antibiotics, I believe many of the health issues we face today as a culture addicted to pills for everything can be traced back to chemical imbalances in the body created by excessive exposure to antibiotics. I choose not to expose myself any more than I absolutely have to.
In the fourth example, I choose a genuine, deep relationship with my wife. There is nobody who understands me more or loves me more. To seek sexual satisfaction anywhere else would be to not only damage that relationship, but to settle for something far less satisfying.
In the final example, I choose, again, a genuine, deep relationship with my God. For most of my life, I lived with a shadow relationship with a theoretical God. I learned all the verses, mouthed all the lines and modeled all the behaviors . . . but I didn’t really know God. Now I find that every time I sit through a church service I am drawn back into that old life . . . that shadow existence based on external pressures and rules, rather than on the reality of who I am, and who He is.
And ultimately, that’s what it all comes down to: internal vs. external motivations. That’s what I meant at the start of this post when I said that I the reason I don’t live a life free of any restraints is because I don’t want to . . . I believe external motivations are those used by people who wish to control us. I believe what God looks for . . . and whatÂ real “good”Â looks like . . . is internally motivated.
This might sound sacreligious . . . but I genuinely do not believe that the reason sin is wrong is “because the Bible says so.” I believe that the Bible says so because it’s wrong, and I believe it’s wrong because it’s living a lie. It’s settling for less life than I am intended to live.”
And that, I believe, is the ultimate wrong. Maybe even theÂ only real wrong.
I know, I know, there I go sounding sacreligious again. Am I saying that sin isn’t a problem? That there’s far less wrong with the world than we generally think?
Not at all. I’m saying that I believe each of the world’s ills can be traced to the problem of less-lived lives. I think what we know as “sin” is really a matter of “settling” . . . settling for something less than we really want – something less than we really need in order to satisfy human nature’s inherent lust for life.
That’s why internal motivation is so important. External motivation can prompt us to model behaviors, but Matthew 5 is pretty clear that what God really cares about are our internal motivations. Have you killed anyone lately? No? How about calling them names? . . . yeah, well . . . that’s just as bad.
What about loving people . . . have you been kind and generous to your friends? Yes? well good! . . . what about your enemies??
What’s my point? Simply this. I believe that “sin,” to God, has far less to do with what I do, than why I do it! I believe, for example, that He doesn’t want me murdering people, stealing their stuff or screwing around with them, because each of these behaviors is an objectification of sorts. To murder someone is to say they are less of a person than I am . . . less deserving of their basic right to exist. Stealing their stuff says essentially the same thing about their other rights – the right to their time, labor and the fruits thereof. Sexual promiscuity objectifies not only the person with whom I’m engaging in illicit activity, but also the person to whom I have promised myself. It says to the one: “I don’t want a real relationship with you. You are simply an object to be used to slake my sexual desires.” It says to the other, “I claim that I want a relationship with you, but in reality all I want is a prop for family portraits and dinners out with friends. I don’t really want you.”
As I said earlier . . . sin isn’t wrong because Scripture says so . . . Scripture says so because it’s wrong.
We engage in this sort of objectification – both of others and of ourselves – on a daily basis. We do this whenever we do physical or emotional harm to another person . . . or when we settle for less than we truly desire and stop trying to attain it. We live a life that settles for shadow relationships . . . shadow choices . . . falsehoods modeled after something real that we have ceased to hope for . . . to long for . . . to even dream is possible.
I am unwilling to settle for that. I am unsatisfied with a shadow existence. I crave something more . . . something deeper.
And I believe God does, too.
My next segment will delve deeper into this assertion, and will answer what I consider to be the most important question of any worldview: What do I believe about God?