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My Three-letter Worldview: Part 6

This is the sixth installment of “My Three Letter Worldview.” You can read the first five parts here: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5.

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, 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 the 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 to not make choices. Even the newest “hot” search engine 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 that 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 make 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 to 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 for 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. Now I make 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 what real “good” 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 the 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?

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My Three-letter Worldview: Part 5

This is the fifth part of my series, “My Three Letter Worldview.” You can read the first four parts here: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4.

The last two portions of this series dealt with “rights” . . . defining them and working through how I believe they function. Part 4 closed with the question of whether or not a government, which is charged with the responsibility of protecting us from violations of our rights, may legitimately protect us from ourselves.

I believe the answer is “no,” for two reasons. First and most simply, I do not believe it is possible for me to violate my own rights. They are mine and I may exercise them (or not) however I choose. Second, I do not believe any government has the capacity of properly judging what is, or is not, a “good decision.” Certainly, I have made what I consider to be bad decisions in my life . . . but they are decisions I myself have judged to be bad ones. I do not believe any other person or organization has the right to make that determination but me.

This might seem like a shocking assertion to make. How can I possibly be asserting that each of us is, in ourselves, the best judge of what makes a good or bad decision?

Well, in today’s world, the honest answer is that we can’t, because we have – all of us – stunted our decision-making capacity.

This brings us to the flip side of rights: responsibilities. In this day and age, everybody wants to spend the entire conversation talking about their “rights” . . . nobody wants to talk about their responsibilities.

We made certain to begin our discussion of “rights” by defining what it was we were talking about, so let’s do the same with “responsibilities.” We defined rights as a method by which we make the choices available to us. I believe responsibilities are another such tool. If rights are the tools we use to maintain our “selves” against the encroachments of others, then responsibilities are the tools we use to avoid encroachments of our own.

Thus, my right to free speech carries the responsibility of allowing others to speak freely as well, even when I disagree with what they say. My right to freedom of religion carries with it the responsibility to respect the same right of others to believe as they choose – even if it conflicts with my own beliefs. My right to freedom of association carries with it the responsibility of allowing others to associate freely – of not being offended if they shun me.

Perhaps most importantly, my right to act as I choose carries with it responsibility for the consequences that stem from those actions.

That, ultimately, is why the government has no business protecting me from myself. I have made my choice, and even if it’s a bad one it is still my choice. Should that choice do harm to another, then it is the government’s legitimate role to step in and protect them from the consequences of my bad choices. But as long as those consequences affect only myself, I have no claim on the assistance of any other, unless they should freely choose to give it either voluntarily or in return for just compensation.

But instead of fostering a culture of responsibility, we have built a culture of dependency. Instead of a society that respects each of us as individuals, we have built a society that only thinks in terms of groups: whites, blacks, Hispanics, Asians, Republicans, Democrats, Christians, Muslims, liberals, conservatives, and so on, and so on, and so on. It’s identity politics meets class warfare meets groupthink. As long as we categorize ourselves as part of a “group,” then we don’t have to face the responsibility for our choices as individuals . . . If I have a load of debt, it’s not because I’ve chosen how and where to spend my money . . . it’s because we’re in a recession that happens to be hitting my country . . . my region . . . my state . . . my city . . . my neighborhood . . . my “group.”

Of course, there are always going to be factors beyond our control. I’m not one of those that believes God struck Haiti, or New Orleans, because of some “deal with the devil.” Those who were caught in those tragic disasters are not to blame.

But they are still responsible for the choices they make in reaction to the tragedy that struck them. We are all responsible for the choices we make, even if we make those choices in response to an event over which we have no control. When I fell in love for the first time and she rejected me, I had no control over her response, but I was responsible for the way I let it affect my relationships for the next several years.

But we don’t want this responsibility . . . we would rather have someone to blame. And so we wrap our “little” violations of rights inside of one another to make them seem more palatable. We “must” take a little bit of freedom here because we have made absolutely certain that exercising that by exercising that freedom we will affect one another in ways that should never have existed.

The so-called “war on drugs” is a perfect example: We “must” control access to these substances because they are “tearing apart the fabric of our society” . . . but the only reason they are tearing apart the fabric of society . . . the only reason their presence is accompanied by crime and social upheaval . . . is because they are illegal in the first place. We have only to look at the example of prohibition to prove this. When alcohol was illegal, people found a way to indulge themselves anyway . . . but in doing so they perpetrated a crime wave like this country had never seen before. But rather than blaming the government that felt it must control people, we blamed only the immediate perpetrators. And we have done the same with the war on drugs . . . we blame the gangs, the meth labs, the crack houses . . . rather than the government that makes them all necessary in order for people to make the choices they end up making anyway.

Why? Because we can’t have people taking responsibility for their own choices . . . then they’d be out of our control!

Which is, ultimately, what the government - any government - is, by definition, all about.

Does that mean I advocate unsafe, unhealthy behaviors as a way of life? Actually, no. In my next segment, I’ll explain why.

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My Three-letter Worldview: Part 4

This is the fourth part of my series on my “Three letter worldview.” In Part 1, I explained that those three letters are the ones by which God identified Himself to Moses in the opening chapters of Exodus, “I am.” Part 2 expanded on the basic concepts of existence and identity by explaining how humans use relationships to interact, and by asserting that God created us to exercise freedom. Part 3 introduced my view on the concept of rights.

In part 4, I’d like to expand on rights a bit more by discussing how those rights interact with the rights of others.

I wrote in part three that “all the rights in the universe boil down to one. Ultimately, there is a single basic right. The right to exist!”

I believe each of us has that right from the moment of our formation as an individual, human entity. I also believe that no other person can take these rights away from us, and that the only legitimate justification for taking the life – the physical existence – of another, is to protect the life – the existence – of another who is in imminent danger. For this reason, I am pro-life, with the single exception that I believe an abortion is justified if there is an imminent threat to the life of the mother. Also for this reason, I am against the death penalty. There is an argument that says the death penalty acts as a deterrent by preventing repeat offenses . . . but this makes two assumptions. First, it assumes the future guilt on the part of the one being executed . . . assumes that he or she will be a repeat offender. Second, it assumes the view of rights that I explicitly rejected in my last post – that a government . . . any government . . . has the legitimate function of deciding when and where the ultimate right of existence can and should be taken away.

If, then, governments do not grant us rights, what exactly is their function? I believe that governments are, by definition, a collection of individuals voluntarily assembled for the purpose of protecting one another’s rights. Those governments who act otherwise – who go beyond the function of protecting individuals from one another into the realm of dictating the choices those individuals must or should make with regard to the exercise of their own rights – have violated their purpose and strayed into the realm of illegitimacy.

And yes, I do believe that our government . . . indeed, every government now existent on this earth . . . has made that leap. It is for this reason that I really don’t believe there is one form of government that is “more legitimate” than another form. A dictator can be more benevolent than a parliament, and a democracy more tyrannical than a king . . . just ask Socrates.

No, the problem with governments is not in their form, but in their function. Our government – indeed, most if not all governments – have developed this notion that they are the ones who grant us rights. Those rights they “choose” to give us, we are free to exercise, within their discretion of course. But should we protest at the lack of those rights they choose to withhold, we are being unreasonable at best, and dangerous at worst.

One might think by this line of logic that I am advocating rebellion against oppressive and illegitimate governments, but in fact I am not . . . because it is not the government’s fault. It is mine. And yours.

You see, in the same way I believe governments do not give us rights, I do not truly believe they take them either. In fact, I do not believe that rights are something that can be taken away from an individual who is operating at his or her full mental and physical capacity.

They cannot be taken, but they can be surrendered.

Ponder that sentence for a moment.

Nobody can take my rights away from me without my consent. How, then, are millions of people enslaved by tyrannical regimes at this very moment??

The answer is choice – the same choice that, as I mentioned in an earlier segment – guides all human interactions.

I live under a government that sometimes acts in ways I believe to be illegitimate . . . because I choose to. I choose not to protest the unjust actions of my government because I believe it does a better job protecting my rights than any of the alternatives, and because – quite frankly – I like it here. It’s not perfect, but on balance I like it.

But this notion of choosing to surrender our rights places the nature of our government – of any government – in a new light, doesn’t it? In fact, I believe that even in forming a government, some rights are voluntarily surrendered. Absent any government, for example, the decisions that affect me are mine, and mine alone. When I live under a government, even a democratic republic like the United States, I surrender a portion of that decision-making power. Even in a direct democracy, the decisions are not left to each individual alone, but are made by the group as a whole.

As such, no government is going to make decisions that satisfy 100% of their citizenry, 100% of the time. Furthermore, because governments can only deal in “protecting” us against “violations” of our rights, they will be constantly seeking to expand the scope of those violations, in order to aggregate more and more power to themselves. It is simply the way they work, to the point where they will – and do – seek to protect us even from ourselves.

But why is this not a legitimate concern on the part of a government? They are in the business of protecting, are they not? So why should they not protect me from the consequences of my own poor decisions?

This will be the subject of Part 5.

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My Three-letter Worldview: Part 3

In Part 1 of this series, I discussed the irreducible facts of existence and identity, how God is the ultimate picture of these concepts, and how we are shaped in that image.

In Part 2, I went on to discuss the role of relationship and the value I believe God places in human freedom.

In this section, I’d like to talk about the tools we use to govern those choices – what we call “rights.”

In the Declaration of Independence, the founders of the United States claimed that rights are “endowed by our Creator.” While I believe this to be true, I do not believe my interpretation of how rights work to be dependent on a theistic worldview. Nor do I believe that this salient quote from our founding document tells the whole story. I believe rights are given to me by God . . . but what are they??

This has been the subject of many a debate over the years since the concept of “rights” was first envisioned. Prior to the Declaration, it was assumed that rights were bestowed by virtue of birth based on nationality and class – the “rights of the nobility” or the “rights of Englishmen” or the “Rights of Roman Citizens.” The Declaration was both an extension of, and a break from, that viewpoint. It broke from the view that governments can have a say over what your rights are, or are not. At the same time, it held to the belief that rights are innate – they are something we are not given, they are something we are born with.

Their vision of rights was not universal – minorities and women were excluded, but this was a factor of the prejudices of their time, rather than an inconsistency in their beliefs. Indeed, the worldview they espoused were later used to extend to those same excluded groups the rights they were initially denied.

So that’s where our notion of rights came from, but the question still remains – what are they??

Here is what I believe: I agree with our founders that rights are something we are born with, not given. I believe rights are the means by which we make the choices we have available to us. I believe, in fact, that they are an extension of the two axioms of existence and identity. That is, because I exist, and because I exist as a unique, independent individual capable of cognizant choice, the ultimate arbiter of what I do with that existence is . . . me. This is what I meant in my last segment that God values humans’ ability to make choices for ourselves. Has He expressed a desire for us to choose certain things? Yes, but ultimately, He has given us the freedom not to do so.

So here I am, an extant individual . . . existence and identity . . . in a world full of extant individuals. As such, I believe all the rights in the universe boil down to one. Ultimately, there is a single, basic right. The right to exist!

From my previous blog posts, you can easily tell, then, what I think that right entails. It is my right to live as a individual, free to engage in relationships with other individuals as I see fit, and to make the choices I see fit to make. From this basic right flow corrollary rights. I have the “right” to choose how I relate to that world – how I act, how I think, what I say, who I associate with, and how I spend my time. Freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom of press, freedom of association, freedom from illegal searches and seizures, freedom to defend myself against attacks . . . all of these extend from that one basic right to exist.

That is not to say that I have the “right” to do whatever I choose, if that choice infringes on the rights of another to do as they choose. For if relationships are the points at which our “selves” touch one another, and if choices are the ways in which we interact, then rights are the boundaries between those independent selves. I have the unlimited right to do whatever I choose to do with my body, my abilities to think and communicate, and my time . . . right up until that choice infringes on your right to do whatever you choose to do with yours. As the cliche goes, my right to swing my fist ends at your nose.

This concept of rights is more inclusive than some . . . for example, it negates the old adage about “shouting fire in a crowded theater,” because it places the responsibility on the hearer to be aware of his or her surroundings. If each person in that theater bears the responsibility of both making informed choices – rather than running around in a panic – and respecting the rights of others, then I have the freedom to shout away all I choose.

But this concept of rights is also less inclusive than some. President Franklin Roosevelt spoke of four freedoms – Freedom of Speech, Freedom of Religion, Freedom from Want, and Freedom from Fear. I would submit that he was half right . . . or more precisely, that only half of these are “rights.” Freedom of Speech and Religion are, indeed, a result of simply respecting one another as individuals. However, the so-called “freedoms” from want and fear are really the opposite – they are not freedoms, but demands. “Save me from shortage!” . . . “Save me from fear” . . . “Save me!” The difference is this: I believe that my rights make no demands on another except to do nothing. My freedom of speech does not demand that another stay silent . . . only that they not interfere with my speaking. My freedom of religion does not demand that another believe what I do . . . only that they not attempt to control what I believe. My freedom of association does not demand that another associate with me . . . only that they not attempt to stop me from associating with whomever I choose.

Contrast that to the vision of “rights” espoused by FDR. Freedom from want, freedom from fear. These so-called “freedoms” are not freedoms at all. The demands they make are on me . . . on you . . . on us as a society . . .  to step in – to interfere.

I’ll say more about rights in my next post.

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My Three-letter Worldview: Part 2

In Part 1, I began exploring my three-letter worldview. I discussed what Ayn Rand calls the “Axioms” . . . the indisputable, irreducible facts . . . of Existence and Identity. I discussed how I believe these concepts originated with the God of the Bible, and how they are reflected in His creation – in us – with the three letters, “I Am.”

But what do those three letters  – those “axioms” really mean?

Simply this:

Existence exists, therefore something exists. That “something” is divided into distinct, identifiable entities. But these entities are not only distinct, they are conscious.

This is the final of Rand’s three axioms: Existence, Identity, Consciousness. Again, it is an irreducible fact. “How do you know consciousness exists?” . . . I know it because without it the question of its existence cannot be asked, or even considered.

We are, therefore, distinct, identifiable entities with distinct consciousnesses operating independently of one another. Independent existences. Independent selves. You. Me. Everyone.

So what?

The existence of independent selves implies some sort of relationship between those independent selves. What, then, is a “relationship”? The word is used to mean different things – that which we call a “ball” is often said to have a relationship with that which we call the “earth,” in that they are both round. A “cat” is often said to have a relationship with a “tiger,” in that they are similar species with similar traits.

I would submit, though, that these are imagined relationships. They exist only as theoretical constructs in the minds of conscious individuals.

I would submit that a true relationship – one that exists in both the conceptual and material world – can only exist if both parties to it are conscious of it. Any two individual selves who are conscious of one another’s existince have SOME sort of “relationship.” That relationship can be characterized in many different ways: friendship, hostility, fear, apathy, love, worship. All of these are different characteristics of a relationship . . . different ways of relating.

I believe humans are specifically, and uniquely, designed for this kind of relationship . . . the kind which is conscious, deliberate and real. In Genesis, God specifically states that, “It is not good for man to be alone.” I believe what He said is true for all men and women.

Relationships, then, are the points at which two conscious, independent selves intersect. How those selves interact is by means of choices.

Choices are not unique to relationships . . . a conscious being has a choice about how he or she interacts with other, unconscious beings or objects, as well. We make choices every day – every minute. Which socks should I put on this morning? What should I eat for lunch? Should I read the news or watch TV? Usually we make these choices without a second’s thought . . . and sometimes without any at all.

I believe that, in addition to existing in relationships, humans were created to make choices as well. Genesis Chapter 2 records the very first pair of interactions between God and the first of His human creations. The first is when he commanded Adam not to eat of the tree in Eden. The second was when He brought the animals to Adam. In both cases, He placed Adam in a position where Adam had to choose.

It is the first of these choices that I’d like to focus on. It is the choice He offers here that I believe tells us more about God than perhaps any other in Scripture – not so much for the choices He gave Adam, as for the fact that He gave Adam a choice at all.

A different kind of god – one who did not create Adam for choice – would have simply created an automaton, told it what to do, and left.

Yet another different kind of god – one for whom choice was acceptable, but not of paramount importance – would have simply created Adam in the idyllic Eden and left the tree out.

This is how I know, with absolute certainty, that the God of Scripture finds value in the human ability to make our own choices.

In my next post, I’ll discuss how this leads to the concept of “rights.”

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My Three-letter Worldview: Part 1

Ayn Rand, as she often does in my opinion, puts it best . . . most succinctly.

“Existence exists.”

It is a reformulation of Descartes’ “I think, therefore I am,” but it is somehow more complete, less problematic, more . . . satisfying.

“Existence exists.” It is one statement that brooks no counter-argument, for to even make a counter-argument presumes the statement itself. To argue with this simple statement is to concede the argument before it begins.

How do I know existence exists? The answer is, “if it doesn’t, how are you even asking that question?”

Existence, then, is not an assertion, a theory, a postulation, an argument. It is a fact.

From this indisputable fact of existence flows another – Identity. If you refuse to acknowledge that existence exists, then there is no point in . . . well . . . anything. But if you acknowledge that fact, then you have to acknowledge this: something exists. Something is allowing you to even have these thoughts . . . to even read this blog.

That “something” is identity. At this moment, you are reading something I have written. It is the first you’ve read it – the first time it has entered your mind. But it entered mine first, because I wrote it. That, in and of itself, is a demonstration that I am not you, and you are not me. We are separate individuals, rather than a great, amorphous It.

You may think this is self-obvious . . . and indeed you are right! But just being self-obvious is not enough. It has to be considered, because it is the basis for everything else.

How do I, as a believer in Christ, reconcile my worldview with that of a rabid athiest like Ayn Rand?

Easily, in fact . . . because God did it first.

In Genesis, God asserts that humanity is created in His image. Entire volumes have been written around the question, “What did He mean by that?”

Here’s what I think:

There is one time in Scripture where God is asked to identify Himself, and complies with the request. In the single instance we have of God telling us who He is, His answer is three letters. “I Am.”

I believe that is the image in which we are created. How could you possibly capture the concepts of existence and identity?? “I am” proclaims existence, while “I Am” identifies that which exists.

As I said before, Ayn Rand didn’t come up with this idea on her own . . . she merely distilled what was much, much older.

God says, “I Am” . . . and because I am created in His image, I am, too!

Existence exists. . . . I exist!

What does that mean?? . . . That’s what Part 2 is all about. Stay tuned.

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When “Real” isn’t Good Enough

It was, for me, the best part of the Presidential inauguration two short weeks ago. The speech was decent, the poetry atrocious, but the music . . . oh, the music . . .

As a violinist myself, I have for most of my life looked up to Itzak Perlmann as the unmatched master of my craft. Yo Yo Ma enjoys similar status atop the world of the cellist. I’m not as familiar with Anthony McGill or Gabriella Montero, who joined them on clarinet and piano, respectively, for a rendition of John Williams’ “Air and Simple Gifts.”

I remember discussing the piece afterward with my wife – a professional violin teacher and freelance performer. We wondered if they were using special carbon fiber instruments that are better able to hold a pitch – or if not, how they managed to play in such bitter cold.

Well, as the world now knows, they didn’t. Or rather, they did, but that wasn’t what the rest of the world heard. We heard a prerecorded version created a week before, comfortably indoors.

To say that I was disappointed would be an understatement. I’ve performed in the bitter cold myself, when the wind was whipping around and trying to take the music off the stand in front of me, and when my fingers were so cold that they didn’t want to work properly. Their music, while gorgeous, wasn’t difficult at all to play – particularly for musicians who are undisputedly the best in the world at what they do.

But they faked it anyway.

Then yesterday, I watched the Super Bowl between the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Arizona Cardinals – two teams I care very little about. Though it was a pretty exciting game, I was more interested in watching the commercials and sharing the time with my wife’s family. The one highlight, for me, was Jennifer Hudson’s national anthem. Her stirring rendition was made all the more moving given the fact that it was her first time back singing in the national spotlight since the tragedy she suffered back in October with the brutal triple-murder of her mother, brother and nephew.

Except that it wasn’t. Like Perlman, Ma and their colleagues, she had recorded the anthem in advance. It was beautiful, to be sure, but the fact that it wasn’t HER . . . or rather, that it was her voice at another place and time . . . stole something from the moment.

These instances were both accompanied by breathless exclamations of: “My goodness . . . we couldn’t have had them perform live! Can you imagine? . . . something might have gone wrong!”

“Why is this such a big deal?” you might ask. “It was their instruments! It was her voice!” And you’re right. It’s not like this is Milli Vanilli, whose 1990 Grammy Award for best new artist was revoked when it was discovered that their talent was for lip-synching, rather than actual singing.

It’s not the same thing, but it’s part of the same problem.

The Wikipedia entry for Milli Vanilli says:

[Milli Vanilli producer Frank] Farian chose to feature vocals by Charles Shaw, John Davis, Brad Howell, and twin sisters Jodie and Linda Rocco; however, he felt that those singers lacked a marketable image. Thus, Farian recruited [Fab] Morvan and [Rob] Pilatus, two younger and more photogenic model/dancers he found in a Berlin dance club, to front the act.

Farian’s mindset, and that of the folks who produced the inauguration and the national anthem, seems to be symptomatic of a larger ailment that plagues our culture in this era of technological and philosophical advancement.

I’m as geeky as the next guy when it comes to the technological conveniences of 21st century America. I have an iPhone, a Facebook account and (obviously) a blog. I use all three of them with gusto.

But the problem arises when we allow these technologies to serve as a substitute for reality . . . a surrogate for what IS.

This mentality has permeated every area of our world. Our entertainment industry has been overrun by those who insist on having one more plastic surgery . . . on losing five more pounds . . . on looking like concentration camp victims in real life, simply because “the camera adds ten pounds.”

Reality isn’t good enough.

In the world of medicine, the reality of how our bodies feel and behave is subjugated to “the labs” . . . the all-important diagnostic tests that may or may not be accurate, may or may not be reliable, may or may not yield any valuable information about what ails us.

Then these often questionable test results are used to justify pumping us full of made-up substances designed to treat made-up problems that are more often than not mere symptoms of the very real problems that plague us. These underlying problems are largely due to the choices we make in our lifestyles and our diets . . . but a pharmaceutical company can’t make money by pressuring doctors to prescribe organic vegetables or grass-fed meat. Sit-ups don’t come in pill form.

So they give us cholesterol and blood pressure meds instead.

Reality isn’t good enough.

Speaking of food, how about that breakfast you had this morning? I’m betting that for most people across the country, it went something like this:

  • Two eggs, bought from your local supermarket and produced by pen-raised hens who have lived on genetically-modified corn their entire lives, rather than the grass, grubs and other things their stomachs are actually capable of digesting.
  • Two strips of bacon, preserved and colored by nitrates and nitrites, which form nitrosamines (a carcinogen) once they get into your body.
  • A bowl of cereal comprised of what was - at one point, perhaps - fairly healthy wheat or oats, but has been processed and manipulated so much that all the good stuff has been cooked, pressed, ground, fried or leeched out of it. Then, of course, in order to make the stuff palatable, they have to add high fructose corn syrup, or at least (if you’re lucky) sugar, which has of course been similarly processed.
  • A glass of “fruit beverage” that roughly resembles grape juice, well-laced with high fructose corn syrup, of course, because our American palates have been conditioned to think that the fructose in actual fruit isn’t sweet enough.
  • If you’re the really conscientious type, you may have had an apple, which probably found its way to your table from an orchard that was covered in toxic chemicals to keep the bugs off. Because unlike those of us who actually EAT such things, insects are smart enough to realize that poisons are very specifically and efficiently designed to make things dead.
  • Perhaps you topped all this off with a pancake or two . . . which probably came from a box, doused in syrup that alleges to be “maple,” but is actually mostly high fructose corn syrup. You may have even added a dollop of “I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter (TM).”

Because reality isn’t good enough.

Before you think that I’ve suddenly decided to go out and join my local chapter of the Sierra Club, those folks could use a healthy dose of reality too. They are, after all, the ones who have perpetuated the myth of man-made climate change (by a variety of different names) for decades now, based on climate models that even John Theon, a former NASA executive who was responsible for all weather and climate research in the agency, says are completely unreliable.

Reality, after all, isn’t good enough.

This is true even in the way we relate to each other. I think about my coworkers, for example. I spend a minimum of 40 hours a week cooped up in a small aisle of cubicles with about half a dozen other people, and to be perfectly honest, I don’t really know most of them. We talk, certainly, about the weather, about our mortgage and rent payments, about our pets and our phones, our weekends and sports teams – all the safe topics. But just watch what happens when anyone brings up something REAL . . . even something only superficially real like politics. Oh my gosh! We can’t have that! People might, well, take it personally, or get offended, or by golly, we might not agree!

Every once in a while I’ll get a glimpse of who the people I work with really ARE . . . like the time a coworker and I travelled to Japan together on business, or the time four of us went to give a presentation in Fort Hood, Texas. On such occasions, people tend to open up a bit more . . . to reveal a bit more of themselves.

And I have to tell you . . . as it turns out, I really like the folks I work with! I wish I could see more of that side of them, more often.

But I can’t, because reality isn’t good enough.

This is often true, even in our very closest relationships.

Phones, email, text messaging, instant messages and Facebook are all great tools for keeping in touch with one another . . . but too often we use them to substitute for actual relating. I enjoy reading the status updates my friends post on Facebook, but that’s not the same as going to dinner with them and sitting down for a good conversation. Unfortunately, I happen to live in an area, Washington D.C., where most folks place a lot more value on “doing” than they do on “relating” . . . and as a result people are more often than not too busy to have dinner, or coffee, or hang out for an evening or a weekend.

So we settle for checking up on each other on Facebook.

Because reality isn’t good enough.

Alas, this has even become true of our most important relationship . . . our relationship with Father.

I am reminded of an article I read early last year, by Darrin Hufford over at Free Believers. Hufford’s provocative article calls the average “relationship with God” a “spiritual porn addiction.”

Talk about reality not being good enough! As a former porn addict myself, I can attest quite vividly to the allure of the fake reality that pornography offers. Hufford goes further, though. He points out that the spiritual “high” we get from those “mountaintop experiences” at religious conferences, worship services, etc. are much the same thing. I’ve been to those conferences. I’ve had those experiences. I’ve loved every minute of them . . . they are, after all, exhilarating. The term “spirtual high” is fitting . . . it’s one of the most moving and uplifting things I’ve ever experienced.

The problem is that we idealize those experiences . . . and we condemn ourselves for the “low patches” that we feel between them. We come up with an endless stream of ideas for bottling up that feeling . . . you know, that feeling . . . the one you get when you’ve just finished a group conversation with God, and you know, beyond all doubt, that he was an active participant in the conversation?

But those experiences are not the same as the day to day work of living in the world He placed us in. Even Peter felt the allure of the “mountain top experience” of Christ’s transfiguration, and wanted to do something to permanentize it . . . to institutionalize it . . .

Hufford extends the analogy into the average church service, saying:

The majority of our Christian lives were spent watching the Christian play at church, we have grown accustomed to sitting through the show and demanding to be entertained. Every spiritual facet of the “personal relationship with God” has been caked with makeup, airbrushed, pumped with steroids, injected with botox, sprayed with perfume and stuffed with implants. In the end, we’re left with a “Glam Shot” perception of “relationship” that is about as real as a fifty dollar blow-up doll. It’s perfect for the theater, but when it comes to a real, one-on-one relationship, it’s just impossible.

There’s nothing wrong with mountain top experiences . . . nothing wrong with the incredible spiritual experiences that come with dedicating an entire day, or an entire weekend, to seeking God. The problem, as Hufford points out, is when we come to expect that those mountaintops define what a healthy relationship with God is. The problem, he very vividly says, is this:

The addiction to these spiritually accentuated concepts is almost identical to an addiction to pornography – some people can’t get aroused without it.

Why? Because reality – the reality of a God who is just as present in the depressing, or disappointing, or boring moments of life – just isn’t good enough.

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If this doesn’t scare you, you’re not paying attention

This story is quite bothersome to me. Indeed, it seems that the author has specifically written it to be bothersome to her readers. I suspect, though – given that her audience is the liberal blogging community “Huffington Post” – that they are not likely to share my reasons for concern.

An excerpt:

“The high-flying execs at Citigroup caved under pressure from President Obama and decided today to abandon plans for a luxurious new $50 million corporate jet . . .”

Oh, the horror. These uppity executives – fresh off a government bailout – are now spending your money and mine on a new jet. Well, we can’t have that. Good thing the new sherriff in town just called them up and told them to “fix it.”

. . . except that, as it always is, the real story is more complicated than that.

If one reads the actual article from which this HuffPo writer is getting her ideas, one sees the following:

“Citigroup had argued it was selling two of its four other planes to pay for this one, that the new jet would be more efficient and, besides, it had already signed a contract for the jet. Breaking that deal would cost the bank millions in penalties.”

So let me get this straight. Instead of selling off two old, inefficient, probably less-environmentally-friendly jets to buy one newer, more efficient one, this troubled financial institution will break its contract and lay out millions of dollars in exchange for . . . nothing.

Why? Because “The One” has spoken.

This is, to me, the most disturbing piece of the whole episode. No laws were passed, no regulations were signed, no hearings were held . . . the President just had his spokesperson call up these guys and tell them to “fix it.”

. . . and as a result of his demand, a major U.S. company altered a multi-million dollar business decision and backed out of a major contract.

That, my friends, is scary. I thought we lived in a (relatively) free market society.

From the article again (as the ABC news writer apparently can’t resist injecting a little political commentary into his “news” story):

“It doesn’t help to win votes when corporations appear to use taxpayer cash on luxury perks and outsize bonuses for Wall Street titans.” (emphasis added)

There you have it. The White House has to keep up appearances, and the free market be damned! It doesn’t matter that the federal government had no business shelling out your money to save these companies in the first place (and this extends to both the Bush and Obama administrations, and both parties in congress – all of whom are equally to blame).

Frequently over the last year or so, I’ve gotten the feeling that when I am old, I will look back and fondly remember the America I used to live in – an America which . . . particularly with this week’s latest $800 billion-and-up boondoggle . . . is rapidly spending its way out of existence. We can debate endlessly the question of whether financial execs really need a corporate jet at all . . . but at the end of the day, that’s for their stockholders to decide, not the President.

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How much freedom will we settle for?

It’s been a long time . . .

Those who have access to my facebook page will see that it says I have been writing again, but they wouldn’t know it from looking at this blog. That is largely due to the fact that my writing, of late, has not been for public consumption . . . at least not yet.

But today I read something and simply couldn’t stay silent any longer. It came from one of my favorite daily reads, someone who seems to be going through a journey very similar to mine – my virtual friend, David Hayward, also known as “Naked Pastor.”

He wrote a post called “Kinds of Choice,” that literally made me almost come out of my chair with joy that someone else gets it . . . truly gets what I feel each and every day. There are so few people with whom I get this feeling . . .

His article, though he may not realize it, takes on a growing notion that has been making the rounds in political circles of late – the notion of “libertarian paternalism.” In the words of eminent legal scholar Cass Sunstein, libertarian paternalism is the notion that “private and public institutions might nudge people in directions that will make their lives go better, without eliminating freedom of choice.” According to Sunstein, “The paternalism consists in the nudge; the libertarianism consists in the insistence on freedom, and on imposing little or no cost on those who seek to go their own way.” Sunstein’s principle paper on the topic, written with behavioral economist Richard H. Thaler, is entitled “Libertarian Paternalism Is Not An Oxymoron.”

With all due respect to Sunstein and Thaler, yes it is . . . and Hayward’s post does an admirable job of explaining why.

Libertarian Paternalism is predicated on the notion that any system or institution will, as a matter of course, “nudge” those within it – either intentionally or unintentionally – in a given direction. Sunstein argues that

because default rules and starting points often matter, institutions can’t avoid nudging people — and hence can’t avoid a kind of paternalism, or at least a nudge. If 0% of take-home pay goes to savings, it isn’t because nature so ordained it.

He uses this logic to argue that, since systems “nudge” people anyway, they might as well deliberately do so in a desirable direction. To wit, “[An] example is the automatic enrollment plan, by which workers are automatically enrolled in a savings plan, but can opt out with no trouble and at no expense if they choose to do so.”

Hayward’s thoughts center on the system of the modern, organized church. Whether he intends it or not, they form a very effective counter-argument to Sunstein and Thaler’s philosophy. Hayward says,

What is being offered to the church today is a multitude of choices . . . we are being told that when we select one of these choices, we are making a free choice. And we feel as though we are free when we make our selection from among the several choices.

This is not perfect freedom . . .

Hayward goes on to distinguish quote the philosopher Slavoj Zizek, in distinguishing between “formal freedom” and “actual freedom.” The former, he (Hayward) calls “Reinventing ourselves within the prescribed parameters.” This description perfectly captures what we are encouraged to do in so very many areas of life. Consider:

In education, we are encouraged to consider “school choice,” or even to (in an especially radical notion) homeschool our children [full disclosure: For those who don’t already know, I was homeschooled myself] . . . but only if we do so in a system where we literally turn our home into a school, complete with grades, class schedules, tests, and “approved” curricula.

In (American) politics, we are encouraged to “choose” our preferred candidate – from a pool of two nearly equally distasteful options.

In medicine, we are encouraged to consult a variety of medical experts and get a “second opinion” on what might be wrong with us in a given situation – but heaven forbid that we should do our own homework and self-diagnose a problem that can’t be discovered by an almighty Doctor with a lab coat and stethoscope who deigns to take ten minutes out of his busy day to read our lab charts and choose a diagnosis from a laundry list of possible maladies that roughly correspond to our symptoms.

In news, we are encouraged to read newspapers, listen to network news broadcasts, watch cable news shows, listen to news radio, or even be especially daring and get our news from our favorite network’s website. But far be it from us to bypass the gatekeepers at CNN, or the Associated Press, or the New York Times, and get our news from “alternative sources” . . . even when those alternative sources do a much better job of providing real news analysis (and in some cases, even original news reporting).

In religion, where Hayward concentrates, we are encouraged to seek out any one of an ever-increasing number of formal denominations with which to worship . . . but the one time that these institutions of religion will take a time-out from their interminable squabbles with each other and actually agree on something is when they hold the Bible over their heads and invent out of whole cloth a commandment nowhere found in its pages, demanding that we at least “go to church” somewhere.

These all fall under what Hayward calls “the illusion that this formal freedom is as good as it gets in life.”

And libertarian paternalists would love to convince you that such “formal freedom” is all you need. After all, if, like Hayward, you disdain to pick between equally undesirable choices . . . if you are not content with simply choosing from different options within a system, and would rather leave the system all together, then the likes of Sunstein and Thaler lose any ability whatsoever to control you short of the brute force they claim to wish to avoid.

Herein lies the problem. At the root of it all, a libertarian paternalist – or a teacher, a politician, a doctor, a news reporter, or a pastor – still believes in his or her heart of hearts that they know better than you do what is best for you. And because they know best, they should be allowed to compel you – either through brute force, or through subtle “choice control” – into doing what they already know is best for you. The systems and institutions in which they operate – schools, governments, hospitals, media outlets and yes, churches, are all designed with one all-encompassing principle on which their survival depends . . . the principle that they can continue in existence by doing you just enough good so that you don’t realize they’re expending all that effort in order to tell you what to think.

There is an infuriating arrogance to it all. At the root of all this, for the so-called “libertarian paternalist” is the very un-libertarian notion that he or she knows what is best for you and me, and that he or she will deign to look down, make the choice for us, and then guide us – ever so gently – toward that choice.

And it is in the realm of religion – Hayward’s forte – that we discover just how insidious this “soft paternalism” really is, for having laid down the weapon of brute force with which to accomplish their desired outcomes, they are left with the even more insidious weapon of shame. Educators, Politicians, Doctors, Newsmakers (a more accurate term these days than “News Reporters”), and Pastors are all – as a class – adept at using this weapon to demonize, marginalize or belittle those who are not content to pick from within their institutions one of a variety of bad options, and who opt to leave the system all together. My wife and I can personally attest to this in every single one of these five areas. Shame is a moral concept, but the amoral can use it just as effectively.

And it is all the worse for being so seductive. Those who wield shame as a weapon often do not realize they are wielding any weapon at all – witness Glenn Reynolds, an eminent libertarian blogger, saying that the solution to people who do not follow his desired course of action with regard to vaccinating their children ought to be “shamed” for it. Seemingly swayed by the same logic that persuades Sunstein and Thaler, Reynolds refers to this as the “libertarian solution” to what he sees as the problem of declining to vaccinate.

Just imagine . . . what if the solution to this or any other action that affects nobody but the person doing it was to simply do as you please, and let them do likewise??

This, to me, seems the essence of what Christ meant when he urged us to “do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”

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Ecclesiastical Orphism

Last night, my wife and I had a delightful evening out at an orchestra concert, but the object of our evening outage was no ordinary orchestra.

The fare for the evening was the world-renowned Orpheus Chamber Orchestra, which happened to be visiting the Strathmore Music Center in Bethesda, MD, where Heidi often freelances with the National Philharmonic Orchestra.

Orpheus Chamber Orchestra

This was a very special night, shared with a very special group of people. Orpheus is, quite simply, a joy to watch. Their philosophy of music and of life is evident with every note.

You see, unlike the vast majority of “normal orchestras” – even world-famous ones – Orpheus has no conductor. There is no “leader” standing up at the front of the stage waving a stick, giving orders to the performers on stage, and taking responsibility if something goes wrong.

Rather, this group operates by what it calls “The Orpheus Process,” described on their website thus:

“Instead of one person taking on the orchestra’s artistic responsibility and leadership, we share leadership throughout the membership of the orchestra. Each piece sees a different concertmaster, rotating principle musician chairs, and a sharing of ideas and inspirations. This empowering formula creates a dynamic setting where each musician takes artistic ownership of the performance, not just his or her own part. When we feel personally connected to the music, we know you will too.”

Indeed, that connection was obvious – inescapable, even. Each musician was personally invested in every note, every movement, every breath that escaped the stage.

As an amateur musician myself, I’ve performed in a number of low-level orchestras. As a professional violinist, my wife has performed in more advanced settings. I’ve never experienced anything close to what I saw on that stage, and according to her, neither has she.

Normally, the conductor chooses the music, interprets it, and then coaches the orchestra into performing his interpretation. Normally the orchestra members have a responsibility to follow him, and to pay attention to their section leader and their stand partner. Normally the section leaders have the responsiblity for coordinating and leading the other members of their sections.

That framework means nothing in Orpheus. Yes, there are section leaders, but they rotate for each piece. Yes, there is even a concertmaster (The section leader of the First Violin section in a traditional orchestra, arguably the “lead musician” on the stage, underneath the conductor.) But when it comes time to prepare for a performance, each musician is fully invested in the art the group is crafting. The section leaders are rotated for each piece. A violinist might be the concertmaster for one piece, sit near the back of the section for another, and watch a third from off-stage if it calls for a smaller number of violins. The music is interpreted, not by one person, but by the whole ensemble, through a collaborative rehearsal process that gives each musician a chance to examine the piece from both inside and out, and to provide input to the group.

Similarly, where a normal orchestra receives its cues from the conductor – starting and stopping based on the movement of his baton – Orpheus might take its cues from the concertmaster, or the oboe, or the section leader of the string bass section . . . all in the same piece of music, depending on where the melody is at any given point in time. The music is almost organic – cues come from the people responsible for the particular phrase of music being played at that point in time, and each musician is keenly aware of the other 40 or so musicians on stage at every point in the piece. They have to be, or the whole enterprise would collapse.

I found myself musing, as I watched them play, “This is what the church should look like . . . “

The traditional, institutional church has followed a very similar path as the traditional, institutional orchestra. In the beginning, neither had a “conductor” in the true sense. The early church was led by learned men who agonized over the interpretations of what they perceived to be the words of God. Similarly, early orchestras were led – if not by the composer of a given work himself – by the concertmaster . . . the most learned and experienced musician among them.

Over time, both institutions began to travel a different path. Rather than a musician being both a part of the orchestra, in addition to being its leader, the role of “conductor” became a “special” function – set apart from the rest of the people on stage. It became the conductor who solely interpreted the music, who solely took responsibility for its successes and failures, and who solely accepted the applause of appreciative crowds.

Similarly, in the church, the “vicar class” was born. Bishops, Priests, Pastors, and other roles were invested with meaning well beyond that found in scripture, or invented from whole cloth – meaning that set them apart from “normal” members of the flock – the “laymen.”

Where the conductor was responsible for interpreting the intent of the composer, these “pastors” became responsible for the interpretation of God’s intent. Where the conductor’s shoulders bore the weight of the orchestra’s success or failure, the pastor’s shoulders bore the responsibility for the eternal souls of his parishoners. Where the conductor was glorified when “his” orchestra performed well, the pastor became the object of special status – including promotion in the new ecclesiastical hierarchy – depending on the “performance” of “his” church.

Orpheus, to me, is a symbol of where the church is going. I cannot speak for all believers, but I can speak for a small but growing portion of us. We are steadily wearying of the so-called “experts” who impress upon us their interpretations of God’s will with less and less justification. Instead, we are turning to relationships – the same sort of relationships that I saw on that stage last night.

Think of the incredible amount of trust those musicians must have in one another. If a single person falters, the whole performance suffers. If a single person even fails to communicate – fails to cue the others when beginning a new phrase, fails to hear or see what another part of the ensemble is doing, fails in any way to either understand the other musicians, or to make him or herself understood in turn – what was a glorious piece of music a moment before is suddenly a cacophany of mere noise.

In the same way, believers should be able to trust one another. If we all have the same goal in common – the joy of a life lived with Christ – I should trust that my fellow travellers on this journey are living that life as best they know how, and I should expect them to trust me the same way. None of us should be due any individual credit for any “kingdom” successes – the reward belongs to the body of Christ. The tapestry that is created when the body of Christ lives and works as an organic entity – all parts in relationship with one another and working in their unique and separate ways toward the common goal of seeking to know God – is truly a work of art . . . one even more stunning than that created when 40 musicians trust each other enough to get out on stage and create something beautiful together.

Just like the Orpheus process, participation in the body of Christ should be, and is, an empowering process. It does require an incredible amount of investment. In a traditional church setting, I could sit back and let some pastor tell me what to think. Outside of the traditional church framework, I cannot do that. I am responsible, any and every day, to truly “give a reason for the hope that is within me.”

I can’t just regurgitate some talking points or a list of scripture verses. In the same way each member of Orpheus has to know what they think of the piece being played, I have to know what I believe about the God I walk with.

It is a big responsibility – and one I don’t always live up to. There are too many questions I continue to ask myself, and to which I don’t know the answer. There are too many times when I still find myself reciting a party line, rather than giving coherent thought to a question.

I want more for myself – demand more from myself.

I want a life – a faith – that looks like Orpheus.

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Filed under Ideas I stole from somebody else, but improved on, Things most people will disagree with, Things that will convince you I'm a godless heathen, Things that will get me excommunicated, Things that will piss somebody off