Friday, July 08, 2016

How to Conquer Hate: Infinite Love

As a resident of Dallas County, I'm very aware of the tragedy of last night's shooting. I join with those all over the world who mourn the loss of those who died, but I think that beyond the loss of human life, people are upset because they believe that this is something that should not be happening. Yes, the shooting was an evil act, and I agree that we don't want any evil in the world, but I think many are hurting and angry because they think we should be beyond this by now. In other words, hasn't the human race progressed to the point where this shouldn't happen anymore?

I think that it is true that in the United States there is less racism than there used to be. I believe I have observed changes for the better during the course of my life, not only in myself, but in those around me. It then becomes easy to think, "if I've learned to know better, why hasn't everyone else?" Well, it's much more complicated than that. We may not be as enlightened as we would like to think.

Race is just one way that we can divide the human family into groups such that one group feels superior to the other and can blame the other for their problems. While many of us have learned the absurdity of believing one skin color is superior to another, we may feel perfectly justified in believing that other divisions are valid. Here is a test: if you or I believe the world would be a better place if a particular group of people did not exist, or if we put the blame for a bunch of problems on a group, or if we think we are superior in some way to those in another group, we are guilty of group hatred.

Here is a list of groups or classes that I've heard people recently make the target of blame, exclusion, or elimination: black people, white males, illegal immigrants, Israeli's, Palestinians, Muslims, Sunni, Shia, Christians, atheists, religious people, fundamentalists, liberals, conservatives, iPhone users, Android users, old people, young people, Republicans, Democrats, people of privilege, people on welfare, the top one percent, and the homeless. What I'm not talking about is having disagreements over ideas, but rather when we move beyond debating an issue to vilifying a group.

A good example to look at are the two political parties in the United States. Although a number of people in the US are relatively independent, I am shocked by the number of people who will defend their party in all things while vilifying everything about the other party. What are the chances that one party will take the correct position on all issues while the other party is wrong about everything? Have these people actually analyzed the platforms of the parties and come to the conclusion that their party is right on everything? I don't think that is the case with most of them. Rather, they have found one group to identify with that they have decided is superior. The opposite group becomes a convenient target for blame, and putting the other group down makes one feel superior.

Much more could be said about the nature of group hatred, but I want to move on to the solution, which begins by looking at the source of the problem described in Genesis chapter 3. Here we see Eve in the Garden of Eden talking to the snake, while Adam apparently stands by, doing nothing. The snake says that God doesn't want them to eat the fruit of the tree because "God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil" (5). Adam and Eve believed the snake, and so they ate the fruit, choosing the direction of the human race as a race of people trying to achieve godhood. If my goal is achieving godhood, then my goal is to be superior to all others. However, immediately Adam and Eve become aware of the nakedness. They feel exposed and ashamed of how un-godlike they are, so they attempt to cover up with fig leaves. Group identity is a kind of fig leaf we use today. When God asks them about what they've done, Adam blames Eve, and Eve blames the snake. Neither of them take responsibility for having done wrong because wrong doing would be a setback on the road to godhood. In chapter 4, when God accepts Abel's sacrifice, but rejects Cain's, the humiliation is so great that Cain decides the elimination of Abel is the only way Cain can obtain superiority, and thus we have the first murder. I believe these two chapters show patterns of human behavior that include the desire for superiority, the tendency to blame others, and the desire to eliminate those who threaten our standing.

This is the origin of hate, and because it is so deep within fallen man, it cannot be solved by education or government programs. Such solutions may address one kind of hatred and remove a particular injustice, but the seeds of hatred are still there, and they can manifest in other ways. I'm not saying that social programs do not help, but they will not provide an ultimate solution.

Jesus provides the answer when he tells us, "Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you." This is the only answer because even if I am able to avoid the practice of hating another group, I will belong to a group that is hated by others, and thus it is impossible to avoid having enemies. Whether you are a Democrat, Republican, Independent, or non-voter, someone out there thinks you are part of the problem in our country. If you are an atheist, you will be hated by some religious people, and if you are religious, you will be hated by some atheists. If you are an agnostic, you will be hated by some atheists and religious people for not making up your mind. The only way to respond to these enemies that you did not ask for, without falling into hate, is to respond with love.

Anyone who is honest will know that we don't have it in us to love our enemies. It's hard enough to love those who are good to us, so I don't have anything left for the person who hates me. Besides, if I love my enemy, he will take advantage of my "weakness" and press his advantage against me. I have to protect myself!

It is Jesus who gives us what we need in order to obey his command. He is the source of infinite love because Jesus is God joined to our human nature, and through that union of God and man, Jesus makes the infinite love of God available to his followers. When we draw on the infinite love of God, we never have to worry about running out. There is plenty of love to meet our own needs, the needs of our loved ones, and the needs of our enemies. Is it possible that our enemies might take advantage of our love and do us harm? Yes, that is certainly what happened to Jesus on the cross, and he loved and prayed for those who tortured and killed him. However, three days later, Jesus rose from the dead, and he promises life from death to those who follow him in love.

Therefore, I urge people to cease trying to become godlike by putting others down. Instead, let us put our trust in Jesus and let him lift us to eternal life. Receive his love and let it overflow to others. Do not fear what others might do to you because nothing can separate you from the love of God.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Peter Kreeft Quote #4

"And if we do not see ourselves this way, as desperate cases, we are simply not part of the audience Christ came to save. He did not come to give us an aspirin but an operation."

Peter Kreeft, Christianity for Modern Pagans, p. 185

Monday, March 28, 2016

Peter Kreeft Quote #3

The modern mind was born when [Francis] Bacon trumpeted "man's conquest of nature" as the new summum bonum [highest good]. Nearly everyone hopped on his bandwagon, but not Pascal. Today nearly everyone can plainly see that Pascal was right and Bacon wrong; that man's conquest of nature by science and technology, despite its spectacular success, has not made us happier, has not made us wiser and has not made us holier. It has not even made us more powerful; the individual feels a far greater sense of impotence today than ever before.

Peter Kreeft, Christianity for Modern Pagans, p. 126
I deal with technology and technology professionals in my work, and my observation is that many people are so enamored with the "spectacular success" of technology that they would not see the problems Kreeft is describing in this quote. To such people, I will just point out that our current problems with the environment spring from this idea of the "conquest of nature".

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Happy Easter!

Today we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus. Why is that important to us? It is because it shows us that Jesus Christ has conquered death. He has shown us that human life is more than a few decades on this planet followed by death. God intends for us to live with him eternally, so he became man in Jesus Christ, conquered death on the cross, and rose again as the first of a new humanity that lives forever with God.

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Prince Caspian

 Prince Caspian book cover

WARNING: SPOILER ALERT!

My favorite part of Prince Caspian is Lucy's encounter with Aslan when no one else is able to see him. The four Pevensie children, along with Trumpkin the Dwarf, are journeying through the woods to get to where Prince Caspian and the Old Narnians are besieged by the army of Caspian's uncle Miraz. They come to a river and decide to go downstream when Lucy catches site of Aslan in the opposite direction and knows that he wants them to go that way. No one else sees Aslan, and Lucy can't explain how she knows what he wants them to do. They take a vote on which way to go, and the vote goes against Lucy. However, when they get to the place where that river joins the Great River, they found enemy sentries there and have to turn back and retrace their steps.

They camp that night in the woods. Lucy wakes in the middle of the night and sees Aslan again. He speaks to her and says that there is work for her to do and much time has been lost that day. Lucy tries to blame the others for not believing her, but Aslan won't let her get away with that. "I couldn't have left the others and come up to you alone, how could I?" she says. "Don't look at me like that... oh well, I suppose I could. Yes, and it wouldn't have been alone, I know, not if I was with you." Lucy then asks Aslan what would have happened if she had followed him.

"To know what would have happened, child?" said Aslan. "No. Nobody is ever told that... But anyone can find out what will happen. If you go back to the others now, and wake them up; and tell them you have seen me again; and that you must all get up at once and follow me--what will happen? There is only one way of finding out."

Lucy goes through the difficult task of waking the others and telling them they must leave at once to follow Aslan, but they are still unable to see him so they resist her. She tells them she is going whether anyone else goes with her or not and proceeds to follow Aslan. With lots of grumbling, the rest of them follow her. As they proceed, one by one the rest of the party begin to see Aslan also as he leads them to their destination. They arrive by a path they would have never found by themselves, and they get there just in time to provide critical help.

Although few of us will have a vision from God like Lucy had, anyone who tries to follow Christ will find themselves in a similar situation where obedience to Christ means doing something no one else understands. Being the only one to follow a certain course can provoke negative reactions, including accusations of being difficult and self-righteous. It is very tempting to give up at that point, and we often do. If we do give up, we never know what we missed, but if we follow, we get to see what God will do. If Peter had never stepped out of the boat, he would have never known he could walk on water.

As you seek God, do not judge what you learn by the standards of the world. It may be that God is asking you to take a path that others will not understand.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Peter Kreeft Quote #2

"Science builds skyscrapers, philosophy inspects foundations."

Peter Kreeft, Christianity for Modern Pagans, p. 42

Peter Kreeft Quote #1

"If we seek the truth without realizing how far we are from it, we will be dogmatists. If we realize how far we are from it but do not seek it, we will be skeptics. If we both seek the truth and realize how far we are from it, we will be wise."

Peter Kreeft, Christianity for Modern Pagans, p. 63

Saturday, March 19, 2016

The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe

 Darica Lion

One of the things I'm doing for Lent is instead of listening to the radio in the car, I'm listening to a CD audiobook edition of The Chronicles of Narnia by C. S. Lewis. I was telling an English teacher friend of mine, who actually teaches the books at our school, that I was listening to it, and she asked me which book was my favorite. I had difficulty picking one, so I thought I would write about what I liked about each one.

WARNING: SPOILER ALERT!

These posts are intended for those who have already read the books and would like to reflect on them, so I will be discussing key plot points that will likely be spoilers for those who don't know the story.

I first read The Chronicles when I was in high school. Within the past year, I had converted from atheism to Christianity, and I was eagerly finding out all I could about my new faith. My approach to Christianity had been mostly intellectual, and although I recognized the importance of Jesus as the one who accomplished our salvation, it wasn't until I read about Aslan in the Narnia books that my love for Jesus began to develop.

I know that many people have trouble understanding the idea of having a "personal relationship" with Jesus. The fact is, Jesus is a person, and he wants us to relate to him as a person. He wants our friendship. He wants us to talk to him and tell him our deepest needs. He also wants us to listen to him. For some people, Narnia may be what they need to grow in their friendship with Christ.

The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe (LWW) was not only the first Narnia book written, but it is the foundation on which the others are built. It is unfortunate that there are editions of The Chronicles now that put The Magician's Nephew as the first book because although it portrays events that happened earlier, it is clearly meant to provide a background for a story already known. LWW introduces the Pevensie children, around which the seven books revolve, and it has the central act of redemption that not only saves the life of one of the children, Edmund, but also saves Narnia from the reign of the White Witch. This salvation ushers in the "golden age" of Narnia, where the four children reign as kings and queens in the capital, Cair Paravel, until the time comes when they are returned to our world. This salvation from the White Witch and resulting golden age is referred to in all of the other books.

The central event of LWW is the sacrifice of Aslan at the hands of the White Witch on the stone table, and the resurrection that follows. I think it is a mistake to get too theological about this event. Although it is meant to refer to the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus, there are aspects of Aslan's story that don't line up quite right with the story of Jesus. Rather, the value of this story is how it can help us to contemplate the love of Jesus when we see the love of Aslan portrayed. It is the power of fiction to take us out of our own world and place us in another setting that helps us see the truths of our world in a different light. I had been numb to the image of Jesus on the cross, but when I saw this powerful lion allowing himself to be bound, shaved, and executed, especially when it is portrayed through the eyes of the children who love him, I got a sense of the sorrow of the crucifixion like never before. Then when the girls later find he has come back to life, the joy and triumph I felt continues to be a part of the joy I now feel when I contemplate Jesus' resurrection.

The triumph that is felt in Aslan's resurrection is a mood that permeates the latter half of the book as the witch's power fades, and Spring returns to Narnia. I think Lewis wants us to adopt this triumphant mood in our lives. Although many struggles and trials are ahead, the power of evil is failing, and Jesus is the king of kings.