Tag Archives: Christian

Why “Love the Sinner, Hate the Sin” Doesn’t Work

This post inspired by Beth Woolsely’s article, which I’m sure is much better than mine.

This painting by Heinrich Hofmann is in the public domain..

What makes you who you are?

Is it merely the physical body, the material of which you are made?

Is it your genetic code that makes you “you?”

Is it the information you contain, your thoughts and feelings, which determine your identity?

Are you composed of what you have done?

Are you composed of what you will do?

“Love the sinner, hate the sin,” rests on the premise that we are essentially separable from our actions. That hating your actions has nothing to do with hating you; that loving you in no way implies a love for your actions.

There are some circumstances under which this makes sense. A person who has been forced by circumstance to do something they would rather not be doing, for example, or a person who has developed a habit they would rather not have through addiction or poor teaching.

But in these cases, the person’s action is clearly not in line with their will – the assumption that the person is  better than their action rests on a clear distinction that the person doesn’t want to perform that action.

Can it be argued that we are defined by the actions that we want to take?

Where does this leave an unrepentant “sinner?”

Where does this leave the “sinner” who believes that at least some of what you call “sins” are not, in fact, grievous crimes?

Where does this leave the person in the sexual relationship outside of marriage, or the one whose spiritual practices you consider to themselves be “sins?”

Where is such a person left if you hate their relationship, or their spiritual practice?

If you hate these things, can you truly love them?

Or is the effect of this “love the sinner, hate the sin” truly to allow the hater-of-sins to behave hatefully towards the person, transgressing their personal boundaries, treating them with anger and disgust, and attempting against their will to force a change in their behavior, while still allowing the hater-of-sins to pretend they are not themselves being a horrible person?

Food for thought.

This painting of Joan of Arc by Dante Gabriel Rossetti is in the public domain. Joan said it was God who led her to successfully drive back the invading armies threatening France; she was killed by the Church, depending on who you ask, for blasphemy, witchcraft, or crossdressing, and later venerated as a saint.
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Breaking the Cycle of Recrimination

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“In the name of Jesus and Mohammed, we unify our ranks.” During the first days of the Jasmine Revolution in Egypt, Christians and Muslims turned out en masse to form protective shields around each other’s places of worship amidst fears of violence by extremists.

I’ve been speaking recently to a lot of people who feel that other Americans are out to get them.

“Why should we respect Christianity’s right to exist,” ask some supporters of gay rights, “when they don’t respect our right to exist? Christians told me for years that I was evil or inadequate because I was gay; why should I support Christianity?”

“Why should we respect gay rights supporters,” ask the Christians, “when they don’t respect our right to exist? People who want gay marriage are going around calling all religious people dangerous bigots; why should I support them?”

“Why should we respect white people,” some black people ask, “when they don’t respect us?”

“Why should we respect black people,” some white people ask, “when they don’t respect us?”

Christians still say “Paganism is dangerous, because 1800 years ago pagans executed Christians just for being Christian. That’s proof that paganism is evil.”

Pagans still say “Christianity is dangerous, because hundreds of years ago Christians executed pagans just for being pagan. That’s proof that Christianity is evil.”

Going back through history, we see this cycle again and again. Members of one group perpetrate violence against another; and the other group punishes their group for it for years to come.

It’s time to stop the cycle.

Find a member of the group you most fear, and talk to them. You will find that they are only bent on your destruction insofar as they think you are bent on theirs.

Find a member of the group you most fear, and talk to them. Let’s start now.

Gay Jesus Fish
Some American churches have begun using this symbol to indicate that they are a safe space for gay families.

Why Are We Making Ourselves Miserable?

What is necessary to make a better world?

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Fruggo / CC_1.0

One thing that is almost never talked about – and yet which seems to be a huge problem for developed nations – is whether we are wisely allocating our time to make us happy.

We hear about productivity. More of it is assumed to be a good thing. And yet we rarely talk about how we are measuring productivity. Is it in material goods produced? In money spent?

Are either of those things good reflections of happiness or virtue?

In his 2009 article “Can’t Get There From Here?” Stanley Schmidt points out that as automation has decreased the amount of human labor necessary for survival, instead of giving us more free time to live, love, and pursue happiness and virtue, we have created new, completely unnecessary, work for ourselves.

Consider our standards for social acceptability: material goods, which often don’t actually make their recipients happy, are often viewed in our society as markers of competence and virtue.

For all our talk about saving the planet, if someone doesn’t have a car but rather lobbies for better public transportation, it is often assumed to be due to some essential failing on their part; taking the bus is something that poor people do.

Likewise, take the matter of clothes. A professional worker in America is expected by their peers to spend hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars on clothes each year. This is not merely a luxury or hobby; it is a necessity into which many people are forced to maintain an aura of credibility.

Take the matter of lawn care. Mowed grass is literally about the most useless plant imaginable. It has no nutritional or medicinal value; it does not improve the soil, but rather depletes it. Yet mowed grass, devoid of pesky “weeds” (which nearly all have greater nutritional, medicinal, and ecological value than untouched grass) is what is expected of a well-kept home or business.

Urban farming initiatives – that is, attempts to use one’s property in a highly efficient way to create a sustainable food source – have been discouraged on countless occasions by homeowners’ associations and zoning boards which deemed useful plants to be “unsightly” or assumed that a biologically diverse yard was a sign of neglect.

LouisXIV
Portrait of Louis XIV by Claude Lefèbvre, from which the Versailles; located at the Isaac Delgado Museum of Art, New Orleans at the time of this photograph.

Interestingly, the practice of mowed-grass lawns was begun by Louis XIV of France, the same monarch who was later beheaded by a populace outraged at his practice of intentionally wasting resources while the French underclass literally starved.

Louis XIV is also largely responsible for the modern concept of fashion. Faced with a highly competitive noble court, Louis had the bright idea to set ridiculously high standards for how a nobleperson and their estate must look if they wished to be considered in good social standing; this prevented lesser nobility from amassing sufficient wealth to threaten his power or popularity, by enticing them to constantly spend it on material excesses that were, in fact, utterly useless.

In our modern era, we may not be intentionally forcing each other to spend money in order to keep each other down. But “keeping up with the Joneses” is keeping us all down! Time, money, and space that could be devoted to building healthy, vibrant, sustainable communities is instead being spent on consumption, which is not only bad for the health of our bodies and our planet, but for our lifestyles.

After all, everything we discard unnecessarily is not only an example of material waste; it is an example of wasted time. And time, I think we can all agree, is more precious to us mortal beings than material or money. Somebody had to make everything you throw away.

It speaks to the backwardness of today’s society that we are taught to think of this as a good thing. We are encouraged to buy things we don’t need, that won’t make us happy, because we are told that this creates jobs, which allows somebody else to get paid enough to eat.

This fails to consider the question: if those goods are not necessary to our society, why is it necessary to pay somebody to do them?

If all of our society’s needs are met without employing everyone at 40 hours per week, why in God’s name do we have the expectation that everyone needs to be employed at 40 hours per week?

Why are we struggling to create jobs – things to do that are not necessary, or we would not be struggling to create them – at the same time we’re fretting and bemoaning as a culture the lack of time we have to spend with our families?

The ideas that “jobs = money” is so deeply ingrained that we now largely view it as immoral to get paid – and subsequently enjoy food, shelter, and healthcare – without working.

Which would be less nonsensical if we weren’t openly struggling to come up with enough jobs for people to do at the same time.

Our society does not have a productivity deficit; if anything, it has an excess, spending millions of hours and billions of dollars each year on things that are not actually making us happy. We are told that this excess consumption is good because it creates jobs, without considering the fact that creating unnecessary labor is actually a very bad thing to do.

The obvious question that readers will ask upon reading this post is “how do we get people paid if they are not working?”

There are a few methods to consider.

The immediate problem with the idea of eliminating unnecessary jobs is that this will leave some people completely jobless, while others remain employed at the same gainful economic level. Some entire industries may be phased out or drastically reduced in size if people stop buying things that don’t make them happy.

And yet, isn’t finding a way to distribute time and wealth to maximize everyone’s happiness preferable to upholding the vaguely vindictive principle that “if I have to work to make a living, so should they?”

Isn’t it a more promising prospect to find work for these newly unemployed people to do that actually matters – such as community improvement or learning useful new skills – better for our society as a whole than treating them as useless because they don’t presently fill an existing production niche?

Isn’t it more appealing to reduce the number of hours of labor required of everyone by equally distributing work and resources, rather than creating unnecessary and counterproductive tasks to consume our short lives?

People will say that this smacks of communism, and that communism doesn’t work. However, there are two important caveats to that:

1) There is nothing about this concept that precludes a free market. It may communities to take a less competitive approach to distributing wealth – but making sure that everybody’s eating in a world where farming processes are distributed between the home garden and automated commercial farms run with minimal human labor should not be a large challenge.

Jesus_Livioandronico2013_CC_4.0
Photo by Livioandronico2013 / CC 4.0

2) Communism has only gone badly when it has been enforced over large scale by a government. These remote governing bodies, predictably, failed to anticipate both the needs and abilities of their people (hence causing “from each according to his ability, to each according to his need” to fail miserable.

Historical practicioners of voluntary communism include the disciples of Jesus and Ghandi. Motivated by care for the well-being of people whose needs and abilities they actually knew, these people practiced communism quite successfully until they were eventually forced to integrate into a wider, competitive world.

“Competition” is the name of the vice, here. It is what is making us all miserable. Competition for the best lawn; for the best clothes; for the best paycheck to brag about; for the best car.

Competition for things which are probably the true passion of only a tiny percentage of the population; and which for the rest of us represent burdens on our time, energy, money, bodies, and planet.

Some top economists are recommending a solution to the problem that sounds downright blasphemous to our deeply ingrained “work = wealth = virtue” sensibility. Their suggestion? A government-enforced maximum work week of 20 hours.

The logic is surprisingly straightforward: in a world where we suffer simultaneously from some people lacking any employment at all and others working so many hours they do not see their families, limiting the amount of work any one person can do will force a redistribution of labor and pay.

A mandatory 20-hour work week would also fundamentally change the bargaining scene when it comes to wages; every worker would have to reckon for wages they could survive on at 20 hours/week, and employers would have to expect to pay them.

We might also see a “reverse inflation” (since inflation is largely a result of competition for goods and services among consumers) whereby the price of everything is forced to drop according to what people can afford.

Of course, as with the endeavor of raising workers’ wages to increase the health of your business, enforcing a mandatory work week cap would likely not be successful by itself. As with the restaurants who drastically reduce workers’ pay and then see profits rise, other initiatives would also be necessary to help workers, consumers, and employers make the best use of their resources.

But perhaps such measures could work towards the demise of Louis XIV’s influence in our culture. A mandated shorter work week could, at least temporarily, substantially reduce pressure to appear rich through wasting unnecessary resources.

What do you think?

Bad Company Part I: Libertarians vs. Socialists

In the vein of common goals, Dr. Scott Rodin has written a wonderful article about a conservative, evangelical Republican’s take on why we must address climate change now.

His post is very insightful – getting to the root of why people, myself included, often have negative knee-jerk reactions to ideas that the should endorse.

Rodin speaks about the problem of “us vs. them” and the extreme power of subconscious associations.

As a conservative evangelical Republican, for many years he laughed at environmentalism because he associated it with people who he felt did not share his values. The loudest champions of environmentalism were, after all, big government liberals, atheists, nature-worshippers, and Democrats. He couldn’t possibly espouse a view that they also held – right?

I find myself frequently in this same boat. I’ll find myself reacting with instant disgust or suspicion to an idea solely because of who proposed it; even if it would help to make a better world, if it is proposed by someone who I perceive as somehow different from myself, I am likely to view it in a very negative light.

Let’s look at some of these differences, and how they blind us to our common goals:

Bad Company Part I: Big Government vs. Small Government

One remarkable thing I learned during the era of Occupy Wall Street was how much Libertarians and socialists have in common. When they were on the ground speaking and working side-by-side, they described almost identical visions of the future. Soon, a very happy camaraderie was formed.

Why, then, do these groups react to each other with revilement, disgust, and suspicion?

The idea seems to come down, essentially, to a difference in tactics. Both parties want a world where the individual is free. To socialists, that means that the individual has the resources they need to pursue happiness; to Libertarians, that means that the individual is not weighed down by laws that prevent them from pursuing happiness.

They’re both right.

At the end of the day, their disagreements come down to disagreements over tactics.

Libertarians believe that government, when entrusted with power, will always become corrupt; they advocate individual power and responsibility as the only way to prevent this from happening.

Socialists believe that profit interests, when entrusted with power, will always become corrupt; they advocate social responsibility and governing power as the only way to prevent that from happening.

Why can’t we have both?

Both sides seek to protect the people from those who would curtail their freedom – but they disagree about who is the bigger threat.

So why don’t they come to the table and talk to each other more? Why not compare notes and statistics? Why not find compromises that appease the fears of both?

The answer largely comes down to what Dr. Rodin discussed: the deep-seated psychological problem of “us vs. them.”

There is a certain image of the Libertarian. In the minds of non-Libertarians, Libertarians are most frequently white men, often wealthy, who are afraid of losing their money and power and don’t understand the larger threats to society. In the minds of non-Libertarians, Libertarians are inherently violent and dangerous; they love guns and will find any excuse to be angry at other groups. In the minds of non-Libertarians, Libertarians are delusional; they believe, against all evidence, that poverty stems purely from laziness and that capitalism always produces good results.

To listen to anything a Libertarian says, then, would be to place oneself in bad company.

There is a certain image of the socialist. In the minds of non-socialists, socialists are most frequently young people who are too young to understand how the world really works. Often, they are poor and desire “free handouts,” or wealthy and delusionally self-righteous. In the minds of non-socialists, socialists are inherently dangerous: they talk of violent revolution, and would blindly place power in the hands of a deeply flawed government. In the minds of non-socialists, socialists are delusional: they believe, against all evidence, that government is ethical and wise.

To listen to anything a socialist says, then, would be to place oneself in bad company.

And yet, any socialist or Libertarian will tell you that these stereotypes are far from true.

So why do we give them such power over us?