Thursday, October 28, 2010

This I Believe

When I first started this project, my then-agent wanted me to write Southern Cross as a series of 50 short chapters, each beginning with the words "I believe..."
Unauthorized Product Placement
Unauthorized Product Placement
Every chapter would reveal some inspirational, enlightening truth, of the sort known only to 29-year-old freelance writers with time on their hands. The interviews and anecdotes that followed would supply the type of tidy, accessible spiritual answers that could be readily consumed on the treadmill at the gym, or while ingesting a single serving of strawberry yogurt.

There's nothing wrong with accessibility, but that approach didn't really appeal to me -- I was much more interested in the views and ideas of the people I was interviewing than in rehashing my own. Since then, I have had a number of readers of the manuscript ask why I didn't share more of my own beliefs in the text. It's a topic I've blogged about in the past, and I talk about it some in the book's epilogue. I will say this much about my own beliefs:
  • I believe that God is conscious and compassionate.
  • I believe that Christianity is a system of social and psychological control.
I also believe that if anybody starts telling you, "God wants you to do this," or "God wants you to do that," you should probably run away as fast as possible.

This much I believe, unambigously.


Anonymous said...

Your comment about the Christan church controlling human behavior reminds me of 1 Corinthians, Chapter 5. I know you were in a bible study of that book last year so you may be able to shed light on an apparent inconsistency with Jesus' teaching, not to judge others! Paul's advice in this chapter also seems contrary to Jesus practice of interacting with sinners (e.g. a presumably corrupt tax collector & the immoral woman at the well). Paul says it is OK to judge fellow church memebers, just not outsiders, but is that distinction anywhere in Jesus' teaching?? [In many cases one would lack sufficient information to really know if one's fellow church member is swindlng, lying etc.] Maybe the definition of the term "judge" is key. Is Paul simply condoning concerned comments/discussions with those who clearly seems to be straying, whereas Jesus is warning against a more accusatory "judgment" of a person's essence?

It seems Paul also advises Christian communities to shun sinners. Maybe Paul does not advise truly shunning, just not including well-known sinners in fledgling churches' communion meals?

Has this epistle helped foster a judgemental attitude among some modern Christian churches?

Tess said...

Modern Christian churches? Judgmental?

You don't say!

Sarcasm aside, I think the bigger question is how you define sin. Jesus comes down far harder on the pillars of society in his time than on its outcasts -- why would we think today would be any different?

Anonymous said...

Thanks for posting & responding. I happen have an essay "ready to go" exactly on the topic of "how you define sin" in a non-judgemental, non legalistic way. I wrote it in July 2009, but can't for the life of me remember why! Had totally forgotten it existed. Anyway, please feel free to excerpt as it's rather on the long side. Title is from the very short group confession in episcopal liturgy.


How does it happen that people sometimes do those things that they ought not to do and do not do those things that they ought to do? Rather than labeling people simplistically as sinful or good, I think it is helpful to think about motives and causes, and what can help in different circumstances. Fear and anxiety may be forces that inhibit someone from taking a challenging, but important step. Or the person may not understand that the step is important in the first place. A criminal act may be done with conscious malice, distorted rationalization, or as an essentially involuntary result of addicted cravings.

Sometimes people do not understand that what they are doing is not “right.” They may think actions will not matter one way or the other, when in fact harm will ensue. Or they may have set unwise priorities. Or they may have had little moral schooling. One can pray that an individual will have the wisdom to know the difference between “right” and “wrong” and how to prioritize. One can teach children to care about and think about long-term effects of one’s actions on others (the Golden Rule), the larger society, and the environment.

Sometimes they are constrained by lack of energy, fear, anxiety, depression, or sickness. They may fail to act when they should, or behave unkindly, unsupportively to others. Though they typically admit this to themselves, they often rationalize as well. One can pray for strength, health, good cheer, energy, for these people – the peace of the Holy Spirit.

Sometimes they are lured into “wrong” actions by physiological desires, such as addiction to drugs or sexual desire, and that part of the brain temporarily co-opts one’s rationality and morality. Such a person often feels great remorse afterwards. One can pray to avoid getting into situations in the first place that can lead to these uncontrollable drives, and for strength to resist them.

Sometimes people blatantly rationalize, lie to themselves, e.g. that one really has a right to embezzle money because one has done so much for the company; or that one’s job calls for keeping order, and therefore one cannot unlock the door of a burning church (Hanna in The Reader). They may have been taught basic morals and have an underlying loving nature, but are wearing moral blinders in a particular instance. Dialogue and prayers to increase moral awareness may be helpful here.

Sometimes people deliberately choose to do the wrong thing even though they know what society/religious teachings deem right and wrong, but they choose to not to do the right thing, out of self indulgence or malice with forethought. These people are a danger to society. However, positive, loving interactions may soften the heart of an antisocial person.