Thursday, January 15, 2009

The End is Nigh (Maybe)...

My aunt, who teaches overseas and has for most of my life, spent a few years in the states recently. During that time, I had just finished college and was working an entry-level sales job at a local manufacturing company. Because we both had Saturdays off, and because my wife worked, I would go to breakfast every week at her home and she and I would talk about the world and, more often than not, religion. Though she probably didn’t realize it at the time, and to this day may not, our debates shaped and solidified many of my ideas about faith.
I should explain that while she is a born again Christian, I consider myself less religious and more spiritual. That is to say, I believe in Christ as the son of God and I believe in the sacrifice He made for mankind. I don’t, however, believe that this removes all validity from the world’s other faiths. To me, spirituality is about fostering the divine spark in the human soul in order to bring ourselves closer to the peace and infinite wisdom that exists in our most perfect form. Where she and I have so often found ourselves at an impasse, however, is that I don’t believe that religion should ever eclipse faith.
For instance, one morning, she and I sat across the table from one another in the kitchen lit only be the bright new sun, and the discussion turned to the Biblical Rapture. She commented that it would be a beautiful day when Christ came to take those who had been saved to Heaven before the seven years of hell on earth. I just shook my head and sighed, telling her that I wasn’t looking forward to that at all. When she asked why, genuinely puzzled, I told her that if Christ came to me tomorrow and said that the end had come, I would have to tell Him, with a heavier heart than I’ve ever had, thank you, but I would see Him when he returned, were I fortunate enough to survive the dark times ahead.
My aunt was appalled. First, she told me that I couldn’t say no in His presence. It wouldn’t even occur to me. I told her that, no, it didn’t work that way. We are, first and foremost, creatures of free will. Then she responded by telling me that it would be terrible here and that she would be too afraid to stay. I knew that it would be the most horrifying experience of my life, but that was the reason I couldn’t leave. So many would be left behind, suffering, and had I reached a point where I was worthy of being taken to Heaven, I could not find it in myself to leave them alone were there any possibility that I could do something to alleviate that misery even the slightest. It is, after all, what Christ would have done.
I look around at our world, and at the current fervor building in the Christian community for the coming of the end times, and it saddens me. By accepting these things as inevitable, this poverty, famine, violence and the unrepentant corruption, greed and fear which is edging us ever forward, we wash our hands of any responsibility for them. We are the hands of God in this world. It was entrusted to us as caretakers and we have a responsibility to it and to one another. The end times may well be upon us, but it is not for us to stand idly by and allow it to happen.
As a good Christian, when someone asks why God allows children to starve, to be beaten or to die of terrible disease, the answer should not be anything but a simple, “Why do we?” Poverty and starvation exist because we allow it. Disease persists because it is more profitable to treat a disease than to cure it and children die every day because they cannot afford sufficient care because we are unwilling as a society to regulate and pay for an accessible healthcare system. The end, it is written, will come with a whisper. Now is the time to shout, then, to raise our voices and open our arms not only to those who share our views, but to all who need us, regardless of motive. It is, after all, what He would have done.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

1. We need others to believe what we believe because we’re afraid to stand alone with our beliefs.
2. We need to believe that we’re the center of the universe, because otherwise we feel helpless, which we aren’t.
3. If semantics are the only things that you can argue, then you probably need to stop arguing.
4. There will not always be a tomorrow, at least not for us. Just because something beyond our control has always been, does not mean it will always be. So say what you need to say or do what you need to do, because you may not get the chance again.
5. Pay attention to the world around you and the effects your actions will have on others, or else you don’t get to be appalled when someone does something that hurts or inconveniences you without thinking.
6. Complaining about a bad situation doesn’t make it better. If you want to get out, you always have that choice. And suicide is very, very rarely the right choice. See number five.
7. Little things count. They count more than big things, because when you add them all up, you may do one or two truly big things in your life, but you’ll do billions of little things that you may or may not give a second thought.
8. Things will happen that will hurt. A lot. They will change you forever. But there is nothing in the world that you can’t move past, or at the very least learn to live around.
9. People will only have power over you as long as you allow them to do so. This extends from the closest interpersonal relationships to the highest levels of government.
10. A battle worth fighting is worth fighting, even if you know you’ll never completely win the war.
11. Before you go off on someone for something you think they’ve done wrong, take a step back, think about the situation and make sure that the fault really lies with them.
12. Religion is not worth hurting people over. There are no religions or philosophies whose actual doctrines call for the eradication or conversion of everyone else in the world. At the same time, if you haven’t got faith in something more, don’t be a hypocrite and try to tear down someone else’s, even if you don’t agree.
13. Just because you won’t be around to see the effect your actions have on someone else, or on the world as a whole, doesn’t give you the right to ignore it. I’m not saying you need to go out and hug a tree, but remember that if you cut it down and don’t replace it, your grandkids may never know what it was like to sit in the shade and listen to the rustle of the leaves.
14. The only person who can make you feel like less than you are is you.
15. Be aware of your limitations, change them if you can, accept them if you can’t, and don’t be jealous of someone else who doesn’t have them. Their limitations are somewhere else.
16. Help one another when you can, however you can.
17. Things, like experiences, aren’t worth having unless you can share them.
18. Just because you can do something, doesn’t mean you should.
19. Lying to spare someone’s feelings can be easier, but it’s rarely better.
20. It’s not always about you.
21. When you say to someone that you don’t trust other people around them, what you really mean is that you don’t trust them around other people.
22. No one deserves your respect if they’re disrespectful to you. This includes parents. But remember that when you’re a parent, because someday you may not have that respect either.
23. Try not to judge people based solely on hearsay, because a bias is always going to be there, one way or another. And remember that, too, when you’re describing someone else.
24. Don’t listen to society just because it’s the common view. It’s been wrong before, and is probably wrong now.
25. Fear is never a good enough reason, on its own, to make or break a decision.
26. “I don’t know,” is always a valid answer, but never a good enough reason to stop trying to find out.
27. No one is irreparable unless they allow themselves to be. At the same time, you can’t help someone who doesn’t want to be helped.
28. The pursuit of happiness is worthless if you never stop to enjoy the happiness it’s already garnered.
29. Appearances fade. Look deeper.
30. Pain is pain, and no one else’s is any more or less than yours.
31. Sympathy and pity are not the same thing.
32. Forgiveness is probably the hardest and most valuable thing you’ll ever learn to give. And it’s something you should never put off. See rule four.
33. Your pride is never more valuable than someone else’s pain.
34. The only thing that gives you the right to hurt someone is if they’re hurting someone else.
35. Hate is useless.
36. No one has the right to walk all over you, no matter what they’ve done in the past. By the same token, though, you don’t have the right to walk all over anyone else.
37. You’re never a martyr if you declare yourself one.
38. Feeling inferior is no reason to act superior. You’re no better or worse than anyone else.

Friday, August 22, 2008

The Fallacy of Human Nature: Part One

Imagine standing alone on the edge of the ocean at dawn, watching the sunrise over water that expands into what seems like forever, sparkling with a myriad of colors warm and cold. The sand beneath you, still cool, adjusts obligingly as you shift your weight unconsciously from one foot to the other, the gentle morning breeze carrying the salt smell of the seas to you. It feels as though you stand at the edge of a precipice, at the end of the world sailor’s once feared. The waves rise and fall, washing in and out, endlessly, as they have long before you were born and will long after our race is a memory on time.

To some, this image is beautiful, a powerful reminder that we are part of something perfect and balanced and immense. To others, to many, it triggers a deeply ingrained terror at the sudden realization of how small we truly are in comparison to the world, how alone we can feel when not bolstered by the swells of population. There is an old proverb that says we can truly measure the peace in our hearts by standing at the edge of something greater and being thankful for the reminder of our place in the world.

So what is our place in the world? As a species, we have done all we can to convince ourselves that we are the rulers of the world, the top of the food chain. Not only that, but we have taken on the mantle of lordship over all, subjugating what we can and attempting to destroy the rest. Our ancestors would find this idea laughable. A cog, after all, however integral to its function, does not solely drive the machine and, if removed, becomes useless and inert. Frightening as it may be, the machine can go on without us. Our spot at the top is not a permanent position for us any more so than it was for any species that came before.

We are, however, at the top now and we reap the benefits that are our due. The problem, of course, is that we seek to shirk the responsibilities that come along with the rewards. We call ourselves Kings because we are afraid to be what we truly are; Stewards, accountable for the well-being of the world over which we rule. We have lingered in our youth too long, delaying the inevitable to the point of self-destruction. It is time that we grow up.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

The Fallacy of Human Nature: A Rough Thesis

Human Nature is used to justify the atrocities of mankind, yet at the same time its inherent capability for higher reasoning disassociates itself from its surroundings. In order to reap the privileges of civilization and station at the top of the world, humanity must also accept the responsibilities of that stewardship.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

The Fallacy of Human Nature: An Introduction

The Fallacy of Human Nature


Humanity is a strange creature. When we began, we were like all the other inhabitants of the Earth, which is to say that we took a passive role in the eco-system, hunting what we needed, when we needed it, and moving to make sure that there was always food on the table enough for everyone. We found our place in the world and accepted it. After awhile, higher intellect took over and we started to wonder why we had to move around, following the food, when we could simply make the food stay in one place with a few simple structures. Thus was the first major shift in mankind’s development; the agrarian revolution.

Now that we’d settled down, we found a small measure more security than once we had. Because of this, we found more time to develop other aspects of ourselves, as the basic needs were being met. We started to question the world and our place within it. Such is the burden of reason, after all, and mankind was blessed with more of this than any other creature. We were not the strongest, the fiercest, or the most well-suited to our world, but we were, above all others, the most clever.

Over the years, we looked back at who we were before the revolution, when we moved from season to season to suit the whims of nature. In the beginning, we were almost certainly wistful of that freedom. Man is, after all, inherently prone to wander. This is true even today. Think back to the college road trips that seemed like they would go on forever or the excitement of the annual family vacation. But we put that aside in favor of better things.

Then, perhaps because it is the way of children, and we, as a species, were children, we became resentful of the thing we felt we wanted but could no longer have. So we told ourselves how much better off we were now, how hard it was then, and how this made us more than we had been. We used fear to destroy our need for adventure. This, too, is something we continue to do today. When we graduate, we’re expected to relegate the road trips to the realm of fond memory, told that we must buckle down and put such childish things behind us, lest we risk our livelihood, our security.

After awhile, we realized that things were easier if we lived together. By being in easy reach of our neighbors, we could trade, allowing us to specialize in the things we enjoyed doing. We created villages, then towns, then cities, areas of the world claimed by humanity for its sole usage. Nature was pushed to the outskirts or built over as we created homes and markets and factories. It, like the animals before, was put under control. We figured out how to make complex irrigation systems, created tools to do more work with less energy, and the farm as we know it became the foundation of our world.

Specialization and ingenuity led to industry, which not only pushed us further from the natural world, but began to abuse it. We saw ourselves as completely separate now, lords over the lesser creatures. We called the untamed parts of the world dangerous and, again, it came back to fear. We taught our children that civilization was the only safe place, despite the starving masses that were the by-product of a culture built upon the ideals of industry. We began to use our reason, our cleverness, to twist not only the world, but reality to our ends.

Today, in the adolescence of our species, we are, like most adolescents, unsure of our place in the world and torn between what we feel is the truth deep in our bones and what we’re told is the truth by those we’ve always been taught know better. So we wander through our lives, lost to the fact that we’re lost. We have no compass save for a strange echo of who we once were. We’ve spent so much time trying to carve out a place for ourselves in the world that we no longer know who we are as a species. We try desperately to quell that voice inside that whispers that there is more to life than survival.

Thousands of years after we began to whisper to our children that we must be separate, that we must rise higher than the world around us, we continue to do so. Now, however, the world around us tends to be other people, so we try to push ourselves above them, hurting one another out of the ancient fear that we will be left behind, that we will lose our security. The irony, of course, is that if we ceased trying to constantly best our fellow Man and push forward, there would be nothing to fear. In the beginning, we understood that. We worked together, symbiotic rather than the parasites we’ve become, feeding off not only the world, but also now our own species for fear that if we relent, if we stop for even a moment, we will become food for another.

Thus we commit horrible atrocities in the name of countless twisted virtues and philosophies. We allow fear to mutate, to fester and thrive. It becomes anger, hatred, and all the darkest parts of humanity. It tells us that it’s either us or them, and that it can never be both. What’s more, fear has finally reached a point where it has overcome reason. We stand on the brink of disaster, not only of our species, but of our world as a whole.

Where do we go from here? If we are to reach adulthood, as a species, we must use our singular talent, our intellect, for the greater good, rather than the personal good. In order to do so, we must let go of much of what we believe about the world, turn and face our fears, many of which are real now solely as the result of our giving them life. Finally, we must let them go and try to find a place again in the world.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Floridian Faith-based License Plates

Florida state legislation announced this week that it has plans to begin producing vanity license plates featuring a large golden cross in front of a stained glass window with the words, “I Believe,” running across the bottom of the plate. If it does so, it would be the first state to offer an option which features a specific religious faith. This, of course, has many up in arms and will undoubtedly be met with some form of protest, at least, and a slew of anti-defamatory legal action.


As it stands, the state currently offers more than a hundred license plates supporting everything from universities to sports teams to any of the numerous leisure activities for which it is known. To add one more which lets a devout member of a given faith to display that devotion seems a small allowance.

Before taking up arms against this oppressive gesture, or against those opposed to it, however, we must ask ourselves why it is that this is such a hot-button issue, even in its conceptual stages. We are a country built upon notions of freedom of religion and freedom of expression, two ideals which this plate solidly represents. Given that, there is no reason why it should be offensive to anyone. It does not seek to proselytize and if your faith is weak enough that you feel that you will be converted by the image of the symbol of another’s faith, then you ought to spend less time protesting what amounts to a logo and more time figuring out where you lost your way.

Where it does break down, though, is that it calls only for the creation of a Christian plate, rather than a religious line of plates. The country has shown a recent trend of religious intolerance when it comes to governmental processes and procedures, such as a last year’s denial by the military to allow pagan soldiers who were killed in Iraq to have a pentacle on their memorial headstones amongst the crosses and stars of David. Were the Florida government to make this small amendment, all would be well and they would have little solid ground on which to form a protest.

The irony, of course, is that those Christians who would stand up in support of this plate, forming the inevitable counter-protest, are also those most likely to stand against the inclusion of other religions. There is a need amongst humans to belong to something larger than we are. What we have lost sight of, or perhaps what we have never truly understood, is that we do not have to define our unity with the exclusion of others, be it when talking about something as powerful as a chosen faith or as a simple as a license plate.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

When My Child Grows Up...

There was a time when an American parent’s greatest hope for a child was that he, or she, would grow up to become president. As a young man entering the latter part of my twenties, with the prospect of having children of my own edging closer by the day, I wonder if that’s true anymore. Would I want my child to grow up to be the kind of person who is capable of succeeding in the American political system? The fact that I hesitate to say yes, even for a second, raises uncomfortable feelings in my gut as the next major election looms around the corner.

To begin with, I have to look at the attributes I would wish to encourage in my own progeny. Like most parents, or the good ones, at least, I would like my child to be honest, kind, a hard worker who understands the nature of sacrifice and the pride of having done goodness for the sake of the work itself. I would like my child to be intelligent, clever, and wise enough to know the difference.

Ideally, I would like a child who is tolerant not because he fears how society will view him, but because he is self-reflective enough to realize that he carries the prejudices of experience that we all accumulate along the road of life. Most of all, I want a child who is happy and proud of who he is and has been and realizes that it is those things which will make him the person he will be later in life.

When I list out the qualities I would wish to see in my own children, then take a step back and look objectively at his chances for the presidency, I realize that were he to become the man I hope he does, he would never stand a chance of wading through the murky waters of American politics. He would either be torn apart by the media, who ironically seem to distrust anyone on whom they are incapable of finding a shred of dirt, or, and my heart freezes for a moment at this dreadful thought, he would find a bullet in his heart, put there by another victim of our country’s increasingly fatal divisiveness.

Why, then, if these traits are those which we would consider a blessing on our own lives, do we not expect them of our leaders? Why do we, in fact, seem to go out of our way to make certain that they are not present? If a child is truly the reflection of its parents, then a nation’s leaders are the reflection of its people. As we enter an economic recession and the fifth year of a war driven by greed and fueled by fear, why haven’t we stopped bickering with one another long enough to realize that the child birthed by our forefathers more than two hundred years ago is slowly dying.