The Swamp . . .

Truth is a Man

Here’s another “sneak peak” of the autobiographical piece, The Diary of a Despairing . . . I Mean, Aspiring Author, I’m working on.  Last week I posted the forward which can be read here.  I’d love to hear your thoughts!  Please keep in mind this is only the first draft.


The Swamp

My earliest memories are of the swamp.  Viewed through the lens of a child the swamp is at once magical and terrifying; filled with beauty, wonder, darkness and terror.  In this way, swamps are a microcosm of the universe.  For our cosmos is both majestic and frightful—awe inspiring and unnerving.  The swamp is beautiful in its own way, full of unexpected pleasures, yet, also leaves one with a sense of dread.  Like the rest of existence, it is a paradox; an unlikely combination of darkness and light.  It is in this setting, surrounded by thick…

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John Galt vs. Jesus Christ

DSC02076For a shorter read that helped inspire me to write this post, something I’ve been meaning to do, read Joel Miller’s excellent article on the subject.

The Blaze is an extremely conservative online publication, meaning that any time one ventures into the comments (word of advice: Never read the comments on a website), one finds the extreme right of the conservative ideology. Thus, it should be no surprise that a story about a man giving his business to his employees after retiring was met with quite a bit of hostility. The hostility wasn’t necessarily over the action, but the man’s justification for his action. He said that he felt he needed to “give back” to those who had helped him, just as he had done charitable giving his entire life in order to “give back” to society. The idea of “giving back” is what got the commenters rowelled up. After all, the man paid wages to the employees and paid his taxes, what exactly did he “owe” to his employees or to society?

The hostility towards understanding one’s obligation to the other stems, I believe, from Ayn Rand’s filth-ridden ideology philosophy, which has infected permeated the conservative movement. Rand believed that every person existed for themselves, thus altruism and charity were evil. No one owed anyone else anything, we only owe to ourselves. In fact, through the mouth of John Galt, she wrote:

By the grace of reality and the nature of life, man–every man–is an end in himself, he exists for his own sake, and the achievement of his own happiness is his highest moral purpose. (Part 3, Chapter 7)

“Every man is an end in himself and exists for his own sake.” Think about that – if true, all ethics related to the other exists solely for one’s own benefit. In other words, the only reason I don’t murder my competition is because by doing so, it allows someone to murder me. However, if I find myself in a position where I am the strongest and control the means to murder, well then, murder away. In a less extreme example, such as economic distribution, I can do whatever I want to my workers so long as it doesn’t pose a threat to me. They exist for themselves and I exist for myself – the ultimate irony is Rand’s philosophy is that in attempting to insure against people being treated as means, she ensured that all men are treated as means. After all, if I exist for my own sake and my happiness is my highest purpose, then your existence and happiness mean nothing to me. They can be used at my leisure, should I be more powerful than you, to create my own happiness.

Hence, what Mr. Lueken did is the ultimate affront to John Galt because he recognized that not only does he not exist for his own sake, but where he is in life is owed to others. President Obama had the unfortunate experience of giving an extremely poorly-worded speech during his campaign, one where he famously said, “You didn’t build that!” I cringed when I heard that soundbite because I knew every person voting against him would jump on that one part of the speech while ignoring the message. His overall message, however, was still rejected by the extreme right; his message is what Mr. Lueken lived out, namely that where we are in life is in part thanks to people who have helped us along the way. Yes, it takes personal initiative to get where we are (which is why I support private ownership), but no man is autonomous, no man is an island, no man exists within and for himself.

John Galt’s speech, or Rand’s teachings, fall short when applied to actual existence because they go against our very nature. Christianity teaches that all men and women are created in the image of God. Since this image is not physical, it means that certain traits of God are also inherent within us, though to a limited and finite degree. One aspect is that God is Trinitarian, meaning that God is relational. This, too, has been transfered to us. We are relational creatures and cannot live without a relationship. But being relational by nature means that by the very act of existing, we have moral obligations to other people. We no longer exist for ourselves, nor is our happiness our supreme goal. Rather, being in the image of God means we are tied to God, who is love. Thus, our ultimate purpose is to love God, but in order to love God we must also love those who bear His image. In loving those who bear His image, we therefore have obligations to them; we owe them. We treat them as ends rather than means; thus, when our workers help us become rich and we have paid them a small fraction of what we’ve made, we feel a moral obligation to “give back” to them for all their hard work.

It is this idea of “giving back” that irked Rand so much and why she hated Christianity. For one, the woman feigned indifference to charity, willingly compromising and saying that charity was neither a moral duty nor really a virtue. From the same linked article, Rand, talking about Christ, goes on to say:

Now you want me to speak about the cross. What is correct is that I do regard the cross as the symbol of the sacrifice of the ideal to the nonideal. Isn’t that what it does mean? Christ, in terms of the Christian philosophy, is the human ideal. He personifies that which men should strive to emulate. Yet, according to the Christian mythology, he died on the cross not for his own sins but for the sins of the nonideal people. In other words, a man of perfect virtue was sacrificed for men who are vicious and who are expected or supposed to accept that sacrifice. If I were a Christian, nothing could make me more indignant than that: the notion of sacrificing the ideal to the non-ideal, or virtue to vice. And it is in the name of that symbol that men are asked to sacrifice themselves for their inferiors. That is precisely how the symbolism is used. That is torture.

Her understanding of the cross aside, notice what she says. Christ died for the “nonideal.” Thus, those who are ideal are encouraged to sacrifice for the “nonideal.” Even when talking about charity, she argues that charity is acceptable so long as the people we are giving charity to have “earned it” and are “worthy of it.” Now think about that; if you have to earn something then is it really charity? And people say she was a great thinker Certainly, such a contradiction must have been apparent to her.

Where Rand fails – and why no Christian should ever follow her in anything she teaches Christians should use great discernment and realize that one can support the free market without turning to Rand – is that she fails to understand love. Is Christianity about the ideal human coming down and dying for nonideal humans? Yes, she was right on that point. Not only does “Christian philosophy” include the idea that the ideal human died for all the nonideal humans, that’s the central idea. When people try to say that Jesus wasn’t perfect, they’ve supplanted the Gospel with something else, they’ve eradicated Christianity and put up a materialistic pagan version of Christianity. Thus, Ayn Rand was right in her summation of Christianity as the ideal dying for the nonideal; where she’s wrong is when she condemns Christianity for this belief.

Christ taught that the two greatest commandments are to love God with one’s heart, soul, and mind and to love one’s neighbor as one’s self. What is interesting is the connection point between the two; Christ says, “And the second is like it.” In other words, to love one’s neighbor is like loving God, meaning the two are tied together. It is Christ who came to use as both God and man, as the ideal human, to live these commandments perfectly. He did so not to laud Himself over us, but to take we who are nonideal and to make us ideal. He deified human nature so that we could be as He is. Christ dying for us, for being with the lowly and downtrodden may be a scandal for John Galt, but it in line with who we are as humans.

We can try to live the philosophy of John Galt, but in the end we will end up morally bankrupt and in danger of Hell. While Rand’s ideas may provide temporary riches, they do not offer eternal riches; selfishness and greed ruin everything they touch, they are an acid to all that is good. We are created in the image of God. Thus, we do not exist for ourselves or for our happiness. We exist for God and therefore exist for each other. We “give back,” because even if we do not owe anything to those we give back to, we owe everything to God.


Transforming Our Culture From the Bottom Up (Part Two)

In my last post I critiqued what I call ‘Top-Down’ approaches to cultural transformation.  Such approaches can be summed up in one phrase: political activism.  Any attempt to transform the culture through legislation and political cajoling–such as court battles, petitions, electing certain individuals into office, etc–will ultimately be unsuccessful because at the heart of every culture is . . . the human heart.  Thus, true cultural transformation, I argued, could only come from the bottom up.  Because, when individuals are transformed, the culture will be too.

In light of this reasoning, I challenged Evangelical Christians to stop funneling the majority of their time, energy, and money into futile ‘Top-Down‘ methods and to start focusing on making true disciples of Jesus Christ.

This is not to say we should be totally silent in the public square or that Christians should not be involved in politics at all.  It is especially not to say Christians should stop utilizing political approaches when it comes to issues regarding the sanctity of human life or social justice.  Certainly, we must do everything within our power to stop the daily slaughter of innocent children through abortion or to put an end to human sex trafficking.  These issues, almost by necessity, will include political and legal interaction.

It is to say, however, that a ‘total’  or ‘big picture’ approach to cultural transformation should primarily focus on discipleship and not political activism.

The idea here is simple: the more Churches invest time and energy cultivating virtue among their parishioners, engendering and strengthening the faith of their children, helping people grow in the knowledge and understanding of God, engaging in acts of service, and inviting the Holy Spirit to transform the hearts of the lonely and the lost through both the preaching and daily living of the word of God, the more our culture will be renewed.  As individual lives are transformed, individual people will bring their faith to bear on important decisions at the office, or in the laboratory, or at the film studio, or on election day, or walking in the park . . .

After all, true disciples are called to live out their faith, to bear good fruit, in whatever circumstance they find themselves in: whether they are a doctor, a lawyer, an educator, an artist, a filmmaker, a shoemaker, a scientist, a soldier, a plumber, a scrap metal worker, or even homeless.  Whether slave or free or Jew or Gentile, we are all called to view our world through the truth of God’s Word.  We are all called to good works–as St. James states, “faith without works is dead.”  The more we behave like disciples, and the more disciples we make, the greater long term impact we will have on our culture and, indeed, the world.

The Real Battle for Marriage

The real battle for marriage is not taking place in the political arena.  It’s not being waged on the street corner with ‘colorful’ signs and bull-horns.  It’s not occurring at your favorite chicken restaurant  with a side of waffle fries.  The real battle for marriage is being waged on an entirely different front: our homes.

With every broken promise and broken heart, every adulterous wife and lecherous  husband, every abusive or neglectful parent, every struggling single mom, every distant and removed father, every argument or divorce . . . there you will find the real battle for marriage taking place.  Have you ever asked yourself why it is that the majority of young people are rejecting the traditional definition of marriage?  Certainly, there are many factors which are contributing to this trend–one of them being the overarching influence of Secular Humanistic, Nihilistic, thinking in our universities and in the popular media–but I’d like to focus on one factor which is often downplayed by Evangelicals.  The factor to which I refer is the uncomfortable reality that there are very few examples of stable, long-lasting, healthy, heterosexual, marriages for young people to look up to.

It’s one thing to talk about how the ‘traditional’ conception of marriage is of God’s design and will lead to true intimacy, fulfillment, and joy.  It’s quite another thing to demonstrate the truth of this proposition.  Conservative Evangelical Christians, along with the rest of the population, have pretty much failed to model the very institution they claim to be the foundation of society (just take one look at the average divorce rate among Evangelical Christians).

Hence, while Evangelicals scream for traditional marriage, young people often go most of their lives without ever seeing a good example of a traditional marriage.  Whether it is logical or not, when the people ardently in favor of a position fail to exemplify their own ideals, it becomes harder to see why their position is important or even preferable.  Evangelicals are like the mother who punishes her children for saying a curse word right after calling the driver who just cut her off on the highway an “F-ing idiot!”  In light of such hypocrisy, we shouldn’t be surprised when we discover young people fail to see why a seemingly ‘rigid, restrictive, outdated, ineffective, outmoded, socially contrived institution’ like traditional marriage is desirable.

Frankly, I’m tired of hearing Christians scream, and watching them hold signs, and attend rallies, and sign petitions in order to defend traditional marriage.  When are we going to start taking marriage and the family seriously?  When are we going to practice what we so ardently preach?  Where are the godly men, unwaveringly committed to one woman, actively engaged with their children, giving of themselves to their families as Christ gives of Himself to the Church?  Where are the godly women, remaining true to their husbands, in the good times and the bad, pouring their hearts and souls  into their marriages and into their children?

Instead of waging a hopeless ‘culture war‘ built around the naive idea that we can transform our culture from the top down, I have another idea.  Why don’t we start demonstrating traditional marriage?  Why don’t we spend as much, if not more, energy building, cultivating and nurturing successful, loving marriages so that the world might see God’s design in action?  After all, actions speak louder than words.