Torturing the Image of God: Reflections on Christmas, Our Current Problems, and G.K. Chesterton


IMG_0039Amidst all the glitz and glimmer of Christmas we sometimes ignore that this is one of the most important holidays on the Christian calendar. Christmas marks the celebration of the birth of God into this world, the moment when in order to redeem a fallen creation, God the Son took on our flesh in order to redeem it. While made in the image of God, we ran away from this image and denied our purpose, thus losing all purpose in living. The Incarnation serves to remedy our flaw and to bring us back to Christ. Christ came into the world to redeem it from the ills visited upon it by us, he came to save us from ourselves.

It is not without the greatest irony that as we are here during Advent, the time before Christmas, that our televisions are full of stories that run contrary to “peace on earth and goodwill toward men.” We’re told stories of how our leaders authorized torture of suspected terrorists, some of whom turned out to be innocent. We see multiple protests against the police brutality in Ferguson, New York, Cleveland, and other places. We saw Congress pass a spending bill that all but showed that they no longer regulate Wall Street, but instead are regulated by Wall Street, creating a scenario that will eventually lead our economy into another collapse. This Advent, we’ve seen stories, with increasing frequency, that show we’re becoming more depraved, more individualistic, and more of what we don’t want to be. Is this not what Christ came to stop?

We live in a fallen world, one in which difficult decisions must be made and sometimes difficult actions must be taken. But does this mean we must sacrifice our souls in order to save our lives? Must we torture someone for information, especially when this information doesn’t really do anything? Must we, like former vice president Dick Cheney, be so callously evil in our apathy towards the torturing of innocent people? While torture goes against human nature and one need not be a Christian to oppose torture, why does it seem that so many Christians embraced the CIA torture with glee? Why is it that, like Cheney, we can say that “real torture was 9/11,” as though only Americans can suffer torture? How can Christians, who ought to be humanists because God both created humans and became a human, celebrate the destruction of their fellow image bearers?

Or what do we do with the constant berating of the late Michael Brown. We’re told that it couldn’t be a case of him making a bad decision in robbing a store, or allegedly a bad decision in going after Darren Wilson. No. He must be a “thug,” he must be evil incarnate, and no matter what, we must be better off that he is dead. We must mock his death, celebrate his eradication, and not care that the image was destroyed. The same story runs for Eric Garner, John Crawford, Tamir Rice, or the many others innocent victims (especially black males) of police brutality. Or what of those who end up on my end of the spectrum, who look upon the police with suspicion in these instances? Where is our compassion for the multitude of good police, the ones who do their jobs and sometimes lose their lives in service to their community? Where is the concern for the image of God in such discussions?

Christianity is a rough religion, it is not easy, and it’s quite impossible to actually follow it with any hope of consistency. To quote from G.K. Chesterton:

“My point is that the world did not tire of the church’s ideal, but of its reality. Monasteries were impugned not for the chastity of monks, but for the unchastity of monks. Christianity was unpopular not because of the humility, but of the arrogance of Christians. Certainly, if the church failed it was largely through the churchmen…But I have only taken this as the first and most evident case of the general truth: that the great ideals of the past failed not by being outlived, but by not being lived enough…The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult; and left untried.” (from What’s Wrong With the World)

In the entire chapter Chesterton raises the point of how ideals are important, not because we hope to achieve them, but because we can hope to strive for them. We can hope to make the world better. A conservative looks to the past and says, “We must get back to that golden age.” A liberal looks to a utopia and says, “We must make this occur.” But a realistic idealist looks to the ideal and says, “We must strive towards this, away from the past which did not achieve the ideal, but away from a future in which we think we have obtained the ideal.” Christianity presents an ideal that, at least this side of eternity, will never be obtained.  Continue reading

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Two Issues, One Problem


In my morning reading of the news, I’ve come across two major issues that simply show one giant problem in America. The first is the Supreme Court and the Affordable Healthcare Act. The second is the modern-day lynch mobs being formed to hunt down Zimmerman for the murder of Trayvon Martin. Both issues show one common problem; we’re unwilling to think through complex issues, but instead would much rather jump to conclusions.

The Affordable Healthcare Act, while noble in its intentions, is rightfully being picked apart in questioning by the Supreme Court. The idea that the government can force anyone to buy anything is simply absurd (before people point to car insurance, keep in mind you only have to purchase car insurance if you buy a car; the government doesn’t force us to buy anything as a condition of simply existing). At the same time liberals are bemoaning and attempting to defend what is really an absurd law, conservatives are attempting to defend what is really an absurd system. When we ask for the conservative solution, while some have a more nuanced approach, at the end of the day it looks at those who can’t afford health insurance and says, “Too bad for you.” Liberals think the system is broke and needs to be fixed, but it’s not. The system works fine, it’s just too expensive. Conservatives think the system works completely fine and just needs a few tweaks. The system doesn’t work fine, as there are multiple people who can’t partake in our system.

This issue points to the truth of a G.K. Chesterton saying that, “The business of Progressives is to go on making mistakes. The business of the Conservatives is to prevent the mistakes from being corrected.” The reality is that our current system is simply unaffordable (even by people who have insurance) and highly confusing for those with insurance (I’ve received 7 different “final bills” for a recent hospital trip; even the billing department doesn’t know which one I actually owe). In other words, we do need a solution, but one that doesn’t force the poorest Americans to pay for something that is 1/10 their income. We need to keep our high standards of healthcare, meaning it’ll remain expensive, but find a way to streamline things to try to make it cheaper, or give basic coverage to those who can’t afford healthcare (and reward employees for giving advanced healthcare to their employees, rather than punishing them for not doing so).

However, I don’t expect people to think on this issue. I expect people to react emotionally or along party lines – but we forget that doing so can often have dire consequences. Just ask Spike Lee. He recently tweeted the address of Zimmerman (the man who killed Trayvon Martin) implying, “This is where the guy lives, get him.” Problem is it’s not where he lives; it’s the address of someone completely unrelated.

Now as readers will observe, I certainly believe that Zimmerman was in the wrong and most likely deserves to be charged with manslaughter.  But the lynch mobs that are popping up are without excuse and an overreaction to an injustice. Offering “dead or alive” wanted pictures, calling for the death of Zimmerman, putting bounties on his head; these are not the actions of a civilized nation. Crime happens. Racism happens. But we only make it worse when we resort to vigilante “justice.”

Both of these issues highlight the biggest problem in America, which is that we refuse to think through issues. Some might say that I’m guilty of this too by declaring what Zimmerman did to be a murder, but I would argue that when one follows an individual at night, essentially stalking the person, and the person attacks you, you have instigated the attack. I came to this conclusion by thinking through the circumstance, regardless of the race or character of the individuals involved; if Person A stalks Person B and Person B attacks Person A for it, most people would view Person B as being justified. Person A may kill Person B, but this becomes manslaughter, not self-defense simply because Person A’s actions instigated the whole situation. In fact, in most circumstances people would agree with this. I tend to think that if a black man was stalking a white man and the roles were reversed, suddenly this would be about a black man murdering a white man. However, in this same scenario, the New Black Panther party would be defending the black man while those who are currently defending Zimmerman would be defending the white victim. Why is this? Because we’d rather go with gut reactions and rely on our biases than to think through the issue.

Why is it that America is becoming more and more polarized on issues of race and politics? It’s because we’ve found our comfort zone in terms of thinking and we refuse to leave it. We’ll watch Fox News and only Fox News. We’ll read Drudge, Brietbart, or some other conservative outlet. We’ll listen to Limbaugh and Hannity and no one else (except other conservatives). Or, alternatively, we’ll watch MSNBC and only MSNBC. We’ll read Huffington Post or Think Progress or the Daily Kos, or some other liberal outlet. We’ll listen to Maddow and no one else (except other liberals). In essence, we have created intellectual ghettos for ourselves, refusing to interact with other ideas beyond saying, “You’re an idiot and you’re wrong.”

The true sign of being open-minded is the willingness to evaluate ideas. By “evaluate” I don’t mean begin with our beliefs and work from there, because sometimes our beliefs can taint our viewpoint. We may approach politics through a libertarian or Communistic ideal, thus tainting any opinion that doesn’t align itself with our ideal. We may approach race issues as “white is right” or “black power,” but such beliefs merely taint other opinions. In those cases, we truly refuse to see how the other person sees the issue. This doesn’t mean we will necessarily agree with the person’s view, but it means we can understand it and learn from it.

Perhaps we should have a new standard in our discourse. We should only be allowed to vocalize our disagreement with someone once we can provide an explanation for the belief we’re criticizing, and the explanation is something the supporters of the idea agree is an adequate explanation. This means abandoning ideals and dealing with the fact that when it comes to practical issues, there are multiple ways to solve a problem. Instead of being high on attitude, we could for once attempt to be high on reason.

Or you could just say I’m an idiot and go back to your intellectual ghetto.

 

75 Years Ago Today…


The great Christian writer and thinker G.K. Chesterton passed away. Chesterton is easily one of the most quotable authors of the 20th century, possibly of all time. He was simply a master of the English language, but his quick wit and ability to see through hype also aided him in his writing endeavors.

I find it appropriate that on the 75th anniversary of the passing of Chesterton that I came across something Al Mohler wrote concerning Kirby Godsey. Some have decried Mohler’s post as excessive and mean-spirited. Mohler points out that Godsey has denied Christ’s divine nature, denied that we should worship Christ, and rejected the authority of Scripture. I have yet to read Godsey’s book, so I will withhold all judgment on Godsey’s work.

I will say, however, that if Mohler is telling the truth (and we have no reason to believe he’s lying, seeing as how others have taken the same opinion of Godsey’s work) then Mohler is correct. Mohler is not being bigoted in his response, rather he is drawing a line in the sand, or rather recognizing a line in the sand that has been drawn, and pointing out that crossing the line means that one had deviated from historical Christianity. In fact, pointing out such a line is what Chesterton did for most of his adult life.

The problem that Mohler points out is the same problem that Chesterton dealt with, namely that when we have no foundation then we have nothing. If Christianity is simply a giant collection of people who want to see social change in the world and take care of the poor, but a “Bring Your Own Doctrines” policy, then Christianity will die. We’ve seen this in mainline denominations and we’re seeing it now in many evangelical denominations (even conservative ones). In Christianity, our central truths are found in a Person, so when we deny the Person or attempt to deny the idea of central truths, we lose everything that makes Christianity unique. When we bow to the world and abandon our doctrines and abandon the mystery of Christianity, we cease to follow what was set forth by God. When we bow to the world and offer flashy churches that are meant to fit a certain niche, we cease to follow what was set forth by God.

Today, Chesterton is more relevant than he was 75 years ago or even 100 years ago during the primacy of his writing. We have many Christians who are abandoning the central tenets of Christianity with the claim, “Well it’s okay to ask questions, right?” But they go further than asking questions. It would seem that Godsey has gone further than asking questions and Mohler has called him on the carpet for this. It is okay to ask questions, it is okay to doubt, but it is never okay to deny. Some might declare this as arrogant, but I would ask them why it’s okay to question my creed, but not the creed of others. Or, as Chesterton once wrote, “These are the days when the Christian is expected to praise every creed except his own.”

So in remembering the passing of Chesterton 75 years ago, I also applaud Al Mohler for standing on the authority of Scripture and Christian tradition in upholding one of the most central doctrines of Christianity (the Incarnation). We should never abandon orthodoxy, but pursue it and get lost in it.