Sunday, September 28, 2014

Do we owe God 10%?

Do we owe Him anything? Everything?

Many churches insist that giving God the 10% is mandatory. Tithing. Giving 10% of your income to the church, to be disbursed (or kept) by the church leaders as they see fit.

Of course the church leaders would like you to believe that you're actually giving that 10% to God. I've been in churches where pastors have thundered, 'If you're not tithing, you're ROBBING GOD!' 'Hmm,' I'd think. 'God could use a better security system if somebody like me can rob him.'  One pastor yelled, "That's God's money!" Okay, pal. If you say so.

But this post isn't about tithing per se. It's about the idea of do we owe God? Forget about percentages. Just the general notion—Do we owe God?

I'll admit I used to think we did. Admittedly, growing up I'd heard a lot of things in church about how bad I was, a sinner, and all that, so I suppose it wasn't surprising that I felt I was somehow in God's debt. He created me. He made the earth. Etc. etc. etc.

But through the years my eyes must've been opened wider because the owing God thing seemed to lose its grip on me. Life was hard. It was a struggle to live, to know who I was, to find my way. People I cared about died. I got sick. On and on and on it went and I'd think, "I owe God for this?"

We are born without our knowledge and we die against our will. Seems to me given these circumstances, if anything, God owes us.

The element of choice seems paramount in coming to this conclusion. If God brought us into the world, He owes us.

Perhaps it's not the best analogy, but if I decide to get a puppy and take it into my house, does that puppy owe me? No, I decided I wanted the puppy. I owe him.

And so it is with God and us.

The next logical question would be, 'If God owes us, how much does He owe us?'

I don't know. What do you think?

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Does God play favorites?

It's the classic example. Near the very end of a tie baseball game, the batter praying for a hit, the pitcher praying for a strike-out. Whose prayer does God answer? It seems silly even as I write this. But that sort of stuff happens all the time.

Or what about people groups feeling like they're 'God's people' or 'chosen' or 'elect'? Has God somehow set these people aside for preferential treatment and favor?

Or take a more commonplace example. The person born to wealthy, beautiful, intelligent parents, and who is accordingly set for a life of ease and pleasure.

And then there's the flipside. Someone  born into poverty to dumb parents who perhaps sexually or physically abuse the kid. The kid's maybe fat or has a limp or is ugly.

Is God making those decisions? Is he setting some up for a life of ease and others for a life of suffering?

No one can completely know the answers to these questions, but I think it unlikely that God is pulling all these strings. The way I look at it, he wouldn't be much of a God if he did.

Same goes for the 'chosen' or 'elect.' I'm sure it's comforting to think that way, but what kind of God would show such unmerited favoritism. Again, he wouldn't be much of a God if he did.

We play favorites. God doesn't.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Are believers better than atheists?

I think most people would say believers are better than atheists. There's something comforting about a person who believes in God. It's certainly a must for all presidential candidates. But are believers better people than atheists?

This is where I think most believers would say 'yes' and most atheists would say 'no.' Human nature really. Everyone thinks they're a good person—believer or atheist.

But does believing in God set a person on some kind of higher, better, moral plane? Doesn't believing give them a higher moral authority than atheists since they have the connection with the Divine? And doesn't that Divine connection transform them into better people, if only by osmosis?

Or maybe atheists are better. They see the world for what it is. Eyes wide open. Not following the comforting myths and fairy tales of belief.

Atheists often look at believers as deluded, as people looking to get something for nothing, people with blinders on to the reality of the world.

Believers often see atheists as cold and hard-hearted.

So who's right? Who's better?

To me, there's no easy answer but I know one thing—the most important thing is what people do. Good intentions are fine. A wonderful, perhaps even mystical, connection with God is great. A clear-headed open-minded rationalism is fantastic. But what are those people doing? That's the question.

And you'd be surprised sometimes by who does what.

I've seen "holy" people do some amazingly heartless things, and I've seen atheists do some amazingly caring things. But...I have also seen holy people do some amazingly caring things and atheists do some amazingly heartless things.

So where does that leave us? It leaves us with the truism—people are what people do.

Like the guy who beats his wife. The wife says, "Oh, it's terrible what my husband's doing but I know he really loves me."

No. He doesn't love you. People who love someone don't beat them.

And that logic goes across the board. It applies to everyone.

Want to know what someone's like? Watch not what they say, think, intend, or promise. Watch what they do.

So who's better, believers or atheists?

Neither. Whoever is better is whoever is doing better things.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Is there no hope for an end to the violence?

2014. The world stands at the apex of stunning technological achievement. And yet, the world is more brutal and out of control than ever. Wars are everywhere. Groups hating groups. Impossible hatreds. Revenge leading to counter revenge. The killing never stops and worse yet, it looks like the killing will never stop.

It's scary, yes. It's infuriating. The stupidity of it all. It's deeply saddening that people on this beautiful planet of ours are killing each other when it doesn't need to be.

There is a first step that no one seems willing to take. The step that says, 'You have hurt me or mine and although you deserve payback I will not retaliate.' Not like that's an easy step to take. I do not say it glibly. But that is the step that needs to be taken.

Will it?

I don't think so.

Look at the entire world. Squirrels fight. Monkeys form "armies" just for killing rival tribes. Geese squawking and threatening other geese. The world is violent. The world will continue to be violent.

And yet there's hope nonetheless. Because despite all the violence, there will still be love in the world. Despite all the killing. Despite all the hatred. Despite all the revenge and brutality. Despite all of that, there will be some people who refuse to let their love die. There will be some more radical in their belief in love, than those are radical in their pursuit of hatred.

The power of love will not die. No one can kill it.

Violence, killing and brutality have existed in every generation since man first drew breath. Do not let those who perpetrate it kill your soul. Your love is the one thing they can not touch. It is more powerful than they are and they know it.

So fight to keep your love alive. For love is truly the one thing worth fighting for.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Is God sending the solar storm? (Does He send natural disasters?)

Many people think God sends natural disasters. Most recently it was talked about with hurricane Katrina that struck the New Orleans area with a vengeance. The logic of those who felt the storm was God sent said that the inhabitants of New Orleans and their visitors were being judged for their raunchy, sexually permissive lifestyle. Perhaps the Biblical justification for such thinking would be the story of Sodom and Gomorrah. God didn't like what they were doing there so He wiped them out.

Thankfully, the solar storm is not that devastating, but the question lingers—does God cause natural disasters?

In the Bible again, it says that 'God sends the rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.' (Gospel of Matthew)

Hmm. Pretty ambiguous. And interesting. In this sense rain is referred to as a blessing. Which makes me wonder about when there's too much rain, and it becomes a flood that is a natural disaster. So how does that play out? God wields nature to bless or punish?

That would be my take on the Bible's interpretation.

But I can't see things working out that way in reality. On December 26, 2004, a 9.3 magnitude (the third largest earthquake ever recorded on a seismograph) earthquake rocked the Indian Ocean floor spawning a massive tsunami that killed over 230,000 people, mostly poor villagers and fishermen from third world countries.

So okay, God had a lot against the sleazy people in New Orleans and sent Katrina. Did He have even more against the poor villagers and fisherman of Indonesia and Thailand and other countries devastated by the tsunami?

And if God sent the tsunami, what about the sweep of it? 230,000 people! Were they all bad?

No. God doesn't send natural disasters. That sort of thinking's crazy.

Image used in this blogpost is CC-BY-SA-2.0

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Is religion (not spirituality) the problem in the world today?

Jews vs. Muslims. Catholics vs. Protestants. Buddhists vs. Muslims. Mormons vs. Evangelicals. The list is endless. And the religious are supposed to be the good guys. The ones who are supposed to help us all get along. Where did everything go so wrong?


Religious fundamentalism is at the heart of the problem. Sure, race, culture, skin color, language, anything that makes people groups seem different from one another adds to the problem. Politics adds to it, too, but the biggest offender by far is fundamentalism.

For fundamentalism has no give. With fundamentalism, and its attendant sacred text, there is absolutely no wiggle room, no inlet for accommodation. With fundamentalism it stops becoming people dealing with people and becomes my sacred book vs. your sacred book. My way or the highway.

Fundamentalism has tremendous allures. Believe in this sacred book and all doubt and uncertainty as to how to live your life vanishes. Believe in this book and join countless millions who believe the same thing. People who will welcome you, reinforce your faith, give you social connection and perhaps even economic benefit.

But with fundamentalism comes death-grip rigidity. When a problem comes up, your only option is to consult your sacred text. That's how you deal with it—there's no debate, no questioning, no changing your response based on circumstances, based on the welfare of your fellow human beings.

Oh, fundamentalists mock 'situational ethics' and lament non-fundamentalists' lack of 'absolute values,' but no human being needs a book to tell them that murder and theft and every other bad thing human beings do to each other is wrong.

So the fundamentalist dilemma boils down to 'my book vs. your book.'

Which is a mess.

People worry about the devil and maybe rightfully so. They ascribe all kinds of evil qualities to him. He's deceitful and a mocker. He's a tempter, an enemy of all that's good. But if there is a devil, his biggest weapon is none of those things. Because by far and away his biggest weapon is getting human beings to believe that they are fundamentally different from one another.

Picture a spaceship with aliens eyeballing the Earth from outer space. Guess what they see as the Earth's inhabitants?

Human beings! The same beings! Two arms, two legs, eyes, ears, nose, brain and heart!

But through fundamentalism we become convinced that we are all different.

What a needless tragedy.

Image used in this blogpost is CC-BY-SA-2.0.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

What does God think of Ray Rice?

Image By U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Benjamin Hughes/Released [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

It's funny. When I set out to research this blogpost I started to type Ray Rice's name in a search engine, and I inadvertently typed in Ray Rat. Freudian slip? Perhaps. Whatever it was, it was an indication of how I personally feel about him (I was going to say how I feel about the man but couldn't bring myself to). I couldn't even watch the video of him punching his fiancee. So much brutality in the world. I don't need to see any more.

To get back on topic—this post isn't about what I think. It's about what God thinks of Ray Rice. Of course I don't know what God thinks. But from my subjective experience of spirituality this is what I think God might think.

He would be outraged at what Rice did. That a highly conditioned and muscled (look at the size of his bicep) would punch in the face a woman, his fiancee no less, would be abhorrent to Him, as would all violence. (Maybe God wouldn't watch the video either.) God would probably have a momentary twinge of wanting to knock the crap out of Rice. Again, like most of us. And God would certainly see that justice was served (which amazingly many are saying Rice is being scapegoated by being fired from his team and banned from football). Yes, there would be no escaping justice in God's eyes.

But any similarities to what God thought and I thought would end there. Because I think God would still love Rice—and I wouldn't. First of all, being God (granted, that is an assumption and belief that many of you don't maintain) He wouldn't be surprised by what happened. First of all because He's all-knowing, but secondly because He knows of the hardness in people's hearts. Which maybe, despite my earlier claim that God's and my opinions would separate, I would recognize in Rice too. I would recognize it because there have been times in my life that I have done abhorrent things too. Things I'm ashamed of to this day, even though they happened decades ago.

Which doesn't justify Rice's or my behavior. It just makes Rice's behavior understandable. To me anyway.

No, Rice is God's creation just as you and I are. God wouldn't be turning his back on His own. Punishment, yes. (And I think Rice will pay—as I have for my abhorrent behavior—and I don't just mean getting booted from his team and losing his salary.) Heartache, yes—God would feel heartache for what happened. But withdrawing His love, no.

Where would any of us be if God withdrew His love when we did what was abhorrent to Him? And I'm not toning down my personal repulsion to what Rice did. I'm just saying God's quite a bit different from me.

And that's a good thing. For Ray Rice—and all of us.