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.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Have we become a nation of humiliators?

Image by Pierre-Yves Beaudouin / Wikimedia Commons / CC-BY-SA-3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Movie star's private nude photos exposed on-line. Politician caught on secret video smoking crack. Celebrity DUI photos on-line. News reporter's comments when they thought they were off-the-air broadcast. The list goes on and on.

On the opposite side of the coin from all this is a saying: a friend hides a friend's shame.

Whatever happened to that? Today, people want to see people humiliated, ridiculed, defeated, at their worst. Like motorists forming a "gaper's block" we eye the tangled mess of humanity with our mouths hanging open.

Can't we do better than this?

Life is too short to be drawn into such base pursuits as glorying in others' shame and misfortune. All the major websites offer the latest salacious, lurid, titillating stories they can find, begging your attention to click to drive up their advertising revenue. They'll do anything for more. More of your attention. More of your money. More of, ultimately, your life.

Don't give it to them. There's a higher plane to be lived on. Like the saying 'Take the high road—there's very few people traveling on it.' Protect people from shame, rather than taking part in exploiting it. Resist the siren-like, magnetic pull of the media. Realize that these people are consciously, calmly, cold-heartedly setting out to control you, to suck you in.

Humanity is a great thing. A noble thing. Do human beings fail? Do they fall? Of course, but we need not participate in celebrating it. Celebrate instead people's nobler actions. There are good people everywhere doing good things. Find them. Be edified by them.

And do good things yourself. People are either building into this world or taking from it. Be a builder. Contribute. Claim your part in a grand vision of just how wonderful humanity can be—and ignore the gutter.

You're better than that. We're all better than that.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Is it fair to dump on celebrities when they die?

Image By Eva Rinaldi [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Robin Williams was recently trashed on an airing of TV evangelist Pat Robertson's "The 700 Club." Robertson claimed Williams' life was lost because he was a "heathen" trapped by the Hollywood "idols" of money, power, fame and drugs. Williams suffered from severe depression and the early stages of Parkinson's disease. He was sober at the time of his death.

Robinson ended his trashing by calling for people to accept Jesus.

Now undoubtedly some people succumb to the Hollywood lifestyle and clearly could use something to pull them out of it, but that's not the point here. The question here is, Is it fair to use a celebrity's death as a soapbox to comment, and let's face it, trash a deceased person?

A second question would be, Is it effective?

Would people really accept Robertson's call to accept Jesus because of what he said about Williams?

To me that seems unlikely. And although perhaps I'll give Robertson credit for wanting to help people mired in drugs etc., what about Robin Williams' memory and the feelings of his family? Don't they deserve respect and compassion in their time of loss?

You see it all the time. John Lennon. Freddie Mercury. Kurt Cobain. A celebrity dies and a preacher (or their ilk) jumps on a soapbox and attempts to make hay of their tragedies.

Personally, I think it's pathetic. What do you think?