Good vs. Evil

I wanted to talk about good and evil. In trying to start I realized there are several problems which I am going to mention, then gloss over.

First: I think English is flawed. Good is a broad term but evil is not. Evil means intentional and enthusiastic badness and anti-Godness. Evil is extremely awful. Good can range from extreme to moderate and is usually secular. I use good to describe socks that fit, web pages I like; I’d never call ill fitted socks evil. A true antonym for evil should mean extreme loving kindness or helpfulness and how God would like us to act. I am just going to use the word ‘good’ and hope you can figure out whether it means just ok or the opposite of evil.

Second: I think maybe theologically I’m coming at this from a quasi-Catholic standpoint which may or may not line up with beliefs in other types of Christianity. Catholics have the whole confession to forgive/erase sin. So one of the things I sort of believed growing up was that people were in flux between good and evil based on sins making you evil and confessions making you good. This leads me to what I was actually wanting write about.

I don’t think that way anymore. I don’t believe a person is good or evil, or flipping between the two. That’s way too simplistic. People aren’t either sugary or lemon rinds. Everyone is ziti. Ziti can taste better or worse but it never tastes like sugar or lemon rinds. If you say my ziti is sweet like sugar it can only mean you are using a metaphor. Same with calling someone good or evil. It’s a decent metaphor as long as you remember it is just a metaphor. I don’t think people should actually be lumped into ‘good’ or ‘evil’ because the categories are problematic.

For one thing, no one is static. Lives change, choices are made, people change. A person who you’d class as good can do a bad thing. And vice versa. Calling someone good or evil locks up your opinion of them forever. It lets you not think about the actions they take. It gives you a pass to be mentally lazy.

Another problem with having boxes labeled “good” and “evil” is that it encourages a sort of mathematical look a person’s nature/personality. How many good things does it take for a person to be called good? How many new good things must you do to be “good” if you’ve been “evil” most of your life? Is this really how God is seeing us and how we should see each other?

I think we retweak our ziti recipes every day by our thoughts and the actions that reflect those thoughts to the world. Any day’s ziti could be awesome or awful reminding someone either of sweet, delicious sugar or ucky yucky lemon rinds. And yeah if you fix terrible ziti enough days in a row I might be inclined to call you evil. But rarely would I actually go ahead and do it. And I still would consider it something of a metaphor. No person is fully evil or fully good. Even if you literally buried your ziti in sugar or lemon rinds it would still be ziti under there.

Be Nicer to Atheists et cetra

I’ve been thinking for a while that Christians need to be waaaay nicer to the ‘out’ groups. What I mean is, stop being hurtful, pushy, mean, and condescending to anyone you believe is living a sinful life. It isn’t our place to judge people, God is going to figure all that out in the end. If someone is sinful and unbelieving enough to be sent to hell, I say that’s the best argument of all for being nice to them. What on earth would possess you to be mean or hurtful to someone you think is going to burn for eternity? If you really think that’s where they are bound for, this life is the best it’s ever going to be for them. Go and buy them cake and ice cream! Do it now! Throw them a party! Buy them gifts! But don’t ever be mean to them. If you are right about them, they are going to get nothing but mean in the afterlife. And if you are wrong about them, and they are going to make it into heaven- you’re going to see them later so don’t you think you’d better be nice to them? In fact, just be nice to everyone. Yeah, that’s right. And you know what? Since now it doesn’t matter whether they are going to hell or not, you can also stop judging them. There, I fixed it!

Be Nicer to Atheists et cetra

I’ve been thinking for a while that Christians need to be waaaay nicer to the ‘out’ groups. What I mean is, stop being hurtful, pushy, mean, and condescending to anyone you believe is living a sinful life. It isn’t our place to judge people, God is going to figure all that out in the end. If someone is sinful and unbelieving enough to be sent to hell, I say that’s the best argument of all for being nice to them. What on earth would possess you to be mean or hurtful to someone you think is going to burn for eternity? If you really think that’s where they are bound for, this life is the best it’s ever going to be for them. Go and buy them cake and ice cream! Do it now! Throw them a party! Buy them gifts! But don’t ever be mean to them. If you are right about them, they are going to get nothing but mean in the afterlife. And if you are wrong about them, and they are going to make it into heaven- you’re going to see them later so don’t you think you’d better be nice to them? In fact, just be nice to everyone. Yeah, that’s right. And you know what? Since now it doesn’t matter whether they are going to hell or not, you can also stop judging them. There, I fixed it!

Maybe Christians shouldn’t believe in Santa Claus

I’ve decided not to give my kids the story about Santa Claus. Ok, maybe I should talk first about my own experience with the whole Santa thing. I believed Santa was real for a relatively long time- until I was ten years old. I asked my parents to verify his reality around that time and they told me nope, he’s not real. They guessed I had figured it out. I hadn’t, but another kid at school told me. I didn’t actually believe this other kid and wanted an adult opinion to bring back to her the next day. So it was an honest mistake on my parents’ part thinking that I was finally questioning.

Learning the truth was rather upsetting. It also made me want to protect all younger kids from the horrors of discovering Santa wasn’t real. I knew the kids would have to be upset by it someday, but I wanted to put it off as long as possible. Our culture also seems to have this pervasive need to keep the truth of the Santa myth a secret from the poor innocent children. There are so many movie in which the plot does this: 1) cynical character asserts Santa is not real 2) little kid is upset and seeks Santa 3) Santa is revealed to both little kid and cynical character whose faith is restored! It is seen as a terrible thing to tug off the beard of a mall or parade santa. The kids might see! Local news stations now often ‘track’ Santa’s progress as he flies around the area. Kids write letters to Santa that parents then ‘mail’ and poof, Santa brings what they asked for in that letter mom ‘mailed’. The whole thing seems like it’s designed to play a big trick on the tiny children, like some massive practical joke. Why does everyone buy into this when it’s actually teaching kids lies?

The difficulty I think Christians ought to have with Santa is based on the part where we lie to children about an invisible being. As a Christian teaching your kids about God, you want them to know He’s real. If you teach them Santa is real and then take that away, how are they to trust God is also real? God is supposed to be an equally mysterious entity you never see who also keeps track of how good you are. How is this not confusing to kids? As a child I saw Santa as the best solid evidence God existed. No human being can delivery toys at the rate Santa is expected to do it. No deer fly. When I wondered about how these phenomena occurred I knew it was with God’s help that they must have happened. Like all those biblical miracles. This was our only miracle left today. Except it wasn’t. And all the grown ups were conspiring to give us this huge show and lie to us about where it came from.

For a while I bought into it and the whole “Don’t reveal it, it’s the magic of Christmas!” stuff. Everyone says little kids need this. But I’m thinking now that even more, little kids need adults to lie less to them. Then they won’t need to be disappointed at the truth. So when I have kids I’ll tell them about a game we play at Christmas called Santa Claus. On Christmas morning the presents will all be from someone real (mostly mom and dad) and we can take turns playing Santa and pretending he’s the one that brought the gifts. There’s no reason Santa has to be ‘real’ for them. And I’m good with that.

Life-Saving Abortion, Savita and Catholic views

I want to post about a news story. It’s really been bothering me and on my mind because there’s some stuff I need to say about it.
Here is a link to an article about it:

Article

Several weeks ago a woman named Savita Halappanavar was taken to a hospital in Ireland, 17 weeks pregnant and in pain. She was miscarrying the child and it would not survive. It seems pretty clear from all I’ve read that there was just no saving that baby. Savita herself was succumbing to an infection which required removal of the dying baby/fetal tissue (we can argue semantics later). Doctors at the hospital refused to do the removal because 1) the baby had a heartbeat 2) this makes it abortion 3) abortions are illegal in Ireland under all circumstances. So this mom suffered for three days and finally died along with the baby. Once Savita had learned the baby would not make it, she requested an abortion; she requested it more than once. Doctors said no. The baby inside her was killing her by poisoning her blood (septicemia), but she couldn’t get treatment to save her because it involved killing a dying baby.
*By the way, people do not even all agree that at 17 weeks it should be called a baby. No delivery is EVER viable until more than 20 weeks. Deliveries before 23 weeks are extremely likely to result in the child dying soon after or having severe disabilities requiring lifelong care.

Many people are outraged by this story. I am one of them. Ireland has it on the books that abortion is illegal. Some years ago a court ruled that legislation be passed to make it allowable in cases where the mother’s life is in danger. The only problem is that no such legislation was passed. To my shame, this rule is a result of the heavy influence of the Catholic church in Ireland. The Catholic church is very zero tolerance when it comes to abortion. Apparently the reasoning goes like this: if you actively remove or dismantle a fetus you kill it directly which counts as murder. Even if it was dying already and taking mom along too, you must at all cost avoid the primary action that causes fetal death. This suggests that actions are to be counted in terms of whether we sin or not, whereas inaction absolves us. In this case it means failure to treat Savita (which did kill her) would not count as murdering her. I find this strange because embedded in the Catholic mass is the confiteor. When we say this we state “I confess I have sinned through my own fault…in what I have done and in what I have failed to do.” This clearly calls us to be responsible for wrongs we did AND wrongs we allowed to happen. Action and inaction; I believe this is called sins of commission and omission. The stance regarding Savita should have been to save her, since through inaction doctors allowed her to die, and as I said, the baby was lost no matter what they did.

I guess I’m pretty removed from this as its happened in another country, but it upset me enough that I thought I should mention it. Maybe someone else will mention it to someone else who will mention it to someone else… Someone mentioned it to me and now I can’t shut up about it. Maybe other people still need to hear about it.

What should happen now is lots of people saying this was wrong. Like a really really lot. It sounds like a lot already are. I’m hearing plenty of pro-life views that this was incredibly stupid and sad and that Savita didn’t need to die. Then the Catholic church should condemn this type of neglect by doctors and call on Ireland to write in a legal exception for life of the mother. Then Ireland should write up the legislation. Should. I don’t really know what’s going to happen though.

For Fun

No church this week. We were away traveling. Thought I’d have some fun and tell you about two funny things you might not know about in the gospels.

1) They blame Shirley.
Mark recounts at the last supper the disciples are sitting around eating together and Jesus says to them “One of you who is eating with me will betray me.” They all look around at each other and say “Shirley! Not I!”

2) The naked man.
This one’s not a stretch, he really is in there. (I’m still in Mark) After Jesus is arrested and I being led away, it says he is followed by a young man wearing nothing but a linen cloth. They grab ahold of him but he gets away -minus the linen cloth. So he escapes naked.

Why was this included in the gospels? I have no idea. But now you have two pieces of quasi-trivia to share with your friends!

Vaguely religious #1

As part of my project I would like to fill in the weeks I don’t visit a church by doing something else at least vaguely religious. This time I watched the movie Dogma. I know it’s probably thought of as mostly a stupid comedy, but I actually watched it for the religious storyline. And that’s what I’ll talk about. If you haven’t seen it, get with the times! I mean, just teasing. Spoilers ahead.

The story goes as follows:

Two disfavored angels try to take advantage of a forgiveness policy of a particular church and regain entry to heaven. All that’s required is to pass under the arch of this church to gain indulgence (equivalent to forgiveness within the movie context). The problem is that God kicked the angels out. If they get forgiveness without his ok, it makes God fallible and nullifies all existence. So several entities are dispatched to stop this from happening. They include an apostle, an angel, a muse, and a distant relative of Jesus Christ. God is quiet during all this, leading to speculation that he’s on earth somewhere posing as a human (he enjoys skeeball) and hasn’t heard what is going on.

The movie has quite a few things I like. Very early in the movie we see a Catholic cardinal unveiling the new symbol for Catholicism- the buddy Christ. It replaces the bleeding Christ on the cross which is just too depressing. That seems right on the money to me. My church growing up always had an abstract statue crucifix. I was surprised by the realistic crucifix at some of my friends’ churches. Of course “buddy Christ” is a little silly. But the whole blood and gore thing should go right out the window as far as I’m concerned.

Then there’s the- Jesus had siblings issue. Some theology teaches that the Virgin Mary must be a virgin forever. Besides seeming unrealistic, this is contested in the bible itself which talks of Jesus’ brothers. Some translators insist this is a loose term that means his cousins, but I don’t buy that. They all had like a zillion kids back in the day. She was married. She had more kids.

The characters I could go on and on about. I’ll try to be brief with those I felt were the most interesting. First there’s Bethany. She is approached by an angel to go after the wayward angels and stop them. She has no idea why she is chosen and feels disconnected from her faith, wondering if it is really what she believes anymore. There are numerous little conversations with those she meets about faith. Because of this Bethany is made the most human and realistic character in this comedy. Especially striking is the scene in which she is told of her relation to Jesus Christ. She reacts badly, running blindly until she finally crashes in a river (baptism allusion anyone?) and tries to face what she’s been told. Throughout, she has to take steps that she is unsure of, with only faith to assure her that she will succeed. Yet she finally does achieve her purpose, at the cost of her life (Jesus parallel) which God then restores to her. (nice!)

Now I understand that the only real reason Jay and Silent Bob were in this picture is because the Kevin Smith fans expected it. But at the same time they make interesting characters. They are foretold to Bethany as “prophets” with whom she should journey, but they don’t seem aware of it themselves. I like the idea of God being able to use people for his works even if they don’t know about it. It’s also clearly a bit of spiritual revelation to them to be involved in something so massively mysterious. As a stand alone movie, ignoring whatever other movies they were characters in later (which I haven’t seen), I would guess the experience changed who they were as people.

Loki and Bartleby are the two disfavored angels. They fell out of favor after the killing of the firstborn in Egypt and have been living in the midwest ever since. They are both very jaded and unhappy, always wishing they could get back to their former glory. The special church indulgence thing seems like just what they needed. Now, as a side note, it seems like the indulgence being equal to forgiveness is a misinterpretation. It’s really meant to be a lessening of the actual punishment a soul goes through on the way to heaven. The punishment part is called purgatory and souls sometimes have to undergo this punishment before entering heaven. And all of that is based on seldom used (but still on the books) Catholic teachings. But in the movie it means forgiveness, which is what the angels want. Halfway through the movie, one of them accidentally learns that what they are trying to do will obliterate reality and that there are several individuals out to stop him. He seems not to understand this fully or maybe he just ignores it. My view is that he actually understands well that this will happen and wants his own existence terminated. It is clearly torturing him to remain on earth out of God’s presence. We see at the end of the movie God finally reappears, thanks in part to Bethany, to do just that. God allows him to become nullified and ends his misery as he mouths words ‘thank you’. To me this is the best and most moving part of the story. God is merciful, not wrathful. This is how I see God. This is the God I love, and as weird as it might be to have a moving spiritual connection with a comedy, I did. And I think the movie is just great for that ending alone.