Thursday, July 14, 2005

Moderation in all things?

If there is one philosophy that could pull me away from my Christian beliefs it would be agnosticism. Why? Because I've found a lot of balance and maturity come from examining two sides of an issue and finding what seems to be the most true somewhere in the middle. This satisfaction with the center seems like a good rule to apply to many things in life. But is it good to apply to all things? That's what I am exploring right now. First, let's look at places where it has worked for me. I think the easiest way to define a position is to find the extremes on both sides of the spectrum. Let's take an issue like the environment. The absolute extreme from an industrial/economic interest viewpoint is what has been the historical norm. Basically, you use any and all resources available to you until they are gone. That's one of the reasons Australia has no local domesticatable animals and the Middle East is mostly desert. Some native Americans would start buffalo stampedes and herd them off of cliffs, wasting thousands of pounds of meat. It wasn't until the last century, (at least as far as I'm aware) that people began to realize that it's not in your best interest to destroy what your livelihood is based on. I assume this is because the population got big enough that the consumption rate for resources got high enough that an area of resources could actually be completely used in one lifetime. Anyway, now logging companies make sure they replant trees, and the fishing industry restocks and limits their catches. How much of this is government mandate and how much is good business sense, I'm not sure. But getting back to the extreme, let's just say for the sake of argument that the extreme on one side is total consumption with zero regard for the future or the safety or health of anyone. (This is what all the bad guys were doing on the propaganda-riddled cartoon Captain Planet)

Now the other side's extreme is pretty crazy too. There are groups that believe that mankind is a virus and should be completely destroyed. They believe the only way for the earth to find balance would be if we all disappeared. So clearly, they think that nature is more important than human life. I'd say the vast, vast majority of people fall somewhere in the middle of these extremes. But the question is: does the best, most truthful answer sit exactly between the extremes? Is the perfect answer a perfect balance between safety/conservation, and industry/jobs? Well, I guess there are so many factors involved that it's hard to say. But yeah, generally, I think somewhere in the middle sounds best. Let's not wipe out mankind to save the animals, but let's also make sure we don't use up everything all at once.

How about criminal justice? There are laws still in effect today where thieves get their hands cut off and adulterers are stoned or burned to death. Then there are people on the other side who think that with therapy, anyone can be rehabilitated and put back in society. Our country is probably closer to the liberal extreme than the other one. Sure, some states have the death penalty, but it's not used very often or efficiently. And you can check on line to see how many sex offenders live within a mile of your house. So clearly, someone, somewhere, thinks it's ok to let rapists and child molesters out of prison. Personally, I think that we should unify our penal code so there is no confusion. We should ship all sex offenders, killers, drug dealers, and CEO's who defraud investors to northwest Alaska to do heavy manual labor for the rest of their lives. I think that's pretty close to the middle. No executions, but no letting evil people out either. I'm quite comfortable in the center of this issue.

Politically there are a wide variety of views of what the government should and should not do. Limiting myself to those views that I have some familiarity with I can delineate two opposing views. One extreme says that the government should care for everyone as a parent cares for a child. It needs to make sure every citizen is fed, clothed, healthy, kept safe, and always treated fairly. (Unless they are a minority, in which case they need to be treated more than fairly at the expense of non-minorities.) They want laws to ensure that all these things happen and more government agencies to bring them about. The other extreme… well it's anarchy. But for the purpose of this exorcize I'll pretend that's not an option since it's silly anyway. Let's instead say the other extreme is libertarianism. They want to abolish the laws against drugs, prostitution, and a whole lot of other things. They basically want to limit the scope of government as much as is practically necessary. They would rely on capitalism to bring happiness to the masses. At least I think they are usually capitalists. Certainly all the ones I've heard and read are. So we have extreme minimalists, and extreme maximalists. (Not a word.) I see value in both sentiments, but find myself pretty much in the middle of those views. I'm glad that we, as a society, reinforced by law, reject things like prostitution and drugs. But I'm also aware that the government doesn’t do the best job at a lot of things. I think that military and law enforcement are great for the government to handle. But things like racial quotas, endowment for the arts, and heath care are all things better left in the private sector. That being said, I don't see capitalism as any kind of a pure, good system. I think it's the best we humans can do, all things considered. But it can be taken too far if there are no checks and balances on it, and suffering can result. I think it's good that our government doesn’t let industry dump chemical waste into our drinking water or let children work in factories. Still, I'm probably closer to the Libertarians than the Socialists because I would be all for getting rid of public schools and many other institutions most Americans take for granted. I think there is plenty of evidence that shows that the private sector handles these things better. Christians have all sorts of ideas about how we should apply our spiritual beliefs to our politics. Personally I think the Bible's apolitical nature and Jesus' admonition to "Render unto Cesar what is Cesar's." sets a good example for what our attitude should be concerning politics. Jesus wasn't about political activism. This is amazing considering the super charged political climate He lived in. Of course He had a different mission altogether. He was concerned with the big picture of things. He recognized that freedom and justice can never come from a political entity like government. His work was that of the next life. The only place where true freedom and justice can exist. He worked within the system, not to change it for the betterment of the people, but worked to change the hearts of the people. Because the heart of a Christian thrives in any political environment, from democracy to prison camps. So I want to follow that lead. The Bible says the government exists to reward the good and punish the bad. Of course that can be interpreted numerous ways. But I read it as a minimalist statement. As a Christian, blessed with a democracy, I think it is an exercise of thanksgiving to God when I vote. But I just don't get swept up in any political fever any more. It's not that I'm apathetic, just that I realize my focus needs to be on showing Christ to the individuals around me, not getting laws passed that they will still reject in their hearts.

Well, that was a bit of a tangent. Anyway, my point is that I'm pretty moderate politically. Though as the nation moves further and further left, I will appear further and further right. And that is exactly what I wanted to come to. One problem with making an equation out of being in the center, is that the center is always moving. Society is always swinging back and forth. If I was 60 years old, and wanted to always be a centrist on, say, skirt length; my opinion on proper length would have changed by 16" over the course of my life. I wouldn’t really have a standard beneath the shifting fashions. I would just be wishy-washy.

So I suppose it doesn’t make sense to idealize centrism. Because if I lived in Rome in 100 AD, I would be considered quite the radical for opposing public executions, and death for sport and entertainment. It wouldn't make much sense to try to form a moderate view on the subject, because my rejection of the practice is based on an underlying ethic that killing innocent people is wrong. I couldn't very well say that since one extreme is that we should murder as many people as possible, and another extreme is that we should never kill innocent people, I will choose to say that killing innocent people is OK half the time. Let's say on weekends and Wednesday nights.

That is why I don't understand people who are moderates in the abortion debate. A fetus is either a human or it's not. Make a choice and live with the consequences. It makes no sense to say that an unborn baby is alive and human, but if the mother was raped then it's OK to kill it. Or to say that it's not a human, but we shouldn't have partial birth abortions. Abortion either kills or it doesn’t. 'Half-way' on this subject is stupid.

So while I admire the concept of the wise moderate who considers all sides and finds that neither side is correct, I think it's a flawed ideal. Something that got me thinking about this is the humor of South Park and Daily Show. (Neither of which I've seen in years since I've stopped watching TV, so maybe my opinions are out-dated.) What both those shows have in common is really smart writing, and an above-it-all attitude that seems closer to arrogance than anything else. They project the idea that they are so far above the system that they have analyzed and found both sides equally foolish. Since the poke fun at both sides they can claim to be non-partisan. Though I've noticed that when they attack conservatives ideas and people it is always the core principal they attack, and usually by exposing either perceived ignorance or hypocrisy. But when the attack liberals, it's never their core principals, but rather personality quirks of the individuals espousing them. Bill Clinton was always depicted as a lovable scoundrel who just couldn't help himself. Bush is always an incredibly stupid warmonger. Conservatives are shown as racists, chauvinists, and basically evil. While liberals are shown as well-meaning, but messing up in some way. So while these shows poke fun at both sides, the size and temperature of the pokers used vary greatly.

Anyway, my point was that I found the attitude displayed by the self-proclaimed centrists to be snotty, arrogant, self-righteous, and ultimately just as extreme as the extremists they denounce. Funny too. But the basic position they take is that of the mature, thoughtful one who has 'moved beyond' all the screeching hyperbole and dogma of the masses. But I wonder, if you moved them to a different time and society, how similar their views would be. Would they instantly adjust to the middle ground of say, medieval Japan? Would their politics fall half-way between Emperor worship and feudal states? Hmmm….

So now back to my original thought. I admit that were satan to tempt me with any forbidden fruit, it would be the Banana of Agnosticism. It's the ultimate wishy-washy, sweet fruit of uncertainty. A panacea of soul-searching weariness. I could gorge myself and never again have to worry about the big questions, because golly, there's no way to know for sure! But here is the problem I see with agnosticism… It clears the head of worrisome issues, but clouds the heart that God is pulling on. I believe that God does not reveal Himself to us in any concrete, measurable, provable way for one very important reason. If we were to have God proven to us, our ability to CHOOSE to love and fear Him would be taken away. We would be compelled to obey, because well, obviously He's real and will smite us if we don't. God wants real love from us, not forced obedience. So without proof, how does God get a hold of us and draw us to truth with a capital T? I think there are many, many ways. There is logic and reasoning. The fact that we exist should be more than enough catalyst for that; though modern humanism has swooped in to try to answer all these questions of existence and nature for us so we don't have to consider them. There is the testimony of others which can work in the mind or the heart, preferably both. There is conviction, conscience, and the Holy Spirit who tugs, guides, and informs, but never commands. And that all happens in the heart. But agnosticism aborts that heart-tugging process by sending an automatic shut-off signal from the brain saying, "Nope. Already considered it. Can't be proven. Never mind."

And therein lies the folly of agnosticism: it's billed as a search for truth, but has a built-in mechanism for avoiding the Truth. Every agnostic I've ever talked to about spirituality has said they are agnostic because they either have given up on knowing what's true, (they usually come from a religious background and feel like they've 'grown past' it.) or say they are searching for the truth. Then throw in a self-defeating quip like, "But the journey is more important than the destination!". Which leads me to believe that agnostic belief is just the default that we are all born with, and we all fall back to it when we give up on perusing God whole-heartedly. I'm not saying that it's for lazy thinkers. I know some very bright people who have thought and talked a lot about faith who are agnostic. Just without a really strong pull, they are going to stay there forever because it's intellectually safe.

But for me, as one who has been convinced, to fall into agnosticism would be to slap God in the face. As one who has been given so much evidence of all variety- experiential, revelatory, testimonial, and intellectual- turning my back on that because none of it can be proven would be fool-hearty. I am convinced of my belief because the large body of evidence. But I will readily admit that it is circumstantial. It wouldn't hold up in a modern court of law. And it shouldn't. That is why faith is such a necessary component of love. And faith is both a gift of God and an act of the will. The two have to meet somehow. God pulled me into His Truth through revelation, and I choose to deny myself, (and my inclination towards agnosticism) in response.

So my basic response to agnosticism and centrism is this…

You claim to be neutral, unbiased, and above it all. You claim to be the home of the intellectual superior. You claim freedom through latitudinarianism. But you are a sepulture. You are a place where men go to bury their hearts. You are full of people who have ears but cannot hear, eyes but cannot see. Your stench is alluring to my carnal mind. But my pride is on the alter of the One who saved me from you. I will endure the mockery of those within your gates. They jeer and spit on me. But I remember the One who showed how to respond to ridicule and scorn. I will pray for your denizens, and show them a light that is in me. One that could not possibly come from me, but from a God who will destroy you in the end.

2 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Whoa, what a standpoint! Well, that last paragraph in this essay of yours has made me decide to officially stop reading your blog.

I usually find your thoughts interesting, even when I disagree, but not this time. I think I finally see the true you, and I don't think you are somebody I want to know any further. Happy trails...

4:52 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oh, one more comment for your thoughts.

"But I remember the One who showed how to respond to ridicule and scorn."

Who is the one ridiculing and scorning here? It certainly sounds like YOU'RE the one doing those things, to me.

4:57 PM  

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