Tag Archives: Srs business

On “religion without God” — it’s empty

Look, growing up I was not unlike . . . certain loudly publicized segments of the Christian population. Quick to judge myself and others. Finding fault. Not at all loving my “enemies”. Quick to label. Fearful of life, of others, of screwing up, of things I didn’t understand. But you know what? Those are all human frailties. Most of them you can trace back to survival instincts. And I was kind of a teenager back then. And as I matured, I read the Bible and learned what was going on in there besides the cyclical few passages that get preached on every year. As I matured, I became more self-confident, I began to discern things better. I began to put away childish things that were hindering me and to set my mind to seek a higher way of life. And it was rough, and it’s been slow because I’m just fundamentally stubborn and conservative. I’ve had to let go of ideas that made me feel safe in a world that made sense the way I wanted it to, in order to seek the way God sees us and the way God wants us to be.

And nobody wants to do that. We’re human beings, we want the world to be the way we want it to be. That’s why we use tools, why we seek sociopolitical power, why we develop certain sciences, and it’s how we have historically survived in a world of disease and violence and climates. But God makes human wisdom foolish, and as Yoda would say, sometimes you gotta unlearn what you have learned if you want to push forward toward the actual truth, instead of the pop culture or self-justifying version of it.

And when I was young, sure, God was often a punishing authority figure. That’s how authority figures behave when you’re a child. They make you do things you don’t want to do and stop you from doing things you do want. The best you can hope for is that they’re just as strict with the people you don’t like.

But as I’ve matured and improved, the important facets of God have gone from justice and punishment to grace and mercy. And that is freeing. I’m free to take chances and screw up doing it, as long as I’m trying to do what’s right. I’m free to ignore society’s attempts to mold me, because there is a higher authority who cares about me much more than anyone else ever will. I’m free to do what needs to be done to make the world a better place, instead of worrying about what my peers will think of me (and in God’s eyes we’re all peers) or hoarding resources for selfish, petty goals. Through the mercy provided through Jesus, I can pick myself up and try to be better in the future, without my past mistakes weighing me down. If God has forgiven my past mistakes, how can I condemn myself? And for someone who is endlessly self-critical like me, that is a wonderful freedom to have!

I know myself all too well to know I couldn’t have become like this on my own, without some actual higher power giving me support to get there. Simply following church rituals and reading a book, however holy, would not be sufficient for a deeply flawed person like me. I needed, and still need, the whole package.

And that is religion with God.


Pictures from the National Czech and Slovak Museum

We recently stopped overnight in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. I happen to be part Czech, and there was a Czech and Slovak museum in the town, so we headed over and spent a few hours there. All three of us, baby included, enjoyed it. There was a sign encouraging visitors to take pictures and share them, so I did and have. The full album is here, and I encourage you to look through it, but here are a few images if you’re on a slower connection right now. There were two exhibits: Czech and Slovak art and products . . .

. . . and a larger exhibit about immigration and the Czech and Slovak struggles for freedom in the 20th century, as well as about freedom itself:

Vaclav Havel became the first president of the Czech Republic, after he helped overthrow the Communists and Czechoslovakia split up. Madeleine Albright is, well, Madeleine Albright.

Anyway, please click over. My commentaries on each photo can be found in the album itself.

On political philosophy

I grew up a political conservative by default, a rules-concerned little boy in a largely conservative family. As I matured, I became more liberal. I still consider myself largely a conservative, but I hold a more liberal viewpoint with respect to some issues. Now, this isn’t a screed about how brilliantly correct my politics are; my politics have evolved enough over my life that I know perfectly well whatever I write now will be cause for wincing when I reread it ten years in the future. No, lucky reader, this is yet another screed about how screwed-up American politics are, and yet another plea for sanity.

It won’t be long, no worries. I just have three points to make, nice and simple.

#1: Conservatism, liberalism, whateverism: these are at most rules of thumb, not ideals to be attained.

When I say I’m largely conservative, it’s more of a general thing than identifying with the current political meaning. I don’t throw ideas out just because they’re “old”. I like being cautious, especially with decisions that are important or look like they could spin out of control. I don’t care for fixing things that aren’t broken. And things that are broken should be fixed carefully, with some forethought, lest they become even more broken or cause problems elsewhere.

Conservatism (or liberalism, or moderation) should be considered a temperament, a tendency, not a law of nature. “Let’s hang on to whatever’s in place” is a stupid law to live by, just as much as “Let’s ditch whatever we have” or “Let’s just go down the middle”. Look at the problem, look at the data, look at the proposals. Apply ideals, apply history and personal experience. Then make the call: what should we do? If at any point you ask, “Well, what does my party think? I’ll just follow their lead” then at best you are not contributing, and at worst you’re part of the problem.

#2: The universe is too complicated, and people are too messy, for a single political philosophy to completely describe a practical society.

Forget about politics for a moment. Let’s say your high school yearbook calls you “Sweetest Person” in your graduating class, and you’re kinda proud of that. Is that going to rule the rest of your life? Are you going to refuse to ever lose your temper again just because of a few stupid words? How about if people call you a penny-pincher, and you’re proud of how frugal you are? Are you willing to rule out an “impulse buy” that would be worth it, just for pride’s sake?

No? Then why do people act like that in politics? Embrace the label as far, as strongly, and as long as it accurately describes your concerns; the moment it doesn’t, cast it off.

#3: Stop hypocritically circling the wagons.

This was actually what, ahem, inspired me to write this post. If the other person does it, and you call them out, apply the same standards when one of your people does it. If you piled in on the other person without mercy, now you don’t get to say, “Well, technically these cases are different because [piddling difference] . . .” or “Let’s wait until all the facts are in.” Did you stop to consider the details in the first case? No? Then the details don’t suddenly matter when it’s your side’s reputation on the line. If you’ve changed your mind and the thing does or doesn’t matter to you now, (wo)man up and admit you were wrong before.

Same thing holds in reverse.

I can respect you whether you’re a Republican, Democrat, Anarchist, or even a Cubs fan. I can respect you if your politics show a desire to change the world for the better, to avoid losing good things to fear or hate or apathy or plain old foolishness. The moment you start defending people just because they have the right letter next to their names, however, is the moment I start losing respect for you. I don’t care what ideology you think you’re fighting for. We aren’t here, ultimately, to play at tribalism. We are here to make lives better, even when it means we have to change ourselves in ways we might not appreciate.

My politics have changed over the course of my life. Right or wrong, they’ve changed to reflect my understanding of the world, and my desire for America to be the best it can be. I think that’s healthy. They didn’t change just to blindly match whoever happens to say things I like. I think anyone would agree that would be unhealthy. And, need I say, this country’s politics are very sick indeed right now.