Sunday, December 21, 2014

What If Jesus Was Just A Teacher and Philosopher?

"Christ, not Christianity, is the power that has soothed and satisfied the spirit of the great multitude which no man can number." 

Why do we need religion in our post modern condition? This type of question turns off many believers, yet it's a question any person of faith will deal with- whether we want to or not. Our doubts and insecurities are real. The manner in which we deal with these doubts is what will build or crumble our faith. Christians around the world are preparing to celebrate the birth of Jesus, yet our influence on the world is lessening. We aren't as effective as many of us would like to be, and some of us won't even try to make a difference. How have we (Christians) become so impotent? 

Let's work backwards. What if Jesus was merely the teacher of a social gospel and moral philosophy, would we still follow him? What if he didn't die for our sins, would we still ground our morality and ethics in his teachings? If we struggle with any aspect of either question then we have reduced our salvation to a market style quid pro quo. In essence we are telling God that we will spread the gospels and worship, if one day we are granted power and eternal life. This type of worship is more common than most of us inside the church are willing to accept. We either get God the ATM or God the attack dog.

I see three forms of religion being practiced today. The first form is diagnostic ideological religion. Practitioners of this form of religion use the teachings of Jesus and his disciples to offer critiques for the condition of the world. The men and women who subscribe to this particular kind of religion believe that all of the worlds ills could be solved by a greater commitment to the teachings of Jesus. I don't disagree with them, but the choice to come to the father is one each of us has to make on our own. The call for a mass commitment to Jesus seems improbable. Instead of working to change things many are comfortable offering their diagnosis.

The second form of religion is medicinal. Practitioners of medicinal religion seek to find comfort from the conditions the world has imposed on them. Many have resigned to the fact that their kingdom shall come and that they will one day become what they cannot presently be. The trap of medicinal religion is acceptance. Medicinal religion's impotence comes from a lack of trying. Instead of embracing God's omnipotence as a way of shaping the here and now, they settle for the promises to come down the road. 

The last form of religion I see practiced is empowerment religion. When you're around someone who truly embraces this form of religion you can't help but notice their attitude and spirit. I know people who are connected in a way that I wish I was connected. There isn't an obstacle you could place in front of them they won't give God the glory during their attempt to overcome it. They have a belief so strong that they never outwardly doubt the circumstances of life. It's this group of believers that accomplish what was previously thought to be impossible. The sad thing about empowerment religion is that there aren't enough of them. They have no problem diagnosing societal ills, they are assured of their place in heaven, yet they set out to do the hard work of changing their communities. 

As a child I believed that God sent his only begotten son to die for our sins; later in life I found myself not believing this as much. I now find faith in the faith of others. When I'm around someone who really believes I'm comforted by their convictions. Jesus said follow me; he never called on people to worship him. This distinction matters because it creates the space for those who are weak in their faith and those who have no commitment to faith. If Jesus wasn't the perfect sacrifice of God he would still be worth emulating. If Jesus was just a myth, his lessons can still provide valuable insights for those who are lost. I thank God that he sent his son to die on Calvary. I believe what I can't provide physical evidence for. Jesus was the turning point in human history. His birth fulfilled a prophecy from God, and his impact is still felt 2014 years later. You can't look at a calendar without recognizing that we track the days since his arrival. I need the teachings of Jesus to sustain my sanity during crazy times and to comfort me during times of distress. I need religion because of the state of the world we live in.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Christian Memes: What Do We Really Believe?

Tis, the season for cable and local news outlets to dust off their file footage from the previous years war on Christmas stories. I'm not particularly concerned with the validity of their claims; maybe there is a cabal of Atheists and secular progressives trying to diminish Jesus' role in the holiday season: that may be true. As nefarious as that sounds, I'm more concerned with the apparent lack of faith some of my fellow Christians seem to have when it comes to matters like these.

At the beginning of the school year a similar religious phenomenon happens: Facebook memes about Prayer and God being removed from school spread like wild fire. The law is very clear in these matters anyone who wishes to pray can do so without fear of punishment by an authority figure. The law prohibits someone employed by the state or federal government from leading a prayer and potentially endorsing one religion over another. 

The fact that our schools no longer have structured prayer has been used (by some) to explain the decadence in our society. There's not enough hard evidence to support that claim; correlation doesn't always equal causality. Even if someone could prove that the removal of prayer is the underlying cause of our moral erosion, it doesn't solve the problem of Christians who subscribe to the idea that an omnipotent God could be limited by man's law. 

After every new school shooting memes like the one at the top of this post dominate space on newsfeeds and timelines across social media. The logic is very easy to refute. If you read (and believe) the first verse of the Bible: In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. Any Christian who believes that the same God who protected Shadrach, Meshach, and Abedego from being consumed by fire, protected Daniel in the lions den, and provided for his people for 40 years in the desert has to listen to a law written by a man who will wither and die needs to get a bit deeper into the word. 

Before there were politicians, school boards, or people to worship him God created everything. When Christians subscribe to the kind of faulty logic these memes offer they sound more like nonbelievers than our Atheists brothers and sisters. How can you believe Jesus overcame the grave and washed our sins away, if you don't think he can get past a hall monitor?

These memes offer a glimpse into the psyche of those who invest in them. It's easy to share a catchy meme, but much harder to come to grips with the evil in our world. The free will we exercise to worship (or not worship) is the same free will that allows someone to open fire on children. It's not easy accepting the terrors of life. There's a season for everything and this too shall pass, but until then I will do my best to fight what I perceive to be the dumbing down of God's people by overly simplistic social media memes.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Eric Garner's Death Changes Nothing

How can cameras help deter police violence if there's no reasonable expectation that officers who abuse their power will be charged?

23 years after Rodney King was beaten(on camera)we watched Eric Garner get murdered by a N.Y.P.D officer using a prohibited choke hold. We were told by a grand jury(ipso facto)that the coroner was wrong in ruling his death a homicide, and that there was nothing to see here. It's a struggle to calmly articulate what I feel is the state sanctioned killing of black people over the last few years. I'm saddened that 6 kids will be raised without their father. Law enforcement officers were able to capture the shooter in Aurora, Colorado alive after he killed 12 people, but the guy selling smokes had to die. We live in a country where black athletes and entertainers are revered for their talents, but lesser known blacks need to know their role.

I'm what's commonly referred to as a 'race hustler' I hold the scandalous world view that we still have a serious race problem. I look at public schools in black communities, the empirical data on unemployment and underemployment, and the disparity in the criminal justice system as evidence for my claim. I'm a race hustler because I point out the reality many in our country don't know or would rather ignore. If you're tired of reading this type of critique: block me from all forms of social media and never read my blog.

I intend to use my corner of cyberspace to stand up for the dignity of people (even black people). Being black is not a degenerative condition. If you treat anyone like an animal long enough they'll act like an animal. I don't apologize or make excuses for people when they're wrong, but I don't vilify a group of people based on the actions of a few. I reject the notion that blackness is inferior.  

Monday, December 1, 2014

Self Creation: Nietzche's Challenge Our Decision

For some, going against societal norms seems odd, scary, and/or downright crazy. Instead of appreciating and respecting the courage it takes for someone to be original, many in our society will diagnose your originality as craziness and dismiss you.
Nietzche argued that we should live our lives in an artistic way. We should be the Plato to our Socrates; in other words: author the kind of life for yourself that you could live over and over again forever.

Too many struggle (at an existential  level) to fit into prefabricated molds, yet they're too afraid to be themselves. From an archeological perspective we have uniforms that identify us. There's a set of presuppositions that come with our appearance and attire. Personal catastrophe is a certainty for those who don't fit neatly into societies boxes, yet lack the knowledge of self to understand that conformity is a trap.

Sigmund Freud once said that Nietzche knew more about himself than any man who ever lived. Our biggest obstacle in accepting Nietzche's challenge of self creation is looking inside of ourselves and accepting our shortcomings and weaknesses. We should view our limitations for what they are: a constitutive part of who we are. Our attributes, positive and negative, don't define us; they offer glimpses into certain aspects of our character.

Strength, confidence, and courage are necessary armaments along the path of self discovery. The journey inside ourselves is supposed to be lonley: we're looking for someone who has never existed. There will always be people who won't understand you: don't waste too much of your time and energy on them. For too many the dream of being socially accepted turns into a nightmare. My advice would be to walk real cool and enjoy the things that make you happy. In the end authenticity maybe the only thing that can liberate us from the shackles of social pressure.