9.20.2014

The Equality of Sin

Recently it was put to me in a rather heated conversation that "all sin is equal".  And I disagreed.

The standard argument for the "equality of sin" is that God treats all sins the same.  "For all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God" doesn't have a list of sins that does not disqualify one from "falling short".  Like, "if you only tell white lies you still have the glory of God".

This is a fairly convincing argument.  And completely wrong.  We know it intuitively too.  Punishments for sin vary widely.  Typically premeditated murder is treated with more severe punishment than murder as a crime of passion (it is in the Old Testament, too).  But if all sins are equal - why should there be a difference for those two types of murder - or even for the little white lies we tell.

The reason Christians think all sins are equal is because all sins lead to death.  But there is no variation in death.  Someone isn't more dead than someone else.  So the punishment for all sins looks the same - and the Bible seems to say that all sins are judged the same.

However.  This is not the case.  As sins are accumulative.

For instance, someone who commits premeditated murder usually has built up a collection of sins (such as hatred, jealousy, spitefulness etc...) before getting to the murder stage.  Murder isn't a "1st level sin".  Maybe it starts with jealousy and works up to envy then goes on to hatred and on and on till a murder is actually committed.

This is why murder is not the same as a white lie.  There are no other sins required to step up to a white lie, it is what it is - but left uncontrolled and unrepentant - it may work it's way to something worse (or may not).

And this has Biblical precedent - Romans says that God will give people over to their depraved minds at some stage if they continue in a certain lifestyle.

This is helpful in knowing which sins to be more lenient with and which sins to deal with more harshly.

8.10.2014

How "Man" is Like a Watch

One of the more interesting points (so far) in Alasdair MacIntyre's "After Virtue" is the idea that since the Aristotelian concept of the world was displaced by the modern view, "Man" has ceased to be a "Functional concept".

MacIntyre uses a watch as an example.  A watch has attached with it a functional concept.  It is expected to do something (tell time).  The definition of 'watch' is both a definition of it as an object and its function.  A good watch is a watch that functions according to its criteria for being a watch.

"Man" needs to have a similar "functional concept":
To be a man is to fill a set of roles each of which has its own point and purpose: member of a family, citizen, soldier, philosopher, servant of God.  It is only when man is thought of as an individual prior to and apart from all roles that 'man' ceases to be a functional concept.
MacIntyre argues that in order for moral arguments to come from anywhere other than personal preference there needs to be a functional concept of 'man'.  In fact, in calling someone 'good' implies that there is a function and purpose that he/she is fulfilling (just like a 'good' watch).  'Man' needs to have a purpose or telos so that he/she can work out not only where they are but also where they need to be.  Without this functional concept morality falls into circularity and emotivism.

5.23.2014

Social Media's Disconnect 2 - Truth and Love

Some more thoughts on social media and how truth and love relate to each other...

Love requires knowledge - and not just any knowledge, relational knowledge.  In this way, social media is untruthful.

In Shakespeare's Much Ado about Nothing, Claudio believes Hero to be unfaithful because of something he saw (visual knowledge), while Beatrice knows Hero to be innocent because of the type of person she knows Hero is (relational knowledge).  Both of them have some sort of knowledge about Hero.  For Shakespeare the knowledge that Beatrice has (relational) proves to be the more reliable than Claudio's knowledge (sight), since Hero is not guilty of any unfaithfulness.

This is true for Paul as well as the mirror (visual) is no replacement for face-to-face, which is a metaphor for being in a relationship.  See Exodus 33:11 where Moses is face-to-face with YHWH.  He knew God - not in the studied up sense, but in the relational sense.

But is a truthful relationship possible on social media?  To use Paul’s analogy, is the relationship going to be “face-to-face” or done through a dim mirror?  I don't know about you but I would be appalled if someone thought they knew me from my Facebook profile.  I once had a pastor tell me, after reading my CV, that he felt like he "knew me" because of my time in YWAM, I told my wife that he was going to be sorely disappointed.

Truth is, we depict our lives through Social media as we choose to, not how it actually happens - much like a CV we let the good parts shine through and limit the negatives.  We are actively (whether we know it or not) editing our lives to promote a positive image.  You do it, I do it.  And the few people who don't do it are promptly deleted from friends lists and complained about.  The humdrum of a boring job - cut - the fight with the spouse - cut - the cool movie  - post - going to that movie alone, and feeling depressed about it - cut.  It gives others the impression that everyone else has the ideal life.  The Atlantic ran an article about depression and Facebook citing a link between feelings of loneliness and the amount of time one spends on Facebook.  You are (partly) responsible for making most your friends on Facebook feel inadequate! We are not (relationally) truthful on social media.  
Facebook sets us up for impossible standards and as a result, depressing us when we can't meet those standards.  And gives us an image of our 'friends' that does not actually represent reality.

Technology has left us disconnected from the truth, about our relationships, about the things we eat and see, even about ourselves.  This is actually quite distressing, since Love requires knowledge and what kind of Love will we have for someone when our perception of them is based on a curated website, edited and up kept.


I keep coming back to 1 Corinthians 13:12-13 it is the face-to-face encounters which build love.  Paul acknowledges this even while saying it in a letter.  To know someone is not the same as knowing how to drive or knowing the multiplication table.  Relational knowledge is of utmost importance, and we are losing it to social media.

5.22.2014

He is King over all Proud Beasts, but no Christ

First, let me say, Godzilla was awesome!  Everything that a monster movie should be!  Monsters fighting monsters with humans caught in the middle of it all!  It was beautifully at moments, well paced (if a little slow in parts) and had some crazy fight scenes that were not just a blur of action (e.g. not like Avengers, Iron Man, Transformers, etc...).  While I dislike 3D (the 3D version was the only time I could go see it), it was used to add texture to the film, which made me (mostly) forget I was watching a 3D movie.  The movie also treated the genre and original context (post WWII Japan) with a certain amount of respect.

Over all, it was a very well made movie.  But that's not why I'm writing this blog.  I'm writing this blog because of two Christian perspectives: one relating Godzilla to Christ, the other to Job.

The comparison that has been made relating Godzilla to God and his saving of the city to Christ saving mankind is paper thin and so fragile that it probably should not be made at all.

First, the movie itself doesn't relates Godzilla to God.  Everyone treats him like an animal (e.g. attempt to lure him away, use his natural instincts) and he acts like an animal (a predator who is hunting prey).  There is also a strong impression that he lives by instinct alone.

Second, Godzilla isn't interested in justice, or even people.  Actually, he's completely ambivalent towards humans, he ignores them the entire movie!  He's a predator, he's interested in hunting and destroying his prey, once he's done he leaves, nothing else interests him.

Third and perhaps most telling, Godzilla's role (from one of the main character's perspective) is to bring about "balance".  This is why Godzilla is no Christ, bringing balance is quite opposite to what Christ did.  Godzilla comes so people can continue to live as they always have, Christ came so that people could live like they never had before.

The comparison of Godzilla to Leviathan is much more substantial!

Godzilla, in this view, isn't a type of Christ; He is a frightening force of nature who happens to be at the right place at the right time.  He is beyond human control or taming, he is an example of the might and power of God of which humans will never be able to comprehend.  In this sense think Christian gets more to the heart of how to relate Godzilla to our thinking about God: through the book of Job and Leviathan.

In comparing Leviathan to Godzilla Josh Larson writes (linked above):
This striking Biblical imagery – of an aquatic behemoth man cannot contain – is meant to put Job in his place. Up until this point, Job has spent many chapters decrying the suffering that God has allowed him to endure. When God eventually responds, it’s with a litany of examples of His awesome power. Among these is Leviathan, which is an earthly creature but could also serve as a symbol for God Himself. As Davidson notes, God’s description of Leviathan concludes this way: “He looks on all the proud; he is king over all proud beasts.”
Also, here's a link of Job 41 with 1954 Godzilla pictures.

5.10.2014

Social Media's Disconnect

I get the honour of preaching in a couple weeks and I've decided to preach on Social Media since it is ubiquitous in western culture, has remained relatively unreflected on in both society and the church and I think it can become harmful.

My argument will be that - since social media and technology are not morally neutral - if they are used unreflectively - they will shape our character and morality.  This will result in being disconnected from Truth, Love and Physicality.  All three are both deeply connected and extremely important to the Christian faith.  Therefore Christians need to be diligent to ensure that Christ is transforming their character, not the technological society around them.

In this blog I will just focus on 2 aspects of how social media may disconnect us from Love.  This is by being both a distraction and a reflection.

Back in 1979, over 20 years before the iPod, Akio Morita, then the CEO of Sony, expressed concerns that his device would be used to foster isolation.  That device was the Walkman.  Now go on a bus, or anywhere, and nearly everyone not only has earphones or headphones on but are also staring at screens.  They are isolated from the world - and in their own world, oblivious to what's going on around them.  These devices are tuning out other people, fostering isolation and individualism.

As a distraction we are never truly present with the people who we are - physically - with.  Our phones or tablets beep and we answer - immediately.  Texts, Facebook, Twitter - often take precedence over what is happening in the places we are inhabiting, now.  People now live, communicate, and relate through their screens - however whether we can get past the screen to the person on the other side is doubtful.  There is much more to meaningful communication and human interaction then just plain text.  Therefore, we are sacrificing meaningful relationships for shallow ones.

As reflection, social media acts as an echo chamber to our own thoughts.  We surround ourselves with the people, organizations, publications and companies which exhibit the same principles, values and worldview as us.  We live happily with few or no contrarian opinion, the "whole world" is in agreement.  Over time we become stripped of our empathy and it becomes increasingly difficult to evaluate and relate to other people contrarian views and opinions.  We begin to lack the imaginative capacity of holding a view or belief that is different from our own.

We often think that this technology is reinforcing our relationships and helping to form close and meaningful bonds.  However, social media is often used - unintentionally - as a means of further isolation and increased individualism.  This means that it is cutting us off from true community and love.

4.05.2014

Mozilla forces Brendan Eich Out

After it had come to light that newly appointed CEO Brendan Eich had donated a sum of money to a cause that was anti-gay marriage, the outcry from Silicon Valley to have him sacked has been enormous.  Of course, all this has to do with "equality" and "inclusiveness" and the most telling thing about the utter hypocrisy of the whole "inclusive" and "equality" language is found right in the post where Mozilla claims how inclusive it actually is.  The sad part is that it's a complete lie:
Our organizational culture reflects diversity and inclusiveness. We welcome contributions from everyone regardless of age, culture, ethnicity, gender, gender-identity, language, race, sexual orientation, geographical location and religious views. Mozilla supports equality for all.
They've already said, loud and clear, that people with certain "religious views" are unwelcome in their company.  So no, Mozilla is not the gold standard of "diversity and inclusiveness" they claim to be.  Just the opposite, in fact.

I would suggest finding a new web browser if you use Firefox regularly, but Mozilla really just did what World Vision did a number of weeks ago.

"But World Vision is a Christian organization reflecting Christian morals", you may say.

And Firefox is a secular company reflecting secular 'morals', I don't see much difference.

3.31.2014

Noah - A Corrective Review

I watched Noah after both reading the graphic novel (by the same writers/directors of the movie) and reading a number of reviews - mostly negative, and one positive (Christianity Today) - all written by Christians. The graphic novel, admittedly, is better than the movie.  It deals better with the themes and characters and I thought it portrayed the Watchers better.  I wish the movie tried to do a 300 and be as faithful to it as possible.  But they made several - biggish - changes

But no one cares if Noah was faithful to the graphic novel on which it was based.  Christians want to know if it's faithful to the Biblical text.  Well, yes it is and no it is not.

If you're expecting a straight telling of Noah, it's not going to happen, not in this movie, and likely not ever.  There is a reason why every movie about Noah has huge amounts of artistic licence: there's not enough source material.  For example, in a TV movie made years ago, Noah saw the destruction of Sodom.  If movie makers made a movie "faithful" to the Biblical story it would be a bad movie. And Noah is not a bad movie.

Most surprising to me is how the negative reviewers interpret the movie.  For instance, they love to mention that Noah goes "crazy" and wants everyone dead.  That interpretation is simplistic - almost idiotic.  What clearly happens is that Noah realizes that he and his family are no less corrupted by sin than any other person/family, so why should they repopulate the earth?  Sin will only live on! (Noah, being righteous, doesn't want sin around!)  At the end he realizes that he can love and have mercy, just as God loved and had mercy on them.  One scene near the end reminded me of a type of proto-Akedah. This reversal in Noah's thinking is most evident at the very end where Noah tells is family to "be fruitful and multiply".

The other aspect that seemed to upset people (and I initially dismissed it as well, early into the graphic novel) was the environmental agenda the movie has - and, yes it has one.  But unlike other movies, this one serves a clever purpose.  The way people treat their surroundings is clearly the way that they also treat their fellow man.  The destruction of creation (clearly evident throughout the film) is a reflection of the corrupt heart of man.  How anyone would miss this is beyond me.

Others have also liked to point out how the movie "contradicts" the Bible.  Yes, there are a few points, but for the most part the reviewers are nitpicking (such as Jephath wasn't Noah's youngest son - but who really cares?!).  The "worst" contradiction in the movie (and it's only a contradiction to those Christians who have no understanding of Christian theology) happens twice with the phrase, "In the beginning there was nothing".  But clearly this isn't in reference to God not existing (as some reviews have implied), but the cosmos not existing.  And since creation ex nihilo is a very Christian doctrine, Christian's shouldn't have any problem with this.

What Noah is then, is a fanciful, imaginative re-telling of the Biblical story which takes the themes of the Biblical source seriously but takes liberties with the story in order to make it exciting and entertaining so that it is almost certainly not what you will expect.  It was also kept relatively clean (it is about how evil men are and their destruction, after all).  I don't remember any swearing (there could have been some - I don't recall any though), there was no sex/nudity, and the violence was usually less gory than something like Lord of the Rings (e.g.  not decapitations - but a few animal guts).  There were plenty of oppurtunities to make a rated R film - and the film makers did not.

There are a lot of lessons to be learned in this film and it's a shame that some in the Christian community don't understand even the basics of good story telling.  Go into Noah not expecting a rehash of the Bible but a clever reinterpretation of the story that will teach those who will listen.  To those who have ears let them hear.