Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Rule of Life #4 - Choices of Life

Too many times in our modern culture we look at society and -more specifically- ourselves and see only victims. We like to displace blame, rarely accepting responsibility for our actions, or displacing blame for those we sympathize with. There are countless examples to draw on, and anyone reading this will undoubtedly be thinking of different examples. The fact that we as Americans (and humans in general) have forgotten how to take responsibility for the consequences of our actions is no secret. This has been going on since the dawn of time and fluctuates based on a society's proximity to God.

Yet, as a student of psychology, I take a special interest in this relationship. Why do people do what they do? Are we really victims and able to say "society is to blame" or "my family is to blame" or whatever else we latch on to as a reason for our actions, trials or troubles? I don't think so. While I will not totally discount the behaviorist's approach that says external environmental factors are the primary source of human thoughts and behaviors, it is hardly the primary reason. If this was true, we would have been reduced to a tiny leaf floating in the ocean, helpless against where the tide pulled us. Don't get me wrong, environmental factors play a role, but it is simply a variable... and ultimately a small one in the grand scheme of things.

In wondering why people do what they do, I fell back on something I learned in high school. Life is 10% of what happens to us and 90% of how we react to it. This is a hard thing to accept in a world that likes to displace blame for nearly everything. Yet, at the same time, it's true. External factors play a big role in our lives, but no matter the tragedy it is ultimately our decision how bad we are going to make the problem in our minds.

What causes people to start down the path of psychological illness? It's a question that's been around for a long time. Could it be as simple as our choice to react negatively to things? And once reacted negatively, hanging onto the bitterness, pain, hurt, anger and eventually ending up in a depression that has become a medical imbalance? I think it really is as simple as that. Sure, many psychological problems are due to chemical imbalances, but it had to begin somewhere, and that beginning is usually our poor reactions to situations.

We are all guilty of this - myself included. It's hard to be optimistic all the time, especially in the hardest of times. But this is what God calls us to do. It's not easy, but even Paul and Silus had the optimism to be able to sing and praise God while chained in a dark prison. It would have been easy to play the victim in that situation, because Paul and Silus truly were victims. But they understood that life was not about what happened to them. That is out of our control. Paul understood that life was about how we react to these events and he praised God for it anyway. It is a commandment that God gives us to be thankful in all things. Undoubtedly it is not the easiest commandment to keep, but it doesn't change the truth of the principle.

As an old teacher of mine loved to remind us, "Ideas have consequences". It's true, and so does our negative reactions to events that we cannot control. Life is about our reactions - not our being victims of events.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Rule of Life #3 - There is truth and it can be known

Christianity was never a religion with an "open mind". Perhaps the advent of an "open mind" came with modern education. It is true that the more we learn and the more we discover, the more questions we seem to have about our world. In the past, this discovery of the perpetual unknown has spurred on further learning. This is still true today. But many academics, who feel uncomfortable with the idea of the unknown, have rationalized this uncomfortable phenomenon with the "open mind" philosophy. The true open mind believes that truth is relative, and that there are many answers to a single question. Such extremes of this have resulted in "fuzzy math" in public schools and revisionist histories. Statistics show that the more educated a person is, the more likely they are to have this point of view. The new definition of enlightened has become "someone with a truly open mind". It is little wonder Christian colleges (mine included) are abandoning their core beliefs to be better perceived, and thus, as a result, believe in nothing at all.
Theistic evolution is the newest form of this. This is the belief that God created the world through evolution. Besides the obvious scientifically proven facts that disprove evolution (this is obvious to anyone who is willing to look), the Bible simply does not support the idea of evolution at all. (To disprove this idea scripturally would take an entire essay in itself. For now I will simply speak of it in general). The idea of this, and much of the "open mind" mentality is nothing short of intellectual cowardice. People who refuse to take a stand and examine the evidence of a situation are essentially sitting on the fence and do not have the wherewithal to make a decision. Much of this stems from a deep seated desire to be liked and respected by all sides. As a result, however, this non-position of the "open mind" usually results in the lack of respect of people who have the courage to make an informed decision.
Theistic evolution is only one of countless examples to be drawn from to illustrate people who would rather have an "open mind" than actually know anything for sure at all. They treat truth as an elusive substance, no more easily caught and contained than the morning mist. But this is far from reality. Evolution from a Christian point of view, like so many other things, can easily be discarded when the Bible is examined objectively. Christianity claims to know the truth, and as such, we do ourselves a great disservice by pretending otherwise. Evolution, homosexuality, salvation outside Christ.... these are all things that creep into the church when we try to have an "open mind". While an open mind may be a good thing in learning, it is dangerous when, in the end, you know nothing at all.
There is truth and it can be known for those willing to look. But it requires being considered "intellectually shallow" for not having (what many would call) an "open mind". I may not have an "open mind", but at least I know what I believe, why I believe it... and I know that it is true.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Emotional Christianity

Something I have run into in the last few years at college is the concept of emotional Christianity. This takes on many forms, but the most obvious of these is found in chapel. To say that emotion is not found in worship is untrue. However, worship's primary purpose is to praise God, not make you feel good. Although, praising God often has the affect of causing emotion, this is not always the case, and must not require it to be the case. The hard truth of the Christian life if that we must still worship God and serve him even on days when we do not feel like it. It is a dangerous proposition to set up emotion as a necessity every time you enter the house of God.

When we as the Church get caught up in the emotionalism of the worship, we begin to run the risk of shifting the focus off of God and His majesty and onto ourselves and how we are feeling in that moment. A great example of this is found in the chapel services found at my school. Each chapel begins with singing worship songs. After the songs, somebody leads the students in prayer. However, while this person is praying, the musicians continue to play their instruments softly and repeatedly, the volume rising and falling with the voice of the person praying. This has one purpose and one only: to create emotion. This emotion is created not only in the listener, but also in the person praying. This emotion is for emotion-sake only and has no place. The worship of God and the prayer of His people should be enough to arouse emotion. But to whatever extent that it does not happen, we are operating under the assumption that it is not worship without emotion. We enjoy the "high" the emotion gives us, and in it's absence we feel something missing. Yet there is nothing wrong with this. It is simply human nature to not be happy all the time, but it doesn't mean there cannot be genuine worship without it. We are merely serving our own needs rather than God's by insisting on artificially creating a false sense of emotion.

In truth the musicians continuing to play bothered me because it was disrespectful to the person praying, but more importantly, it was disrespectful to God because they were serving their own needs for emotion rather than bowing in respectful prayer. Yes, it is true spiritual "highs" are nice, but they are fleeting. And we cannot hang our spirituality on the "high" of a church service. We feel that when the high is gone, something is wrong. But this is not true. Emotional states like that do not last forever and must not become the marker for ideas of ideal worship.

True worship comes from the heart. It is about our love toward God that allows us to worship Him when we do not feel like it. It is easy to let the emotion overwhelm us and to get caught up in our own feelings rather than focusing on the One whom we should. And in doing so, that same emotion becomes a necessity. It is in this that the danger lies. We must focus our attention on the One who we trust for our salvation. In a truly grateful heart this will cause feelings of true joy. God calls us to have a joyful heart. But this is vastly different than being "caught up in the feeling".

Yes, we need to worship God and do all with a joyful heart. But let us remember the God whom we serve and not allow ourselves to place the feelings of emotion above the position of our Lord.

Friday, September 30, 2005

Disassembling the "Wall" Myth

The phrase "separation of church and state" is itself a myth brought on through various Supreme Court rulings since 1947. The phrase was originally taken from a personal letter written by President Jefferson and has been sorely misrepresented. (Levin, 35-53) The ideal balance of church and state is found within the US Constitution and the words and actions of our Founding Fathers.

The First Amendment of the Constitution say that "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof." What this means is that the government cannot establish a state church, or, through law, hold one church higher than another. Congress is also not allowed to restrict the people's freedom to practice their religion. However, the wording of this amendment says nothing of whether the government may help, fund, or publicly recognize any religion. The Constitution says nothing about separating church and state beyond what is clearly spelled out. As the late Justice William Rehnquist wrote:

"The Establishment Clause (first section of 1st amendment) did not require government neutrality between religion and irreligion nor did it prohibit the Federal Government from providing nondiscriminatory aid to religion. There is simply no historical foundation for the proposition that the Framers intended to build the "wall of separation" that was constitutionalized in Everson [v. Board of Education]....The "wall of separation between church and state" is a metaphor based on bad history, a metaphor which has proved useless as a guide to judging." (Levin, 45)

The original phrase "separation between church and state" was originally found in a personal letter from President Jefferson to a Baptist church in Danbury, Connecticut to explain why he had not called for a national day of prayer, fasting and thanksgiving as Presidents Washington and Adams had done before him. This was by no means an official government document, nor was Jefferson even in the country when the Bill of Rights or Constitution was written and ratified. Based on this, Jefferson seems to be a very curious choice to quote concerning the intent of the Constitution. However, his meaning though, this belief did not stop him from publicly mentioning God, nor did he call for others to stop mentioning God publicly and using their government position to promote religion. (Levin, 40-44)

To further clarify Jefferson's thoughts on religion - he also wrote: "Our particular principles of religion are a subject of accountability to our God alone." In addition to this, James Madison, the Father of the Constitution (the one who did write it) once noted, "Before any man can be considered a member of civil society, he must be considered as a subject of the Governor of the Universe."

Both Presidents George Washington and John Adams called for national days of prayer, fasting and thanksgiving. Our country was clearly founded on Christian principles and the settlers knew all too well how it was to live under government run religious persecution. To best understand the minds of the Founding Fathers on the issue of church and state, it is best to look to their very words. In a speech by President Washington, calling for a national day of prayer to God, he said the "National Government...[should] promote the knowledge and practice of true religion and virtue..." (Levin, 36-40)

Washington also once noted: "Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports, and let us with caution indulge the supposition that morality can be maintained without religion."

Unfortunately we now live in a country where people feel they have a right not to be offended. Even more troubling is that the Supreme Court established that imaginary right over the past century. A federal court has even recently ruled against the Pledge of Allegiance because one person was offended by the phrase "under God". There is no foundation for such a ruling other than the mythical "separation of church and state" precedent applied to the mythical "right not to be offended", both established by the Supreme Court. However, as I have stated before, there is no such meaning in the Constitution nor the words and attitudes of the Founding Fathers. People simply do not have a constitutional right not to be offended.

In the words of John Adams (2nd President of the United States) - "Our particular principles of religion are a subject of accountability to our God alone." Government should not tell us how to worship, nor is it the place of government to restrict or freedom to worship. That is as far as the Constitution allows. The rest are just people's personal policy preferences.

(Resources: Levin, M. [2005], Men in Black, pg. 35-55)

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Switching Sites

The time has come to move my website on to bigger and better things. Xanga was great, but as you'll soon see, Blogger allows much more freedom. I admit that I will miss Xanga, but hopefully for you -the people who read this site- you will not notice the difference. I reproduced the layout of the last site as closely as I could since I know a lot of people were fond of it. It was hard work, because while Blogger gives me more freedom, it also asumes that I am a web creating expert. Hopefully thanks to Blogger, I will learn to be. All of what you see was done with Macromedia and hopefully as I begin to feel more and more ambitious, this site will only improve.

Blogger alows for several things that Xanga could not offer. Here are some of the things to look for:
  • Most importantly... ANYONE can now leave comments! I will now expect everyone who reads this site to at least be kind enough to leave a comment.
  • No ads! ...although I can choose to have ads on my site, and if the readership is high, they'll pay me :)
  • Archived posting. So to go back in time to read an old article, click on the archive links in the right sidebar. It is organized by title (for the most recent articles) and by month (for older ones)
  • You can post here too! Provided of course I like you and agree to let you ;-) But seriously, if anyone wants to submit an article for the site, all you will have to do is e-mail it to a super secret e-mail address, and it will post automatically.
  • Full HTML/CSS control of the site... although this is a benefit for me, it will benefit the rest of the readers too because it will allow for a much better site in the future.

The Xanga site will stay where it is, although I will no longer be posting to it. To visit it go to http://www.xanga.com/handofprovidence . And to answer the question "why did you change the name of the site to 'Serentae', and what does it mean?" ... I changed the name because I wanted something more original. The word is translated "The Stars" in reference to the wonders of God's creation.

Enjoy the new site, look for new posts and changes... and LEAVE COMMENTS!


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