Fish Tank Post: One Thing You Lack

Another Fish Tank post.


Fish Tank Post: Of (Animal) Farms and Fundamentalism


Intentions and Moral Relativism

One consequence of moral relativism's influence in our society is that we are much more likely to consider someone's intentions when evaluating the goodness of their actions. The prominence we assign to such internal factors follows naturally from our tendency to contextualize and "relativize" cultural, moral, and religious questions.

I certainly think that intentions matter - to some extent. God does, after all, judge the heart. However, I also think it is a real possibility that we are over-prioritizing intentions in ethical discourse.

One reason I think that is what Halden discusses in this post (not that I agree with him completely).

At the moment, I won't argue for any specific role intentions should have in our ethical analyses. Instead, I'll just share a few thoughts related more to the psychology of the matter than to the ethics per se:

1. One man's "relying on intentions" is another man's "rationalization." I doubt that Stalin would have said that he acted the way he did simply to kill large numbers of people. How honest are we with ourselves about our intentions?

Most of our intentions are not, admittedly, blatantly malicious. But most of our intentions are also not selflessly altruistic. Most of them are, in fact, hopelessly self-centered. How much is it to the credit of rich, well-fed Americans to say we are "well-intentioned"?

2. A quotation from Pascal: "There are only two kinds of men: the righteous, who believe themselves sinners; the rest, sinners who believe themselves righteous."

3. "You have heard that it was said, 'Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect" (Matthew 5:43-48).

Our standards for "good intentions" are far too low if "good intentions" means "not overtly malicious intentions." "Good intentions," according to the Sermon on the Mount, are radical intentions, even bizarre intentions.

4. It's never good when we trust our own intentions more than God's intentions.


Rabbis and Stones

An excerpt from Orson Scott Card's Speaker for the Dead (hat tip to my friend SJP):
"A great rabbi stands teaching in the marketplace. It so happens that a husband finds proof that morning of his wife's adultery, and a mob carries her to the marketplace to stone her to death. (There is a familiar version of this story, but a friend of mine, a Speaker for the Dead, told me of two other rabbis that had faced the same situation. Those are the ones I'm going to tell you.)

The rabbi walks forward and stands beside the woman. Out of respect for him the mob forbears, and waits with the stones heavy in their hands. 'Is there anyone here,' he says to them, 'who has not desired another man's wife, or another woman's husband?'

They murmur and say, 'We all know the desire. But, Rabbi, none of us has acted on it.'

The rabbi says, 'Then kneel down and give thanks that God made you strong.' He takes the woman by the hand and leads her out of the market. Just before he lets her go, he whispers to her, 'Tell the lord magistrate who saved his mistress. Then he'll know that I am his loyal servant.'

So the woman lives, because the community is too corrupt to protect itself from disorder.

Another rabbi, another city. He goes to her, and stops the mob, as in the other story and says, 'Which of you is without sin? Let him cast the first stone.'

The people are abashed, and forget their unity of purpose in the memory of their own individual sins. Someday, they think, I may be like this woman, and I'll hope for forgiveness and another chance. I should treat her the way I wish to be treated.

As they open their hands and let the stones fall to the ground, the rabbi picks up one of the stones, lifts it high over the woman's head, and throws it straight down with all his might. It crushes her skull, and dashes her brains onto the cobblestones.

'Nor am I without sin,' he says to the people. 'But if we allow only perfect people to enforce the law, the law will soon be dead, and our city with it.'

So the woman died because her community was too rigid to endure her deviance.

The famous version of this story is noteworthy because it is so startlingly rare in our experience. Most communities lurch between decay and rigor mortis, and when they veer too far, they die. Only one rabbi dared to expect of us such a perfect balance that we could preserve the law and still forgive the deviation.

So, of course, we killed him."
(P.S. This excerpt is just one other reason my name is Speaker for the Dead.)


Fish Tank Post: Science of the Gaps

Here it is.


The Appeal of the Gold Star Mother

The Appeal of the Gold Star Mother

Alexander M. Sullivan

To him the call in life's morning,
He whispered a fervent adieu,
He followed the flag of his country,
Far away as she knew he would do.
Somewhere by a hill or valley,
Stands a cross o'er the grave that he won,
In that place where the ivy is clinging,
Let the mother draw close to her son.

Let her gaze on the white cross above him,
Marking his flower-decked bed,
Let her kneel where he fell in his glory,
And pray where the laddie lies dead.
Let her weep where the sod rise o'er him,
Like a canopy fit for the true,
Let her pour out the love a mother,
And receive consolation anew.

Not long may she linger beside him,
But happy in heart she will be,
With green sod, the cross and the ivy
Entwined in sweet memory.
Back home in the land that he died for,
She will think of her pride and her joy,
And in fancy she'll see a red poppy,
Abloom on the grave of her boy.
I came across this while doing some research on soldiers. It's incredible how we often forget how much soldiers truly sacrifice for us. Their love is the kind of self-sacrificing, Christ-like love for which we should all strive, and their level of disciple is absolutely admirable.


Fish Tank Post: Atonement and the Problem of Evil

My latest post for The Fish Tank is up. (And read everyone else's posts, too!)


Global Cooling?

So it seems like every year (at least for 2006, 2007, 2008, and 2009), there's been someone talking about global cooling. Based on the most recent climate change data, it appears that the world may actually be cooling (or, for the sake of being cautious, it appears that the world cooled in 2008).

So I know I shouldn't be, but I'm confused about how this mounting pile evidence was somehow trampled by the global warming bandwagon. Can they take back Al Gore's Nobel Peace Prize now? Please? It'd be a shame if it was awarded for nothing.


Love Is All We Need...

...as long as it is in the right place.

So many people desperately want to hear those words, "I love you" or "I can't live without you!" As humans, we long to feel loved and to express our feelings for those whom we love. We want to find the perfect person, marry them, and live happily ever after. We want to pretend that we can be satisfied in marriage, that we can find rest in this life. The problem is: we can't. As Augustine said, "Our hearts are restless until they rest in Thee."

I wonder if our longing for love in other people isn't just a displacement for the love that God has for us. I'm reminded of Psalm 139.
"O LORD, you have searched me and you know me.You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar."

- vv. 1-2
We want someone who can know what we are thinking, just with a glance or a smile.
"You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways."

- v. 3
We want someone who knows all of our idiosyncrasies, and who loves us because of (or in spite of) them.
"Before a word is on my tongue you know it completely, O LORD."

- v. 4
We want someone who finishes our sentences for us.

We want these comforts from people of the opposite sex, but it is only the Lord who can truly fulfill them all. Even our spouses cannot not know us perfectly. We cannot share our every thought, our every feeling with another person. The demands of life (and our not having telepathy) prevent it from occurring. Only the Lord can know everything about us.

But more importantly, when we look for love in other people, we want it to be constant. G.K. Chesterton said, "It is the nature of love to bind itself, and the institution of marriage merely paid the average man the compliment of taking him at his word." We get married because we want someone to love us for the entirety of our lives, and often beyond. Yet the high rate of divorce indicates that even marriage cannot guarantee the eternal love of fallible humans.

The Lord reassures His people, "I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with loving-kindness" (Jeremiah 31:3). His love is unceasing - not just in this life, but in what lies beyond it as well. His love never fails. Yet time and time again, our trust and our love placed in other humans fails us. We continue to place comfort in other people, instead of seeking our security in God. Rather than letting the Lord be our refuge, we put our heart and soul and mind and strength into our relationships with other people.

It's funny, because we don't normally think of romance as being sinful. Obviously, relationships can lead us into impurity and sin, but we don't think of longing for others as necessarily bad (that's not to say it always is, either). But when we seek our security in relationships, we are filling that God-shaped hole in our hearts. We are filling a void that is meant for God, and inadvertently separating ourselves from Him. We are accidentally falling into sin!
Jesus Doodle!Before official relationships begin, both people tend to develop a crush on each other first. The characteristics of a crush are pretty clear: constantly thinking about the person, talking to your friends about him or her, writing adorable heartfelt poems, doodling on every spare scrap of paper, and floating through the day because of being generally happy with life. I can sense these characteristics when I think of 1 Thessalonians 5:16-17: "Be joyful always; pray continually."

I wonder if, before we start to deal with our human crushes, we should start cultivating a more divine crush. God ought not be second in our hearts. Plus, I think it'd be much more romantic to hear my husband say, "I can live without you, because I rely on God, but I don't want to live without you, because you help bring me closer to Him."


Moser on Russell

From Paul Moser's The Elusive God: Reorienting Religious Epistemology:
"Bertrand Russell (1970) anticipated his response if he were to meet God after death: 'God, you gave us insufficient evidence.' Insufficient for what? For Russell's highly questionable expectations of God? In any case, Russell's charge against God sounds blaming, to put it mildly. Russell might have considered a bit more modesty in the presence of an authoritatively and morally perfect God. In that case, a humbled Russell, unlike the actual Russell, would have asked: 'God, what purposes of yours led to your being subtle and elusive in the purposively available evidence of your reality?' It's astonishing, and regrettable too, that Russell as a self-avowed rational truth-seeker gave no indication of being aware of such a compelling and important question for a rational truth-seeker."