Saturday, December 15, 2007

Where there's a will ...

I often see on Christian blogs prayers that someone surrender their will to God, or let God's will be done. I believe it's CS Lewis who said that on judgement day, there will be two sorts of people. One who say to God, "Thy will be done," and those to whom God says, "Your will be done." The latter end up in hell.

In a lot of ways, I'm finding this a false dichotomy in that there are only two choices. You can do God's will, or follow your own selfish will. But what if your will matches God's? What if you want the elimination of evil, or justice throughout the world? What if you want to be a better person? What if the wills align?

It's almost like saying you're never going to want anything good on your own, or you can't want anything good independently of God. It's like the only way you want something good is if you actively tell God that His will must be done. If you don't specifically say that or pursue that, you're suddenly selfish? In the parable of the Samaratain, he would've been seen as not following God's will, because he had heretical views. And yet he was the one Jesus praised. His will was seen as opposed to God.

Maybe it's more of anytime the sentence starts with "I want [fill in the black,]" the choices above indicate that it's automatically selfish, because it starts with "I." Not all "I" statements are selfish.

I think a big problem here is that it's almost an unhealthy idea of surrender. If you surrender and only do God's will alone, and let God decide ... where is the person in the equation? Doesn't the identity get swallowed in the will of God? The way I was taught while growing up is that one doesn't look to God to see how sinful you are, or how fallen, or how corrupt one's will is. You look to God to see who you are, because the more you understand God, the more you understand how you were created. You see Who's image you truly are. You see that there shouldn't be competing wills, that they should mirror one another. You get a true sense of your identity.

Under the other idea, I just see a bunch of robots. I really do. I see all identiy of the person swept away, replaced by God and His will. Where's the healing in that?

Of course, this could lead to another post. Wanting your will done is seen as selfish. Yet God having His will done is not selfish. It's the same idea for both, and yet the latter is not selfish, because God cannot be selfish. I find this a relative situation, because it's not dependent on the wanting, but on who is doing the wanting. It's like saying if Person A murders it's bad, but if Person B murders, it's okay. The situation is standard, the players differ. The players determine the morality of the situation. Is that really how we should judge morality?

20 comments:

cipher said...

Hey Heather,

You know how they think - we can never really want what's good because we're totally depraved. All that we can do is to submit, to beg him to align our will with His - because we can never, ever do it on our own.

It never ceases to amaze me how completely Lewis has been co-opted by the fundies - people with whom he would never have associated in life. And his apologetics and theological arguments in general are, as someone said to me recently, "weak tea, even as apologetics goes". He should have just stuck with teaching English lit and writing fantasy - and not the Christian-flavored kind!

I've seen some of your comments recently on the de-conversion blog, and this morning, on Losing My Religion (I don't think I've been there before). I was commenting a bit on de-conversion recently, but you see the mindsets of the Christians who come on to these blogs to convince us how wrong we all are (really, in the process, attempting to convince themselves) - and I can't tolerate them for long. I was going to respond to one of those two idiots on Losing My Religion who are arguing with you about the Jesus Seminar, but then, I thought, "Why bother?"

You know, on these blogs, Christians often assume that I'm an atheist because I take the contrary position. I'm not, strictly speaking; as I told one of them the other day (a seemingly nice young man who was a Christian universalist, actually) - I'm not even a very good agnostic. But, I'll tell you - I'm fast approaching that position, and it's these people who are driving me to it.

By the way, there's a book that's just come out, that I've started reading - The Faith Between Us. It's a series of essays by two young guys, both writers, who have been friends for about six years. One is Jewish, grew up in a secular home, tried Asian religions and returned to Judaism. The other grew up in a religious Catholic home, studied for the priesthood, but now defines himself as an atheist. The book is a record of their friendship and their ongoing dialogue about their beliefs and about faith in general. They've been speaking in public - mostly in Boston and New York, where they live. I've attended the three talks here in Boston and I've been very impressed (and I don't impress easily any more). They're very open and self-revelatory, and serious about the business of dialogue without taking themselves seriously. Part of the reason they've been speaking in public (in addition to promoting the book) is that they want to help to recapture conversation about faith from the fundamentalists and reactionary factions. I wanted to tell you and Yael about it; I thought you might find them interesting. They have a website: thefaithbetweenus.com.

OneSmallStep said...

Cipher,

**You know how they think - we can never really want what's good because we're totally depraved. **
I know this on an intellectual level. It just has a hard time sinking emotionally. I'm well aware of my "dark areas" and those where I don't always want to do the right thing. But that just seems so emotionally draining, that you have to be so grateful that God loves you when you're so depraved. And that you have to see every person as someone incapable of doing good on their own.

**And his apologetics and theological arguments in general are, as someone said to me recently, "weak tea, even as apologetics goes".**

I always wince when I see someone recommend CS Lewis or Lee Strobel to someone who has studied Christianity extensively.

**I was going to respond to one of those two idiots on Losing My Religion who are arguing with you about the Jesus Seminar, but then, I thought, "Why bother?"**

Well, why should I have all the fun? ;) I see this behavior in other areas, though. You recommend an author, or suggest an alternative reading of a Bible verse, and are dismissed because the author either belongs to the Jesus Seminar, or the thinking is like the Jesus Seminar. That's way too close to ad hominum for me, because it says nothing about the scholarship or research of either person. If you read Marcus Borg or John Dominic Cross or Karen Armstrong, you can see that they have put a great deal of thought into what they present. I would assume that I'd be rightly called out if I said that no one should bother reading William Lane Craig or NT Wright because they are conservative scholars, because I'm attacking their mindset, not their scholarship. Why doesn't it work the other way?

The other reason why it bothers me is because for many people, that's how they connect to Christianity. They can't in any other way, because the conservative position simply doesn't work for them. I know someone who had this friend who was a conservative Christian, and yet found one day he couldn't believe that way anymore. He was devestated. My friend encouraged him to look at the Bible differently, through more of a metaphorically lense. In the end, it really ended up helping the ex-conservative. Without this other way of looking at the Bible, thousands will be left floundering, told that they either accept it as literal truth, or leave. If you have someone who has only a fragile grasp left on their faith, and is finding the faith strengthened through a metaphorical reason, and then attack that person for following the reasoning, then you will do more damage then the Jesus Seminar ever will.

**You know, on these blogs, Christians often assume that I'm an atheist because I take the contrary position.**

I get this as well. And it makes sense, because I have a really logical mind. I like patterns, and things that connect. Faith doesn't really do that. Nor does the Bible in parts, and when it does seem to connect, it's only because the Bible verses seem to get twisted, or it falls into the "that doesn't mean what it says it means." For someone who works more on a logical than emotional framework, I tend to see more where the atheist is coming from, simply because in many ways, there is no logic to Christianity.

Thank you for the book recommendation. I've added it to my amazon wish list, and will soon be ordering it.

cipher said...

You know, it often happens that when people fall away from ultra-Orthodox Judaism, they can't or don't assume a Modern Orthodox or non-Orthodox position - they often just become non-believers, or, at in any case, they give up practice. It doesn't always work this way, but it frequently does. I don't know whether this is the boomerang effect, and they will eventually fall into something mid-way - or if, as you say, they can only relate to it in one way.

There's been some research that seems to indicate a physiological basis for the dichotomy between liberal and conservative worldviews. It seems to have something to do with neuronal firing patterns in the prefrontal cortex.

Some articles:
http://www.tikkun.org/magazine/tik0709/frontpage/neuroscience

http://afp.google.com/article/ALeqM5isgJ0r_9nH41VBhtXvN17pxlA31Q

http://www.economist.com/opinion/displaystory.cfm?story_id=8453850

http://www.theyoungturks.com/story/2007/9/11/105055/846/Diary/Study-finds-left-wing-brain-right-wing-brain

cipher said...

Oh, crap.

Here

Here

Here

and

Here

I HATE having to insert links into Blogger threads. I think Wordpress just does it for you.

Yael said...

Hi Cipher and OSS,
I also get tired of the notion that Torah can only be viewed literally or it has no meaning at all. One of the best things for me was finally having it instilled into my mind that Torah is poetry and should be read as poetry. Only then could I stop kicking against it and God every two seconds.

I have tried living a totally non-religious life, but for me it was not a possibility. I just have a fascination with all things God and Torah. But, taking it all literally? Trying to put it all in neat little boxes? No way!

I read that article about how the brain works for conservatives and liberals. Quite interesting discovery. I wonder though. The pendulum in history ever swings back and forth between the two views.

I also read the comments on LMR, but decline to enter the conversation. I try to only enter ones where a Jewish POV is relevant and certainly I don't have anything to say about that topic. I do get annoyed with the assumption though that because OSS doesn't agree with the person, she must just need to get more education on the topic! Spare me. Never is it allowed that someone could disagree because more than one conclusion could be reached by reading the same materials!

cipher said...

Never is it allowed that someone could disagree because more than one conclusion could be reached by reading the same materials!

Oh, I know. There's just this imperviousness to reasonability. Someone over at de-conversion described it in terms of a "range of acceptable answers". One simply doesn't go outside of the parameters. As I told Heather, it's been bothering me more lately more than it usually does. I haven't wanted to trouble you with it, as you've had your own tzuris as of late. How are you and the boys doing?

Did you read my paragraph about The Faith Between Us? I've been working this afternoon on an email I owe someone (and I haven't left the apartment because we've been having a Noreaster), but afterward, I was going to come over to your blog to tell you about it. I think you'd find these guys interesting. Their genuineness alone has won me over. I gave one of my rabbi friends a copy of the book; he's thinking about having them come and lead a dialogue group at his shul.

My friend, Rabbi Reinstein, is a socially conscious Conservative rabbi, who's started a small synagogue in Jamaica Plain, a neighborhood of Boston. He wanted to recreate the warm, intimate atmosphere of a Hasidic synagogue, without the dogmatism. I told him that you're a student of Rabbi Allen's. He knows of him, of course - in fact, I think he may know him personally. He's very interested in the hechsher tzedek initiative.

OneSmallStep said...

Cipher,

I've seen those studies, and I think it would explain a lot, in terms of why the sides can't always reach common ground. I often wonder why, if the evidence is so clear to me, that others don't see it that way. This doesn't mean I'm saying people need more education. This person and I have the same education, the same information, and yet draw different conclusions. The reason why I don't think this ties into Yael's comments is that when people tell me how they see it, or repeat things to me like saying to go read something again, I feel that they didn't understand how I see it in the first place, since they can't repeat it back to me.

Yael,

**I do get annoyed with the assumption though that because OSS doesn't agree with the person, she must just need to get more education on the topic! Spare me. Never is it allowed that someone could disagree because more than one conclusion could be reached by reading the same materials!**

You and me both. :) The interesting thing here is that I think I sometimes feel the same. The difference here is that ... well, if we go back to the recent LMR post, I was feeling that no one was listening to me. Like the votes: the people provide the technical papers, those papers would include the sayings/actions on Jesus, and then the Seminar votes. So I said that the marbles simply function as a system of voting on the technical papers, and get told that they're voting on the sayings of Jesus. I was feeling as though the other speaker was seeing it as though they just randomly decided which sayings were right/wrong, and I was saying that it was based on technical papers.

So it was like I was saying I had enough education, I was proving I was familiar with the topic ... and then told that I didn't read it at all. Yet when I'm in this position, and feel that the other person doesn't know enough, it's because I compare the information we both read, read what the other person says about the information, and feel that what they say doesn't match with the information itself, and demonstrates that the person isn't familiar.

Does this make any sense?

Yael said...

Cipher,
Stop by my blog anytime. We're doing fine. I was wondering where you had gone to!

I posted about that book some time back when we had the discussion about the rabbi and the pastor but I haven't read it yet. It does sound interesting.

At this stage in my life I've reached the point where if at the end I find it's all for nothing, oh well, I wouldn't have wanted to live my life any other way. I never go to atheist blogs. I don't care if they're right or they're wrong. I'm content either way and reality is they pretty much annoy me with their dogmatism just as much as the fundies do. I don't know why everyone has to take all of this religion stuff so seriously, so says a woman who writes three blogs mostly about Judaism....

I'll have to mention your rabbi friend to Rabbi. HT is a great thing. May CJ keep going with it and not drop the ball on this one! Sometimes I wonder....

OSS,
I hear you. I suppose it falls in the same category as being intolerant of the intolerant while trying to be tolerant....

cipher said...

Does this make any sense?

It makes perfect sense. This is one of the reasons I'm not big on "interfaith dialogue" when it involves fundamentalists. We're operating from within entirely different conceptual frameworks; we're almost literally speaking two different languages. Also, they begin from the position that certain things are sacrosanct, simply not on the table. In this case, it's the divinity of Jesus, and the inerrancy of the Bible. Anything that would threaten those beliefs, they simply ignore. Often, it isn't even done consciously - this is the nature of denial. They really aren't paying attention to what you're saying.

There are other factors as well - intelligence, level of education. Plus, they have their own "scholars" to whom they listen, who reassure them that all is well, that their icons are safe and that we don't know what we're talking about. And they've been told, repeatedly, by the authorities in their world that that's what the Jesus Seminar has done - they don't like something that Jesus said? They just take it out!

Several books have come out over the past couple of years describing the rise of Christian nationalism, and the parallel reality conservative Christians are creating for themselves, complete with its own "history" and "science". They're trying desperately to impose it upon the rest of society, but, in the meantime, it's a form of mutual reinforcement. They like to say that they're trying to convince/convert us, but they're really just trying to convince themselves. They just keep saying the same things to one another, over and over again. When someone from the outside, such as yourself, says something contradictory - they really don't hear you. If you're persistent, you have to be pushed away, gotten rid of, because you are the most dangerous person in the world to them - someone who offers contradictory evidence, even proof that their beliefs system is really founded on a house of cards. And, occasionally, when they do even try to listen - they often just don't get it. Again - different conceptual frameworks.

The belief system gives them comfort, Heather. I can understand it. What does the outside world offer them? Hopelessness, despair, a sense of cosmic aloneness. Oblivion after death. Why should they listen to us? And none of this would bother me, really, but for one thing - they can't seem to manage to do this without condemning the rest of us to hell. THAT is where they lose me; it's where my compassion takes a walk. They've taken their self-loathing and projected it onto the rest of humanity. Because they suffer from low self-esteem, I have to be abandoned for all of eternity? This, for me, is the line of demarcation.

I've often said that I don't expect them to understand - but I expect them to understand that they don't understand. I'm told that I expect too much. And, of course, the inability is never on their side - it's us. We don't have the Holy Spirit, we aren't willing to submit to God's will. And it isn't confined to conservative Christians; you find it in every subculture, every belief system. We have it among our Jewish fundamentalists, the ultra-Orthodox. And it always ends up being our fault. Always. It's the only way in which they can keep the fiction going. It's a fragile bubble. They're trying desperately not to allow it to burst.

It's a form of addiction. Jerry Falwell is just as much an addict as an alcoholic, drug abuser or compulsive gambler. Worse - because they aren't sending you to hell. And denial is the foundation upon which it is built.

cipher said...

I posted about that book some time back when we had the discussion about the rabbi and the pastor

You know, now I'm wondering if that's where I first heard about them. Since I turned fifty, I can't remember a damned thing!

I also meant to tell you - I got that book, The Christian and the Pharisee, out of the library. I read a few parts; I couldn't read the whole thing. It's as we surmised - the fundamentalist is generally insufferable in his condescension and in his "concern" for the salvation of the poor, benighted rabbi who just doesn't get it. And, to be honest - I wasn't all that thrilled with Rabbi Rosen, either. I can go into it in more detail, if you like, or not - I can understand if it doesn't interest you enough. Also, it may be far afield from the original topic of Heather's post.

Yael said...

I'll leave a post open for you on my blog. You can talk about it there.

DagoodS said...

*cough, cough* Can I talk about the blog entry?

Just kidding!!

As I was reading, I couldn’t help thinking what a nonsense phrase, “Let your will be done” is when said in a prayer. As if God’s will is somehow reliant upon my permission. Can you see a God saying, “Good thing that person said, ‘let your will be done’ or else I could never have done the following…”?

If a god would will it; how could I stop it, or make him do or not do a thing?

And I don’t mind surrendering my will to a god; all I am looking for are clear directions as to whatever that “will” is. If God thinks it important we meet together and worship him on Tuesdays at 7 p.m.—fine by me. If God thinks I need to be involved in sacrificing my son, or participate in genocide to wipe out a race of people…well…given my current morality I would probably resist that will.

The concept I generally am being fed is that I am not wanting to obey God’s will ‘cause I want to be a hedonistic sinner. Yet, curiously, when I point out to those same folks they are more interested in calling people names than submitting to loving their neighbor, or they are more interested in hoarding money than living by Luke 6—I am informed I am not reading the “will” of God correctly.

OneSmallStep said...

DagoodS,

**Can you see a God saying, “Good thing that person said, ‘let your will be done’ or else I could never have done the following…”?**

To me, it ranks right up there with praying to God that someone be saved. Was God *not* going to save a person until s/he was prayed for? It's a sensless prayer, and it gives the impression that my prayers have this massive type of power.

**And I don’t mind surrendering my will to a god; all I am looking for are clear directions as to whatever that “will” is. **

I wish you the best of luck in finding those directions. I think one of the biggest ways in which Christianity damages itself is how much disagreement there is within the ranks. And each person is only telling us what the Bible says. It doesn't do much for the truth claims.

**If God thinks I need to be involved in sacrificing my son, or participate in genocide to wipe out a race of people…well…given my current morality I would probably resist that will. **

Oh, DagoodS -- you and your morally hedonistic ways. :)

OneSmallStep said...

Yael,

** I suppose it falls in the same category as being intolerant of the intolerant while trying to be tolerant....**

I console myself with the idea that if I wouldn't tolerate racism or sexism, why tolerate this? It's why I never understand the claim that those who promote tolerance are hypocrites because they don't tolerate certain viewpoints.

Cipher,

**Also, they begin from the position that certain things are sacrosanct, simply not on the table. In this case, it's the divinity of Jesus, and the inerrancy of the Bible. Anything that would threaten those beliefs, they simply ignore. Often, it isn't even done consciously - this is the nature of denial. **

What frustrates me the most about this is that this is the same mindset that says it takes more faith to believe in evolution. It very much makes me want to scream into a pillow! You're not even allowed to *question* those claims in areas of Christianity, while science itself is based on constantly challenging the claims you hold to. They constantly test their theories against new evidence.

Like evolution and genetics. I'm a little sketchy on the details, but chimps have 23 chromosomes, and we have 22. You can't just lose those, and yet according to the evolutionary theory, we're connected by that distant ancestor. Therefore, sometime after the two groups split from the ancestor, two chromosomes in the human body must've fused.

This was tested, and it turns out that's what happened. This was something that confirmed the evolutionary theory. Had the fused chromosome not been found, the theory would've had to be re-evaluted.

**Why should they listen to us? And none of this would bother me, really, but for one thing - they can't seem to manage to do this without condemning the rest of us to hell. THAT is where they lose me**

Ditto. Ditto, ditto, ditto. They use their understanding and their interpretation of the Bible to tell you about your relationship with God. It doesn't matter what kind of divine encounters you might've had, or the prayers that were answered, or the insights you had. They know you better than you know yourself, even if they've only spoken to you for 30 seconds.

**We don't have the Holy Spirit, we aren't willing to submit to God's will. **

My favorite part about this is that they determine this based on words, not actions. You could demonstrate all the fruits you're suppose to, per the Bible. If you don't believe the right things, then you don't have the Holy Spirit.

Yael said...

If you don't believe the right things, then you don't have the Holy Spirit.

I'm not impressed with this Holy Spirit anyway. I kind of prefer having my own spirit over being some distorted type of God clone.

I also prefer to have it where God and I have encounters but then God goes on God's way and I go on mine to meet again at some future time. I don't know why we need to live constantly in each other's pockets. That sounds like such an unhealthy relationship, either me always there as God's puppet or God always there as mine! I suppose that's why I like the stories in Torah. God comes and goes so we can learn to take responsibility for ourselves.

societyvs said...

I have noticed on my site the more conservative views and the more liberal views in the faith - I think our faith can be more logical than it is conservative (my opinion).

"It's almost like saying you're never going to want anything good on your own, or you can't want anything good independently of God." (OSS)

I have been seeing this also for some time - and I know for a fact I am not under the auspices that they (ie: Conservative) have this all worked out accurately. They also teach that you must 'deny yourself' and 'let God grow in you' - to the point of (I am guessing here) non-existence? There is a huge denial factor in the Christian faith - and this leads to further problems like lack of responsibility, confusion of identity, and mis-placement in society.

"I think a big problem here is that it's almost an unhealthy idea of surrender" (OSS)

I see this also - it's really too bad to be honest - faith should be something of a candle not a prison.

For me, the whole 'God's will be done' makes sense but it's not something I think of in relative terms - it's a standard God has set that makes sense. For example, no one like to be ripped off - so stealing is not something I will quickly approve of - since we should earn our keep. However, I have been poor and I know why some might steal - God is also merciful and I think that also falls on us - I should have mercy on the thief that steal for what I see as a justifiable reason (ie: to feed himself).

societyvs said...

Het OSS, I have appreciated your blog all year and all the great things you have written - have a great holiday season and a happy new year!

OneSmallStep said...

Thank you, Society. :) I've also enjoyed our dialogue. We haven't agreed on everything, but you can't deny that we sparked some deep thoughts.

May this year's journey bring many more such thoughts.

kerrin said...
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kerrin said...
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