My Three-letter Worldview: Conclusion

There are a lot of words here. Some of them may seem controversial, irrelevant, even nonsensical. But this is what I believe . . . for now. I do not claim to be right – in fact, I assume that much of what I have written here is wrong. I do not claim to know the truth – or even that the truth is entirely knowable.  But because I do not know which of my beliefs are wrong, I will hold to them as long as they make sense. And because I cannot say which part of the truth I have managed to grasp, I will keep searching.

I’d like to say a few words about the sources that have informed my worldview. The two most influential, you may have noticed, are the Bible and Ayn Rand. Back in Part 1, I asked, and answered, the question: “How do I, as a believer in Christ, reconcile my worldview with that of a rabid athiest like Ayn Rand?”

I suppose that Rand herself would likely be horrified to find elements of her philosophy plugged into an overtly Biblical worldview. But I do not, as she did, believe that the two philosophies are so utterly incompatible. I believe Rand’s harsh reaction to Christianity largely stemmed from ways it has itself been twisted to belittle . . . to objectify. I’ve been exposed to plenty of Christians who believe humanity to be the scum of the earth, utterly worthless in our own right, incapable of anything that is objectively good, and valuable only inasmuch as we are redeemed by God. I used to believe that myself

Like Rand, though, now I reject that view – though my reasons for doing so are different. I believe that we are created in the image of God – intrinsically valuable (and valued by Him). And while I believe that He is the source of ultimate truth, I believe that His image in us is capable of finding bits and pieces of that truth, of tasting and recognizing “good,” even apart from His intervention . . . otherwise what do you do with masterful works of art that appeal to something deep within our souls . . . and are created by those who reject Him? How do you explain cultures never exposed to the concept of “Jesus Christ,” who nevertheless have pictures of Him buried in their own cultural and historical traditions?

I suspect that if I were able to sit down and have a conversation with Rand, the biggest point on which we would differ is this: she respected humanity so highly as to believe there is nothing greater. I respect humanity so highly as to believe there must be.

It is because of this respect . . . both for the Creator and for the pinnacle of His creation . . . that I can say of myself the same thing as the One whose image I bear. With Him, I can proclaim my “self” as an individual, conscious being who exists to make independent choices and to live in relationships with other “selves” . . . with you, in fact, if you want from your relationships the same thing I do from mine . . . if you long, like the Velveteen Rabbit in the children’s fairy tale, to slowly, painfully shed your button eyes and faux fur covering and become real.

I want that. I strive for it every day, and usually I fail. But I never stop trying. I hunger for real relationships with other people sharing their real selves. And when I find such a person – as I have found in my wife, for example – it just makes me hunger all the more.

Most importantly, I live in relationship with the “Self” of the One who formed me, lost me, sought me, found me, and loves me. What He took as the identification of His “Self,” I now take as the definition of mine, and when I use those three letters, I mean not only that I am an extant, distinct, and conscious being, but that I am living out the life I was created for, endeavoring every day to live that life to its fullest.

I Am.

Are you??

My Three-letter Worldview: Part 7

This is the seventh segment of “My Three-Letter Worldview.” Read Parts 1-6 Here: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6. Tomorrow I’ll wrap this all up as best I can.

In parts 1-6, I talked a lot about what I believe about myself and my interactions with others.

This piece is intended to discuss what I believe about God.

To begin with – obviously, I believe that God exists.

What do I mean by that?

First, I believe that the previously discussed irreducible facts of my existence and identity imply the additional existence of a “source,” of some sort.

However, I do not believe that this fact necessitates the existence of a “God” . . . be it the God of the Bible or the Flying Spaghetti Monster. Ask an atheist where it all comes from and he or she will turn it around on you and ask you where your God came from. Ask a physicist what happened before the “big bang,” and you will hear that it doesn’t matter, because it is not measurable and therefore outside the realm of science. It implies only a preexisting . . . something . . .

The simple fact is that there is no “proof” of the God I believe in. But my belief in Him does not require proof.

The book of Hebrews says that “Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” This is as good a definition as any. Faith then, is what gives rise to hope . . . it is what drives me to believe things I cannot prove by empirical, tangible means.

It is what draws me to God.

Many people throughout history have attempted to “prove” God . . . to convince skeptics of His existence or His merit by logic alone. But these “proofs” are always unsatisfying. Pascal’s wager, for example, posits that it is better to believe in God than not, because the consequences of a mistaken disbelief are incalculably bad, while the consequences of a mistaken belief are nil.

This and all such logical arguments fail to take one thing into account. Mere belief in the existence of God is not what He asks of us.

“But wait a second,” you protest, “Acts 16:31 records Paul the Apostle saying exactly what is required for salvation: ‘believe . . . and you shall be saved.'”

Yes, it does, but the ellipses in the above sentence leave out its most important part – indeed, the most important piece of all of human history. They exclude the one unique factor that sets Christianity apart from all other world religions: Jesus Christ.

He is not unique as a mix of the human and the divine. Many religions have had their “god-men.” He is not unique as a sacrificial victim, which is also characteristic of many religions throughout history. He is not even unique in His victory over death.

He is not unique in how, when, or where he lived. His uniqueness is in why He lived.

non-Christian sects – and even some self-described Christian ones – equate Christ’s life to the lives of Moses, Mohammed, Siddhartha Gautama, Joseph Smith or L. Ron Hubbard. They call him a great teacher and prophet.

And that is indeed what he was. But it is not what He is. Or more accurately, it is a piece of His existence, but only a piece.

We Christians have many petty debates about various divergences in what we believe, but I think the most petty – and most unnecessary – is the debate over predestination versus free will. I myself used to take gleeful part in these debates. But in doing so, I was off on what Emergent Theologian Brian McLaren calls and “adventure in missing the point.”

This is where my beliefs and the beliefs of the hard and fast physicist to whom I alluded earlier intertwine. I believe our human observations and conceptualizations are limited to the bounds of what science has come to call the “space-time continuum.” While I believe we are not mere physical beings, I believe our limited minds – bound within space and time themselves – can only conceive of things – even spiritual things – in physical terms. We cannot truly imagine “spirit” . . . we can only imagine a physical *picture* of what we think “spirit” looks like.

God, I believe, is not bound by such restraints. He exists outside of time and space. I don’t pretend to know how, or why, or that it’s even possible to understand, but I do not believe in a God who is constrained by physical limitations of any sort, the way I am – the way we all are.

So for this God, so many of the supposedly “big” questions of Christianity become meaningless. the question over predestination vs. free will, the question of how many literal “days” it took to create the universe, the question of when exactly Christ took on divine . . . even the question of the nature of the trinity.

Is God divided into three parts or one? From outside of space, the concept of “parts” becomes meaningless, and the answer is: Neither

Did Christ become divine before or after His death? From outside of time, the concept of “when” becomes meaningless, and the answer is: He just IS.

Did God create the earth in seven literal days? From outside of time, the concept of “days” becomes meaningless, and the answer is: Who cares?

Did God predetermine who would join in relationship with him, or do we have the free choice to make that decision ourselves? From outside of time, the concept of “pre” becomes meaningless, and the answer is both!

Here’s why this last question, the one that misses the point so badly, is such a heartbreaking one . . . it is so close to the heart of the matter, yet misses it entirely.

The “heart of the matter” is this. God invites us to join in relationship with Him! And instead of marvelling at His invitation, we bicker over when it was issued.

Think about that. God – by whatever name you give him or concept you use to picture him – reaches from beyond the universe . . . beyond all bounds of what we can see or hear or “prove,” or even imagine . . . and invites us into relationship. As I defined relationship in Part 2 of this series, that means he literally invites my “self” to touch His “Self.” How cool is that??

There’s just one problem with it. I can’t do it.

I believe that in Eden, when humanity made the choice to reject their relationship with God, we placed the impenetrable barrier of space-time between us and Him. Ever since then, we have been living within those restrictions, and God has been reaching in to us, grieving for the relationship we broke and working toward its restoration, while we by our own poor choices have been adding onto that barrier . . . making it even thicker . . . distancing ourselves even further with each lie we live, each substitute we settle for, each relationship we fake.

One can see the imprint of His efforts throughout Scripture to restore the lost relationship. One can picture him taking long walks with Enoch, engaging in careful, detailed discussions with Noah, sitting down to a meal with Abraham, sparring physically with Jacob, and verbally with Moses, weeping with David, sighing in frustration with Jeremiah, comforting Esther as she fears for her life. With each overture he coaxes us closer, prompts us to eye the barrier we have created to see if there might somehow be a way around it . . . a way back to relationship with Him.

Ultimately, all of it is preparing humanity for that point at which He would physically enter space-time as one of us. He doesn’t sever the barrier we created – not yet. But He sets in motion the process by which it will be severed. Our choices have left us tainted – sick – incapable of breaching the barrier on our own to regain relationship with Him. So instead He comes Himself as a man – and not any man, but one who is not afflicted as we are by the choices we have made. He takes our sickness on Himself, working out the cure for our poor choices – our sin – in his own body, and ultimately curing it . . . creating a conduit through the barrier, through which we can reach for something more. He Himself said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” He is the Way – the conduit through which we reach for restored relationship. He is the Truth – the only means we have of breaching the otherwise-impenetrable barrier we created by choice. He is the Life – the cure to what ails us . . . the antidote to a lifetime, to several lifetimes, of poor choices: of settling for less than we deserve, less than we need . . . less than we truly want. He invites us once again into a real relationship – the fulfillment of all of His . . . and all of our own . . . “shadow” relationships.

And once again, just as He did in the beginning, because He still values us too much to force us into anything . . . because we are still the same creatures he designed to make conscious choices . . . He gives us a choice in this as well. Some choose to reestablish the relationship severed by our ancestors so long ago – to accept the antidote he offers. Tragically, most choose once again to reject it.

I’ve gone on a long time, for a worldview that unpacks itself from a mere three letters. In my next and final segment, I will wrap all of this up as best I can.

My Three-letter Worldview: Part 6

This is the sixth installment of “My Three Letter Worldview.” You can read the first five parts here: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5.

In these posts, I’ve talked a great deal about “rights.”

I’ve talked far less about “wrongs.” This will be the subject of this installment.

Thus far I’ve argued that, as individuals, we have the absolute, inborn right to do as we choose so long as we do not, in exercising that right, infringe on the rights of another.

You might think that, by so arguing, I’m advocating a world in which each person gets to set their own standards, live by their own rules and ultimately live free of any constraints at all. To this I have two responses.

First, I haven’t really said that at all. I’ve already argued that we have the right to live free of external restraints, provided we are willing to suffer the consequences of doing so. I have the absolute freedom to drive down the highway at 100 miles an hour, so long as I’m willing to accept the speeding ticket and reckless driving charge that would likely result from my doing so. I have the absolute freedom not to pay my taxes . . . so long as I’m willing to spend a great deal of time alone in a dark room with bars on the door.

Second, and more importantly, I don’t want to.

Let me explain what I mean.

I mentioned earlier that I believe we are created to (a) live in real relationships and (b) make choices about how we interact with our world. But I believe that most of the time, we settle for fairly superficial shadows of the two purposes for which I think we were created. Too often, rather than living in real relationships . . . relationships where we actually put our selves out there to interact with the selves of others, we put on a facade, and blithely wander around interacting with other facades. We ask “how are you doing?” or “how’s it going?” or “how’s life?” all the while hoping against hope that what we don’t get is a real answer. We don’t want to hear, “life sucks right now. I’m upside down in my mortgage, I’ve been sick, and my wife and I aren’t getting along so well at the moment.” We want to hear “I’m fine.” Then we want to go on about our lives. That’s not a relationship. That’s the exact opposite . . . it’s the avoidance of relationship.

You see this even in many marriages. David Schnarch, psychologist, therapist, and author of Passionate Marriage, says that when he sits down in a restaurant he can always look around the room and tell which couples are married, and which ones aren’t. How’s that? Because the married ones are the ones not talking with one another. Schnarch explains that many married couples have spent so much time with each other that they have realized which are the “taboo” topics . . . which subjects, when brought up, so irk the other partner that it’s just not worth it to bring them up. After many years of marriage for a couple like this, there are more sensitive topics than there are safe ones. Again, this is not relationship. It is the lack of relationship.

And what about choices? Every day it seems like we are coming up with new ways to not make choices. Even the newest “hot” search engine on the Internet, Microsoft’s “Bing” markets itself as a “decision engine.” Everywhere we look is another expert with another point of view assuring us that all we have to do is take this advice, read that book, make three easy payments of $19.99 . . . and we will be told what the “right” choice is.

If you’ve read much on this blog, you know I don’t trust “experts” much. This is why. Your typical expert doesn’t want to be told that he or she might be wrong . . . might not have all the information . . . or might just flat out not know what they’re talking about. They don’t want you to question . . .they just want you to do as you’re told. And to pay them for the privilege of doing it.

I’d rather make my own choices, thank you very much.

Relationships and choices. These are two things that set us apart as humans. Animals have functional relationships . . . their “marriages” are for the sake of procreation . . . their “friendships” for the sake of survival. They don’t have the ability to lock minds with another individual and realize that this . . . this is someone with whom I can relate. Here is someone who understands.

That ability is uniquely human.

So is the ability to make choices. In the animal kingdom, choice is driven by survivalism . . . compelled by instinct. In reality, it is hardly choice at all. We humans are different . . . ever since Eden we have been unique in our ability to make choices . . .

. . . unique in our ability to screw things up.

Yes, to err is human. It is the essence of what makes us human. We can strive to make wise choices, but it is our ability to make unwise choices that makes us so special. How counterintuitive is that??

What, though, does this have to do with the concepts of “right” and “wrong”? What does it have to do with the fact that I choose not to live free of any restraints or “morals”?

Simply that the choice of which standards I follow is guided by my desire to live . . . to live fully from what it is that makes me human. To live deeply in relationships and to make every effort to make each and every choice consciously, aware of the ramifications and accepting of the consequences.

Therefore, I choose, among other things:

  • To abstain from drugs – both illegal and (as much as I can) legal
  • To abstain from eating certain foods
  • To forego most vaccinations and stay away from antibiotics as much as possible
  • To abstain from sexual promiscuity – indeed, from all sexual activity outside my marriage
  • To seek a relationship with God apart from an institutional, organized church or denomination

These are just a few examples of my personal standards of external behavior. I do not demand that you follow them – or even necessarily think that you should. They are what is necessary for me to live a life of genuine, committed relationships and genuine, informed choices.

In the first example, I choose to abstain from drugs because I believe that for me they would function as a shield to block out the realities of life . . . to avoid the difficulties and struggles – the choices – of a life lived fully conscious . . . and fully lived.

In the second example, I have read enough to believe that my body is adversely affected by certain foods to the extent that its functionality is impaired. I believe many people simply go on and endure this impaired functionality because they believe it’s worth it in order to eat certain things, or simply because they don’t think about it at all. That is their choice, and I used to do the same. Now I make a different choice.

In the third example, While I don’t necessarily buy into all the hype around vaccines, I think there is enough “reasonable doubt” in many cases to justify a cost/benefit analysis that comes down in favor of going without. I believe that in most cases the risks of side effects outweigh the risks of the diseases in question. As far as the antibiotics, I believe many of the health issues we face today as a culture addicted to pills for everything can be traced back to chemical imbalances in the body created by excessive exposure to antibiotics. I choose not to expose myself any more than I absolutely have to.

In the fourth example, I choose a genuine, deep relationship with my wife. There is nobody who understands me more or loves me more. To seek sexual satisfaction anywhere else would be to not only damage that relationship, but to settle for something far less satisfying.

In the final example, I choose, again, a genuine, deep relationship with my God. For most of my life, I lived with a shadow relationship with a theoretical God. I learned all the verses, mouthed all the lines and modeled all the behaviors . . . but I didn’t really know God. Now I find that every time I sit through a church service I am drawn back into that old life . . . that shadow existence based on external pressures and rules, rather than on the reality of who I am, and who He is.

And ultimately, that’s what it all comes down to: internal vs. external motivations. That’s what I meant at the start of this post when I said that I the reason I don’t live a life free of any restraints is because I don’t want to . . . I believe external motivations are those used by people who wish to control us. I believe what God looks for . . . and what real “good” looks like . . . is internally motivated.

This might sound sacreligious . . . but I genuinely do not believe that the reason sin is wrong is “because the Bible says so.” I believe that the Bible says so because it’s wrong, and I believe it’s wrong because it’s living a lie. It’s settling for less life than I am intended to live.”

And that, I believe, is the ultimate wrong. Maybe even the only real wrong.

I know, I know, there I go sounding sacreligious again. Am I saying that sin isn’t a problem? That there’s far less wrong with the world than we generally think?

Not at all. I’m saying that I believe each of the world’s ills can be traced to the problem of less-lived lives. I think what we know as “sin” is really a matter of “settling” . . . settling for something less than we really want – something less than we really need in order to satisfy human nature’s inherent lust for life.

That’s why internal motivation is so important. External motivation can prompt us to model behaviors, but Matthew 5 is pretty clear that what God really cares about are our internal motivations. Have you killed anyone lately? No? How about calling them names? . . . yeah, well . . . that’s just as bad.

What about loving people . . . have you been kind and generous to your friends? Yes? well good! . . . what about your enemies??

What’s my point? Simply this. I believe that “sin,” to God, has far less to do with what I do, than why I do it! I believe, for example, that He doesn’t want me murdering people, stealing their stuff or screwing around with them, because each of these behaviors is an objectification of sorts. To murder someone is to say they are less of a person than I am . . . less deserving of their basic right to exist. Stealing their stuff says essentially the same thing about their other rights – the right to their time, labor and the fruits thereof. Sexual promiscuity objectifies not only the person with whom I’m engaging in illicit activity, but also the person to whom I have promised myself. It says to the one: “I don’t want a real relationship with you. You are simply an object to be used to slake my sexual desires.” It says to the other, “I claim that I want a relationship with you, but in reality all I want is a prop for family portraits and dinners out with friends. I don’t really want you.”

As I said earlier . . . sin isn’t wrong because Scripture says so . . . Scripture says so because it’s wrong.

We engage in this sort of objectification – both of others and of ourselves – on a daily basis. We do this whenever we do physical or emotional harm to another person . . . or when we settle for less than we truly desire and stop trying to attain it. We live a life that settles for shadow relationships . . . shadow choices . . . falsehoods modeled after something real that we have ceased to hope for . . . to long for . . . to even dream is possible.

I am unwilling to settle for that. I am unsatisfied with a shadow existence. I crave something more . . . something deeper.

And I believe God does, too.

My next segment will delve deeper into this assertion, and will answer what I consider to be the most important question of any worldview: What do I believe about God?

My Three-letter Worldview: Part 5

This is the fifth part of my series, “My Three Letter Worldview.” You can read the first four parts here: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4.

The last two portions of this series dealt with “rights” . . . defining them and working through how I believe they function. Part 4 closed with the question of whether or not a government, which is charged with the responsibility of protecting us from violations of our rights, may legitimately protect us from ourselves.

I believe the answer is “no,” for two reasons. First and most simply, I do not believe it is possible for me to violate my own rights. They are mine and I may exercise them (or not) however I choose. Second, I do not believe any government has the capacity of properly judging what is, or is not, a “good decision.” Certainly, I have made what I consider to be bad decisions in my life . . . but they are decisions I myself have judged to be bad ones. I do not believe any other person or organization has the right to make that determination but me.

This might seem like a shocking assertion to make. How can I possibly be asserting that each of us is, in ourselves, the best judge of what makes a good or bad decision?

Well, in today’s world, the honest answer is that we can’t, because we have – all of us – stunted our decision-making capacity.

This brings us to the flip side of rights: responsibilities. In this day and age, everybody wants to spend the entire conversation talking about their “rights” . . . nobody wants to talk about their responsibilities.

We made certain to begin our discussion of “rights” by defining what it was we were talking about, so let’s do the same with “responsibilities.” We defined rights as a method by which we make the choices available to us. I believe responsibilities are another such tool. If rights are the tools we use to maintain our “selves” against the encroachments of others, then responsibilities are the tools we use to avoid encroachments of our own.

Thus, my right to free speech carries the responsibility of allowing others to speak freely as well, even when I disagree with what they say. My right to freedom of religion carries with it the responsibility to respect the same right of others to believe as they choose – even if it conflicts with my own beliefs. My right to freedom of association carries with it the responsibility of allowing others to associate freely – of not being offended if they shun me.

Perhaps most importantly, my right to act as I choose carries with it responsibility for the consequences that stem from those actions.

That, ultimately, is why the government has no business protecting me from myself. I have made my choice, and even if it’s a bad one it is still my choice. Should that choice do harm to another, then it is the government’s legitimate role to step in and protect them from the consequences of my bad choices. But as long as those consequences affect only myself, I have no claim on the assistance of any other, unless they should freely choose to give it either voluntarily or in return for just compensation.

But instead of fostering a culture of responsibility, we have built a culture of dependency. Instead of a society that respects each of us as individuals, we have built a society that only thinks in terms of groups: whites, blacks, Hispanics, Asians, Republicans, Democrats, Christians, Muslims, liberals, conservatives, and so on, and so on, and so on. It’s identity politics meets class warfare meets groupthink. As long as we categorize ourselves as part of a “group,” then we don’t have to face the responsibility for our choices as individuals . . . If I have a load of debt, it’s not because I’ve chosen how and where to spend my money . . . it’s because we’re in a recession that happens to be hitting my country . . . my region . . . my state . . . my city . . . my neighborhood . . . my “group.”

Of course, there are always going to be factors beyond our control. I’m not one of those that believes God struck Haiti, or New Orleans, because of some “deal with the devil.” Those who were caught in those tragic disasters are not to blame.

But they are still responsible for the choices they make in reaction to the tragedy that struck them. We are all responsible for the choices we make, even if we make those choices in response to an event over which we have no control. When I fell in love for the first time and she rejected me, I had no control over her response, but I was responsible for the way I let it affect my relationships for the next several years.

But we don’t want this responsibility . . . we would rather have someone to blame. And so we wrap our “little” violations of rights inside of one another to make them seem more palatable. We “must” take a little bit of freedom here because we have made absolutely certain that exercising that by exercising that freedom we will affect one another in ways that should never have existed.

The so-called “war on drugs” is a perfect example: We “must” control access to these substances because they are “tearing apart the fabric of our society” . . . but the only reason they are tearing apart the fabric of society . . . the only reason their presence is accompanied by crime and social upheaval . . . is because they are illegal in the first place. We have only to look at the example of prohibition to prove this. When alcohol was illegal, people found a way to indulge themselves anyway . . . but in doing so they perpetrated a crime wave like this country had never seen before. But rather than blaming the government that felt it must control people, we blamed only the immediate perpetrators. And we have done the same with the war on drugs . . . we blame the gangs, the meth labs, the crack houses . . . rather than the government that makes them all necessary in order for people to make the choices they end up making anyway.

Why? Because we can’t have people taking responsibility for their own choices . . . then they’d be out of our control!

Which is, ultimately, what the government - any government - is, by definition, all about.

Does that mean I advocate unsafe, unhealthy behaviors as a way of life? Actually, no. In my next segment, I’ll explain why.

My Three-letter Worldview: Part 4

This is the fourth part of my series on my “Three letter worldview.” In Part 1, I explained that those three letters are the ones by which God identified Himself to Moses in the opening chapters of Exodus, “I am.” Part 2 expanded on the basic concepts of existence and identity by explaining how humans use relationships to interact, and by asserting that God created us to exercise freedom. Part 3 introduced my view on the concept of rights.

In part 4, I’d like to expand on rights a bit more by discussing how those rights interact with the rights of others.

I wrote in part three that “all the rights in the universe boil down to one. Ultimately, there is a single basic right. The right to exist!”

I believe each of us has that right from the moment of our formation as an individual, human entity. I also believe that no other person can take these rights away from us, and that the only legitimate justification for taking the life – the physical existence – of another, is to protect the life – the existence – of another who is in imminent danger. For this reason, I am pro-life, with the single exception that I believe an abortion is justified if there is an imminent threat to the life of the mother. Also for this reason, I am against the death penalty. There is an argument that says the death penalty acts as a deterrent by preventing repeat offenses . . . but this makes two assumptions. First, it assumes the future guilt on the part of the one being executed . . . assumes that he or she will be a repeat offender. Second, it assumes the view of rights that I explicitly rejected in my last post – that a government . . . any government . . . has the legitimate function of deciding when and where the ultimate right of existence can and should be taken away.

If, then, governments do not grant us rights, what exactly is their function? I believe that governments are, by definition, a collection of individuals voluntarily assembled for the purpose of protecting one another’s rights. Those governments who act otherwise – who go beyond the function of protecting individuals from one another into the realm of dictating the choices those individuals must or should make with regard to the exercise of their own rights – have violated their purpose and strayed into the realm of illegitimacy.

And yes, I do believe that our government . . . indeed, every government now existent on this earth . . . has made that leap. It is for this reason that I really don’t believe there is one form of government that is “more legitimate” than another form. A dictator can be more benevolent than a parliament, and a democracy more tyrannical than a king . . . just ask Socrates.

No, the problem with governments is not in their form, but in their function. Our government – indeed, most if not all governments – have developed this notion that they are the ones who grant us rights. Those rights they “choose” to give us, we are free to exercise, within their discretion of course. But should we protest at the lack of those rights they choose to withhold, we are being unreasonable at best, and dangerous at worst.

One might think by this line of logic that I am advocating rebellion against oppressive and illegitimate governments, but in fact I am not . . . because it is not the government’s fault. It is mine. And yours.

You see, in the same way I believe governments do not give us rights, I do not truly believe they take them either. In fact, I do not believe that rights are something that can be taken away from an individual who is operating at his or her full mental and physical capacity.

They cannot be taken, but they can be surrendered.

Ponder that sentence for a moment.

Nobody can take my rights away from me without my consent. How, then, are millions of people enslaved by tyrannical regimes at this very moment??

The answer is choice – the same choice that, as I mentioned in an earlier segment – guides all human interactions.

I live under a government that sometimes acts in ways I believe to be illegitimate . . . because I choose to. I choose not to protest the unjust actions of my government because I believe it does a better job protecting my rights than any of the alternatives, and because – quite frankly – I like it here. It’s not perfect, but on balance I like it.

But this notion of choosing to surrender our rights places the nature of our government – of any government – in a new light, doesn’t it? In fact, I believe that even in forming a government, some rights are voluntarily surrendered. Absent any government, for example, the decisions that affect me are mine, and mine alone. When I live under a government, even a democratic republic like the United States, I surrender a portion of that decision-making power. Even in a direct democracy, the decisions are not left to each individual alone, but are made by the group as a whole.

As such, no government is going to make decisions that satisfy 100% of their citizenry, 100% of the time. Furthermore, because governments can only deal in “protecting” us against “violations” of our rights, they will be constantly seeking to expand the scope of those violations, in order to aggregate more and more power to themselves. It is simply the way they work, to the point where they will – and do – seek to protect us even from ourselves.

But why is this not a legitimate concern on the part of a government? They are in the business of protecting, are they not? So why should they not protect me from the consequences of my own poor decisions?

This will be the subject of Part 5.

My Three-letter Worldview: Part 3

In Part 1 of this series, I discussed the irreducible facts of existence and identity, how God is the ultimate picture of these concepts, and how we are shaped in that image.

In Part 2, I went on to discuss the role of relationship and the value I believe God places in human freedom.

In this section, I’d like to talk about the tools we use to govern those choices – what we call “rights.”

In the Declaration of Independence, the founders of the United States claimed that rights are “endowed by our Creator.” While I believe this to be true, I do not believe my interpretation of how rights work to be dependent on a theistic worldview. Nor do I believe that this salient quote from our founding document tells the whole story. I believe rights are given to me by God . . . but what are they??

This has been the subject of many a debate over the years since the concept of “rights” was first envisioned. Prior to the Declaration, it was assumed that rights were bestowed by virtue of birth based on nationality and class – the “rights of the nobility” or the “rights of Englishmen” or the “Rights of Roman Citizens.” The Declaration was both an extension of, and a break from, that viewpoint. It broke from the view that governments can have a say over what your rights are, or are not. At the same time, it held to the belief that rights are innate – they are something we are not given, they are something we are born with.

Their vision of rights was not universal – minorities and women were excluded, but this was a factor of the prejudices of their time, rather than an inconsistency in their beliefs. Indeed, the worldview they espoused were later used to extend to those same excluded groups the rights they were initially denied.

So that’s where our notion of rights came from, but the question still remains – what are they??

Here is what I believe: I agree with our founders that rights are something we are born with, not given. I believe rights are the means by which we make the choices we have available to us. I believe, in fact, that they are an extension of the two axioms of existence and identity. That is, because I exist, and because I exist as a unique, independent individual capable of cognizant choice, the ultimate arbiter of what I do with that existence is . . . me. This is what I meant in my last segment that God values humans’ ability to make choices for ourselves. Has He expressed a desire for us to choose certain things? Yes, but ultimately, He has given us the freedom not to do so.

So here I am, an extant individual . . . existence and identity . . . in a world full of extant individuals. As such, I believe all the rights in the universe boil down to one. Ultimately, there is a single, basic right. The right to exist!

From my previous blog posts, you can easily tell, then, what I think that right entails. It is my right to live as a individual, free to engage in relationships with other individuals as I see fit, and to make the choices I see fit to make. From this basic right flow corrollary rights. I have the “right” to choose how I relate to that world – how I act, how I think, what I say, who I associate with, and how I spend my time. Freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom of press, freedom of association, freedom from illegal searches and seizures, freedom to defend myself against attacks . . . all of these extend from that one basic right to exist.

That is not to say that I have the “right” to do whatever I choose, if that choice infringes on the rights of another to do as they choose. For if relationships are the points at which our “selves” touch one another, and if choices are the ways in which we interact, then rights are the boundaries between those independent selves. I have the unlimited right to do whatever I choose to do with my body, my abilities to think and communicate, and my time . . . right up until that choice infringes on your right to do whatever you choose to do with yours. As the cliche goes, my right to swing my fist ends at your nose.

This concept of rights is more inclusive than some . . . for example, it negates the old adage about “shouting fire in a crowded theater,” because it places the responsibility on the hearer to be aware of his or her surroundings. If each person in that theater bears the responsibility of both making informed choices – rather than running around in a panic – and respecting the rights of others, then I have the freedom to shout away all I choose.

But this concept of rights is also less inclusive than some. President Franklin Roosevelt spoke of four freedoms – Freedom of Speech, Freedom of Religion, Freedom from Want, and Freedom from Fear. I would submit that he was half right . . . or more precisely, that only half of these are “rights.” Freedom of Speech and Religion are, indeed, a result of simply respecting one another as individuals. However, the so-called “freedoms” from want and fear are really the opposite – they are not freedoms, but demands. “Save me from shortage!” . . . “Save me from fear” . . . “Save me!” The difference is this: I believe that my rights make no demands on another except to do nothing. My freedom of speech does not demand that another stay silent . . . only that they not interfere with my speaking. My freedom of religion does not demand that another believe what I do . . . only that they not attempt to control what I believe. My freedom of association does not demand that another associate with me . . . only that they not attempt to stop me from associating with whomever I choose.

Contrast that to the vision of “rights” espoused by FDR. Freedom from want, freedom from fear. These so-called “freedoms” are not freedoms at all. The demands they make are on me . . . on you . . . on us as a society . . .  to step in – to interfere.

I’ll say more about rights in my next post.

My Three-letter Worldview: Part 2

In Part 1, I began exploring my three-letter worldview. I discussed what Ayn Rand calls the “Axioms” . . . the indisputable, irreducible facts . . . of Existence and Identity. I discussed how I believe these concepts originated with the God of the Bible, and how they are reflected in His creation – in us – with the three letters, “I Am.”

But what do those three letters  – those “axioms” really mean?

Simply this:

Existence exists, therefore something exists. That “something” is divided into distinct, identifiable entities. But these entities are not only distinct, they are conscious.

This is the final of Rand’s three axioms: Existence, Identity, Consciousness. Again, it is an irreducible fact. “How do you know consciousness exists?” . . . I know it because without it the question of its existence cannot be asked, or even considered.

We are, therefore, distinct, identifiable entities with distinct consciousnesses operating independently of one another. Independent existences. Independent selves. You. Me. Everyone.

So what?

The existence of independent selves implies some sort of relationship between those independent selves. What, then, is a “relationship”? The word is used to mean different things – that which we call a “ball” is often said to have a relationship with that which we call the “earth,” in that they are both round. A “cat” is often said to have a relationship with a “tiger,” in that they are similar species with similar traits.

I would submit, though, that these are imagined relationships. They exist only as theoretical constructs in the minds of conscious individuals.

I would submit that a true relationship – one that exists in both the conceptual and material world – can only exist if both parties to it are conscious of it. Any two individual selves who are conscious of one another’s existince have SOME sort of “relationship.” That relationship can be characterized in many different ways: friendship, hostility, fear, apathy, love, worship. All of these are different characteristics of a relationship . . . different ways of relating.

I believe humans are specifically, and uniquely, designed for this kind of relationship . . . the kind which is conscious, deliberate and real. In Genesis, God specifically states that, “It is not good for man to be alone.” I believe what He said is true for all men and women.

Relationships, then, are the points at which two conscious, independent selves intersect. How those selves interact is by means of choices.

Choices are not unique to relationships . . . a conscious being has a choice about how he or she interacts with other, unconscious beings or objects, as well. We make choices every day – every minute. Which socks should I put on this morning? What should I eat for lunch? Should I read the news or watch TV? Usually we make these choices without a second’s thought . . . and sometimes without any at all.

I believe that, in addition to existing in relationships, humans were created to make choices as well. Genesis Chapter 2 records the very first pair of interactions between God and the first of His human creations. The first is when he commanded Adam not to eat of the tree in Eden. The second was when He brought the animals to Adam. In both cases, He placed Adam in a position where Adam had to choose.

It is the first of these choices that I’d like to focus on. It is the choice He offers here that I believe tells us more about God than perhaps any other in Scripture – not so much for the choices He gave Adam, as for the fact that He gave Adam a choice at all.

A different kind of god – one who did not create Adam for choice – would have simply created an automaton, told it what to do, and left.

Yet another different kind of god – one for whom choice was acceptable, but not of paramount importance – would have simply created Adam in the idyllic Eden and left the tree out.

This is how I know, with absolute certainty, that the God of Scripture finds value in the human ability to make our own choices.

In my next post, I’ll discuss how this leads to the concept of “rights.”

My Three-letter Worldview: Part 1

Ayn Rand, as she often does in my opinion, puts it best . . . most succinctly.

“Existence exists.”

It is a reformulation of Descartes’ “I think, therefore I am,” but it is somehow more complete, less problematic, more . . . satisfying.

“Existence exists.” It is one statement that brooks no counter-argument, for to even make a counter-argument presumes the statement itself. To argue with this simple statement is to concede the argument before it begins.

How do I know existence exists? The answer is, “if it doesn’t, how are you even asking that question?”

Existence, then, is not an assertion, a theory, a postulation, an argument. It is a fact.

From this indisputable fact of existence flows another – Identity. If you refuse to acknowledge that existence exists, then there is no point in . . . well . . . anything. But if you acknowledge that fact, then you have to acknowledge this: something exists. Something is allowing you to even have these thoughts . . . to even read this blog.

That “something” is identity. At this moment, you are reading something I have written. It is the first you’ve read it – the first time it has entered your mind. But it entered mine first, because I wrote it. That, in and of itself, is a demonstration that I am not you, and you are not me. We are separate individuals, rather than a great, amorphous It.

You may think this is self-obvious . . . and indeed you are right! But just being self-obvious is not enough. It has to be considered, because it is the basis for everything else.

How do I, as a believer in Christ, reconcile my worldview with that of a rabid athiest like Ayn Rand?

Easily, in fact . . . because God did it first.

In Genesis, God asserts that humanity is created in His image. Entire volumes have been written around the question, “What did He mean by that?”

Here’s what I think:

There is one time in Scripture where God is asked to identify Himself, and complies with the request. In the single instance we have of God telling us who He is, His answer is three letters. “I Am.”

I believe that is the image in which we are created. How could you possibly capture the concepts of existence and identity?? “I am” proclaims existence, while “I Am” identifies that which exists.

As I said before, Ayn Rand didn’t come up with this idea on her own . . . she merely distilled what was much, much older.

God says, “I Am” . . . and because I am created in His image, I am, too!

Existence exists. . . . I exist!

What does that mean?? . . . That’s what Part 2 is all about. Stay tuned.

Influence

The events of this week have me thinking a lot on an issue that has been on my mind lately. Most of us have, at one time or another, faced the question “What do you want to be known for?”

The best answer I have heard to this question is my wife’s. One of the things I love most about her is the talent she has for molding the written word – often to express exactly what I happen to be feeling at a given moment. Her answer to how she wants to be known is both very simple, and very profound. Ask her this question at any time and she will tell you she wants to be known “as someone who loved well.”

That’s kind of a jarring thought – at least it was for me the first time I heard it. The uniqueness of her answer was brought home to me again in a recent conversation with a dear friend about the difference between “being vs. doing.” In this conversation, as she always does, my wife gently but firmly argued that what one does is not as important as who one is . . . that we should strive to be known to one another . . . and to relate to one another . . . not on the basis of achievements or actions, but of innate qualities and characteristics. That we should love one another not for what we do, but for who we are.

Our friend thought very deeply about this, and then said, “I have to be honest, I don’t really think like that. I’ve always valued influence over relationship.”

As I played back over that conversation later, as I often do, I wished I had said more of what I thought in response. What I thought was: What’s the difference?

But that, it seems, is a tremendous problem with the modern world. Most of us value influence over relationship – I know I have for most of my life. I think that this is a symptom of drastically misplaced priorities . . . but I also think it’s a bit of a definitional dilemma.

Modernism, it seems, has set up “influence” as a matter of breadth . . . the person who touches the most lives, in the most places, for the longest amount of time, is defined as “influential.”

This week is a prime example. Barack Obama has been touted by talking heads the world over as “the most influential President in recent memory.”

But really, unless you are a member of his old state assembly district in Illinois, or a member of his inner circle of political allies, or a close personal friend or family member, has he really influenced you??

No, not really. The truth is that, as President, he will undoubtedly have a great deal of influence over nearly everyone who reads this – especially those of us in the United States – but the simple fact is that he is not YET a terribly influential person. Sure, he influenced a bunch of people to take a trip to the voting booth . . . and a smaller bunch to take a trip to Washington D.C. this week. But those are fairly minor influences.

I didn’t vote for Obama, and I have mixed feelings about what to expect from his Presidency, but I have no doubt that his actions will influence me over the next four to eight years. But if you were to compare him to, say, my good friend Wayne Jacobsen, the man who first introduced me to the concept of what I like to call “Postcongregational Christianity,” I would have to say that Wayne has had far more influence on my life. What’s more, given the number of people I know who have been touched by Wayne’s actions in the same way I have, I’d venture to say that he is, at this point, probably a more truly influential person than Barack Obama – or any politician, for that matter.

But most people, when asked about the influence of Wayne Jacobsen on their lives, would respond with “Wayne who?”

The problem is not, then, a misplaced priority on influence so much as it is a complete lack of understanding about what influence truly is. That rock star whose every album is ensconced in your iPod, that congressman you voted for that one time, that columnist you really like to read, or that talk show host you really like to listen to . . . these people are not influential. Not really.

Influential is your best friend, with whom you share everything. Influential is the spouse you fall asleep next to each night. Influential is the parent or child or sibling who teaches you more about yourself as you grow to know them more.

Relationship is influence. Those people who most influence my life do so precisely because I have a relationship with them . . . because I know them, and therefore I trust that what they say is of value.

I could try my best to write a best-selling book, to create a popular Web site, to become a name that is known beyond merely the circles of those who happen to know me personally. As a matter of fact, I wouldn’t mind trying to accomplish all three of these before I die.

But if I can get to know one person in a way that lets them know I truly care . . . if I can say one word that causes someone to think – or rethink – about a topic or issue that is important to them . . . if I can truly touch one life in a way that is deep, meaningful and lasting.

That is influence.

On Consistency

I am finding that the various streams of my life seem to run in some similar directions. I don’t go to church. I don’t like doctors, I don’t like public education, and I don’t like government entitlement programs (or think very highly of governments in general). I work in an industry (Strategic Communications) where most of the jobs are government ones, yet I am employed as a private consultant.

I don’t identify with either of this country’s major political parties (or any of its minor ones, for that matter). I received both my Bachelor’s and Master’s Degrees from very small, private schools, neither of which could truly be called “institutions” in the truest sense of the word, given that both were less than ten years old at the time.

In short, I don’t really fit. Those of you who know me or are accustomed to reading this blog will hardly be surprised by that, but it is still jarring to admit sometimes, given how much of my life I used to spend trying to do just that.

I think that all of this comes down to the fact that I value consistency far too much to be as inconsistent as is required to truly “belong” to any of these institutions. I live a fairly consistent life – and I strive to be more consistent than I am.

I think the problem with much of our world today is that people don’t value consistency nearly enough. Our most prominent government leaders certainly do not. The two major Presidential candidates’ reactions to the recent Supreme Court decision in the case of D.C. vs. Heller are very instructive in this regard. Readers of this blog may have very strong feelings about politics in general, and about the issue of gun control in particular, but the simple fact is that however you feel, you can learn a great deal about both candidates by how they reacted to this touchstone decision. John McCain’s statement praises the decision as “recogniz[ing] that gun ownership is a fundamental right — sacred, just as the right to free speech and assembly.”

McCain calls these rights – speech and assembly – sacred . . . despite the fact that he spearheaded the campaign finance reform effort that severely curtails these same two rights . . . the freedom to use one’s money to promote the speech one agrees with, and the freedom of political parties – private organizations – to use their money to convince others to “assemble” with them.

Obama, on the other hand, begins his reaction to Heller by saying, “I have always believed that the Second Amendment protects the right of individuals to bear arms . . .” The same Obama with a history of opposition to such an individual right.

Of course, the fact that our nation’s – or any nation’s – politicians are prone to inconsistency should come as no great surprise to anyone who is paying attention.

One might expect better of our nation’s spiritual leaders. But if one did, one would be mistaken.

Take, for example, Josh Harris, the senior pastor of Covenant Life Church, and a leader in Sovereign Grace Ministries. In a post on his blog, Harris quotes my old pastor, Mark Dever, who takes issue with the assertion that the church is responsible for social justice – claiming that while individuals can and should practice social justice, the church has no business doing so, and should instead focus on evangelism.

I happen to disagree with this premise, and I personally think he is creating a false dichotomy or two – but that’s not my point in bringing it up. A commenter on Harris’ blog says it perfectly,

If we say we will only do good to those immediately around us or in the church, then we relegate the role of all social welfare to the government, which most of us do not want to do. If we get involved in “civilian affairs” then we can easily compromise our faith. Added to this, many churches say they are against para-church ministries, but they also don’t want their own churches to have ministries (as you state above). So what happens when I have someone who needs somewhere to stay?

Whatever the answer, we as the church can’t have it both ways. We can’t say neither the government, the church, nor parachurch organizations are allowed to do social justice.

The position Dever and Harris (and most ultra-conservative spiritual leaders, in fact) advocate is untenable. It is religious NIMBYism. “Someone should be doing social justice, just not MY organization.”

But the leaders of the evangelical left are no better. Take Jim Wallis, the leader of Sojourner Ministries, who commented on a recent dust-up between Barack Obama and Dr. James Dobson by accusing Dobson of engaging in “attacking discourse,” saying that such language should have no place in politics.

Again, you may agree or disagree with Wallis, but it seems that he himself does not fully agree with his own statement, having used the same sort of “attacking discourse” himself.

I was asked once, recently, what I would say to those who find certain beliefs and positions “too extreme.” What I would say is that extremism is nothing more than a product of consistency in a belief system.

There are, of course, good and bad belief systems – Osama Bin Laden has a fairly consistent one, for example – so a philosophy’s consistency cannot be used as the sole judge of its merit. But I think its inconsistency can.

No human being can live 100% consistently – it’s part of what makes us human . . . but the inconsistencies should be acknowledged as either human failures or conscious concessions to practicality, rather than core tenets of our beliefs, as they appear to be in the cases of Barack Obama, John McCain, Josh Harris and Jim Wallis.

As Ayn Rand would say, if you come upon two concepts that seem to be equally valid and are yet contradictory, you’d better check your premises.