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Disturbing the Universe

The musings of author Christina Knowles

Month

April 2014

Throwing the First Stone: The Scourging of Dan Haseltine by Christina Knowles

 

Courtesy of Google Images
Courtesy of Google Images

One of my favorite bands is Jars of Clay. When I first became a Christian, Redemption Songs was the first CD I bought. I learned to worship God listening to this CD. Then I bought their self-titled debut album, which contained the song “World’s Apart.” This song speaks to me deeply still to this day. In fact Jars of Clay is a huge part of my daily worship of God.

If you follow Twitter’s trends, then you know that a big scandal erupted when Dan Haseltine, of Jars of Clay, tweeted some questions he was wrestling with regarding how Christians should approach the topic of gay marriage. Obviously these questions just could not be discussed adequately on a platform like Twitter. In his blog he explains what caused the biggest offense and what he actually meant:

“I don’t particularly care about Scriptures stance on what is ‘wrong.’ I care more about how it says we should treat people.”

“In the heat of discussion, I communicated poorly and thus unintentionally wrote that I did not care about what scripture said.  Thus, the tsunami hit.  It was picked up by bloggers and written into editorials before I could blink.  And rightly so, people were shocked and offended by my statement dismissing the value of scripture.  I got it. And possibly, I got what that combination of statements warranted for response. I should’ve chosen my words more wisely” (Dan Haseltine)

You can read the full explanation and apology here at his website: http://danhaseltine.com/blog/2014/4/25/reset-contexttangentapology.html

To me this is an obvious mistake. Have you ever told your child, “I don’t care what you think! Just do it!”? You don’t mean that you really don’t care; you just mean that it is beside the point or not relevant to the discussion. Whether or not it was a sin was irrelevant to the topic of how we treat people. Clearly, Twitter is not an appropriate platform for complex discussions.

When I read his tweets, I immediately thought that he was working through some complicated issues and needed to discuss them–nothing more. Personally, if he did decide that he did not oppose gay marriage, that would not make me assume he is denouncing the faith or anything else. Some Christians believe that they have no right to impose their beliefs on those who do not share their convictions. Other Christians do not believe that it is actually a sin the way they interpret the Bible. Lots of Christians are confused by these issues and have to struggle with passages in the Bible that go against what our culture accepts.

But what seems worse to me is the mean and, in my opinion, Pharisaical response directed toward the band as a result of a few tweets. A couple of days ago, I started seeing shocking posts about “throwing out your Jars of Clay CDs” and all manner of name-calling, “heretic,” “apostate,” “false prophet,” along with accusations that they have always just been “in it for the money.” Shocked, I immediately went to Haseltine’s tweets and waded through more of the insanity, searching for a lucid explanation.

As a person who openly struggles with my faith, the tendency for some Christians to lash out and attack their own scares me. It is one thing to point out a mistake or ask what was meant by a certain remark, but why the knee-jerk attack on his beliefs? Just from listening to the lyrics Jars of Clay write, and what they choose to record led me to believe that this was either a new crisis of faith or more probably a misworded expression of frustration in getting his point across, the latter turning out to be the truth. Why are people so quick to jump to conclusions? Doesn’t anyone ever ask questions and wait peacefully for a reply anymore?

In my opinion, indignant Christians did more damage to the faith by attacking Dan Haseltine than his misspoken tweets could ever do. I believe there are many reasonable and unruffled Christians who do not immediately turn every mistake into a platform to attack those who disagree with them, but unfortunately, the ones who do are much more visible.

While reading the comment thread on Michael Brown’s article “The Shattering of Jars of Clay” on CharismaNews and on Twitter, I could not stop the image of the Pharisees self-righteously throwing accusations at Jesus while harboring murder in their hearts. Granted, Dan Haseltine is not Jesus, but he certainly was not deserving of their hypocritical scorn. By their very words they reveal the redwood tree lodged in their own eyes while they attempt to gouge out the speck in Haseltine’s.

The irony of this situation is glaring. While attempting to rescue Christianity from Haseltine’s innocent solecism, the whole point being that Christians should treat others with love first and foremost, they batter and abuse Haseltine, treating him with anything but love. Who is really guilty of the greater error here? — Christina Knowles

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Quiet Desperation–Okay, Maybe Not So Quiet by Christina Knowles

I’ve watched a lot of movies and read a lot of stories about people who have had a great awakening or an epiphany and completely rebooted their lives after finding out they have a terminal illness or after almost dying in an accident. I seriously want a reboot. Do I have to get sick or get in a major accident to do it? I hope not.

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http://www.etsy.com340 × 270Search by image Photo of Retro Bicycle in Front of Cafe – Fine Art Photo Entitled Quaint – 8. Photo of Retro Bicycle in Front of Cafe – Fine Art Photo Entitled Quaint

If I found out I had a terminal illness and was told I had six months, or even a year to live, I would change my life immediately. So, why don’t I do it now? Why not live the life I want while I am still healthy and able to enjoy it? It seems I am in the majority with this one. The wisdom of Thoreau comes to mind. What’s the famous quote from Walden? “Most men lead lives of quiet desperation and go to the grave with the song still in them.”

I don’t think I would go that far. In fact, for the most part I love my life. I think, herein, lies the actual problem. I should clarify–I love my home life. I want more time being with the people I love and doing the things that matter. You see, like many people, I am sick of my job. It is slowly, maybe quickly, now that I think about it, sucking the life out of me. It is overwhelmingly stressful. I am not exaggerating when I say that I think it is literally killing me. Isn’t that kind of like having a terminal illness?

That is a bit of an exaggeration. I don’t feel ill, and I am not in any physical pain, unless you count the anxiety attacks that keep me awake at night. I don’t have the emotional trauma of knowing how little time I have left. But even though I don’t have a doctor giving me a time frame, I could die tomorrow or next week. With my luck, it would be on a Friday right after work.

But the truth is that this slow death is not traumatic enough for me to take a risk. Why don’t I have the guts to live the life I want to live? Am I enslaved by my own comfort? Like many Americans, I work to pay for things to make me happy because my work makes me unhappy. It’s a trap. I have thousands of dollars of student loans to get an education, so I can pay back my student loans. Sometimes I wish I never had a college education and a career. Yes, I know. There are homeless and starving people who would love to trade places with me. Maybe that’s what I’m afraid of–I know my life could be so much worse, but is that any way to live? Afraid that things could be worse? Am I afraid to give up the material luxuries to which I’ve become accustomed to the point that I would kill myself working to keep them? How important are they that now my daydreams consist of working in a little flower shop and going home carefree to a tiny two-room house, riding my bike because I can’t afford a car that is likely to break down at any moment. And I will sleep well in my tiny house, nothing to panic about. Like Thoreau, I want to “live deliberately . . .and not, when I [come] to die, discover that I had not lived . . . I [want] to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life.”

But I am rudely awakened from this fantasy by the thought of health insurance and retirement accounts and veterinary bills. There is no such thing as carefree. Were we even meant for that kind of life? Isn’t it conflict and struggle that make us thrive? Or at the very least give us the contrasts that make us appreciate the good times? I mean, would I even love being at home so much if I hadn’t just left work? I don’t know, but I would like to try. It’s not like I want to quit working and striving. I just want something that doesn’t feel like it’s hurtling me at full-speed toward the grave.

So I again turn to Thoreau for advice: “I learned this, at least, by my experiment: that if one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours.” But I have never been good at taking advice.I find that I am not really a risk-taker when it comes down to it. Although I have intermittent lapses, I am practical and responsible. I also fear the unknown. Even if what I have seems intolerable at times, I suspect that the alternative is more intolerable. Maybe this is just a mid-life crisis, but if it is, it’s a little late. I see the hourglass emptying, and I know if I’m going to change, it has to be now. But I don’t have the courage or faith or maybe enough desperation, so I guess I have no choice but to go to the grave with the song still in me.–Christina Knowles

All quotes from Henry David Thoreau’s “Walden: Or Life in the Woods”

Photo of Retro Bicycle in Front of Cafe – Fine Art Photo Entitled Quaint – 8. Photo of Retro Bicycle in Front of Cafe – Fine Art Photo Entitled Quaint www.etsy.com

The Altruistic Impulse: Evidence of God’s Existence? by Christina Knowles

Courtesy of Google Images
Courtesy of Google Images

All my life I have been drawn to stories of martyrdom and altruism. Braveheart is one of my favorite movies, and I have two favorite scenes in that movie. The first is when Robert the Bruce, in a very powerful and emotional scene, tells his corrupt father that he will never be on the wrong side of the battle again. The right side is the losing side, yet he knows it is the right thing to choose the losing side, not because they will lose, but because they are morally right. This goes against his own interests and puts his survival in jeopardy. The other scene is when William Wallace courageously endures his torture and execution with his dying shout of “Freedom.”

Another wonderful movie is Sommersby. In this movie, a man (Richard Gere) takes on the identity of a dead man, Jack Sommersby, right after the Civil War. Gere’s character was known as a coward and deserter during the war. However, the person, whose identity he acquired, had his own troubles. Sommersby was found guilty of murder and sentenced to hang. Everyone believes he (Gere) is Sommersby with the exception of a few people with suspicions, including Sommersby’s wife. Although he looks just like her husband, he doesn’t act like him. This man is loving, gentle, and forgiving. In the end, (Spoiler Alert!) Gere’s character willingly hangs, refusing to admit he is not Sommersby. Why? Because he became the person he always wanted to be. He became a loving husband, father, loyal friend to many, and he became courageous. He died to protect his wife and her son from shame and to prevent his neighbors from going bankrupt on a seed deal he had made under Sommersby’s name. He could have admitted he wasn’t Sommersby and lived, but he made the hard choice, selflessly sacrificing himself for others. We want to cheer for him, even as our hearts break for him, in the end when he is hanged.

One more example is Les Miserables. I love, love, LOVE this movie and the book! I love the new musical, but I also love the 1998 version starring Liam Neeson as Jean Valjean. You are probably familiar with this story, so I’ll just say that this story is about a hard and heartless man who is transformed completely by an act of mercy. He so utterly changes that his life forever after is defined by this act of mercy. He goes on to help countless people, acting selflessly over and over. He is contrasted with the antagonist, Inspector Javert, who is unable to accept mercy and forgiveness. Many people see this story as an allegory of the Christian salvation message. But my point here is that the viewer inherently knows that Valjean is right in risking his own freedom to pay forward the mercy extended to him when he was yet undeserving.

But this instinctive response to altruism goes beyond the movies. In real life, we always hope we will be able to do the right thing under pressure. To stand strong for what we believe is right even if it means great suffering or death. Or to give our lives for another if required. Most of us believe we would at least do this for our children. We never know what we will do until faced with this decision. However, we can all relate to the feeling we get when we witness a selfless act of heroism. It is poignant and profound, and very few ever question if the person who gave himself up to save another did the right thing. We know he did the most righteous thing a person could ever do. Think about seeing someone rush into a burning building to save strangers from a fire. What about the soldier who throws himself on a grenade to save his platoon? We sense that this behavior is the best that anyone could ever hope to do in this life.

This automatic response from ordinarily self-absorbed and often unkind humans has always made me question evolutionary theory’s ability to explain our behavior. Joseph Campbell struggled with the idea of our need for these stories and these characters in The Hero with a Thousand Faces and his other mythological theory books. He thought there might be an evolutionary cause, but he also mentions a “divinely imparted purpose;” however, in most of his writing he seems to reduce it down to evolutionary theory (Campbell).

To think about this more clearly, I guess I should define these impulses to which I am referring more exactly. The definition of martyrdom is the act of making “great sacrifices or suffer[ing] much in order to further a belief, cause, or principle” (Freedictionary Online). According to the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy: A Peer-Reviewed Academic Resource, the moral definition of altruism is “An ultimate motivation of assisting another regardless of one’s direct or indirect self-benefit [and it] is necessary for it to be altruistic in the ordinary sense ─ for what we might call moral altruism” (ICP, online). Also, according to this site there is a biological definition, which attempts to explain away the impulse for self-sacrifice by saying it is an evolutionary instinct to further the group to which one belongs. I do not believe this makes sense. In general, most likely statistically as well, although I haven’t done a study, giving up your own life for someone else does not promote “survival of the fittest” behavior. The person needing help is obviously not the “fittest.” Further, I do not see how dying for an unpopular cause would ensure survival of the group. Quite the contrary. Another point of dispute in this theory is the question of how an unconscious system of evolution would determine that these acts would promote survival of the group. How, then, would it distinguish between acts that would most likely harm the perpetuation of the group from those that would further its existence? I don’t believe it can. I don’t believe it has anything to do with evolution.

If evolution is not the cause of this altruistic impulse, then it leads me to look outside of science to explain it, at least outside of known science. I do not necessarily dismiss all evolutionary theory based on this conundrum, but I am certain I do not believe it is responsible for all of who we are. Nor do I believe that our environment is responsible for all of our behavior. This phenomenon exists across cultures. When examining this predisposition of humanity, I couldn’t help but notice the parallelism to Christianity. The archetype of Christ, as God, taking on the sins of the world, allowing himself to be crucified, taking the place of mankind as a sacrifice to atone for grievous acts since the beginning of time is the same behavior we inherently judge as good, righteous, and the best of all behavior. This leads me to believe that if God saw this as good, this is why we see it as good. Perhaps this altruistic impulse was divinely imparted to all of humanity. We may smother it, we may overcome it with selfishness, but we know it is right, at least on an emotional level.

Of course, I have considered the possibility that we have created God in our image, that we have made a savior who would sacrifice himself for us in order to fulfill our need for his ultimate goodness, and since we already had this impulse, we gave it also to God, as we did in other myths (although this behavior is rare in mythology). But in answer to this conjecture, I would argue, that this impulse is more likely to have been given to us by God because it is not evolutionarily viable, and therefore, having it already within us, it finds its way into our stories and myths throughout history, before finally being realized at Calvary, the culmination of our inner knowledge of goodness. And the fact that Jesus Christ was a historical figure and not a fictional character further reduces the likelihood of his sacrifice on the cross being a man-created myth.

I know this is not proof-positive of the truth of Christianity, but I find that the preponderance of the evidence is in its favor. All of this is clearly philosophical in nature, and there are other reasons why I believe Jesus Christ is the savior of the world, but for me questioning everything comes naturally. For some, I know accepting by faith and by personal experience comes easier than it does for me. I envy this; however, I do think it is important to reason these things out and be able to explain why one believes what one believes. I have never accepted “Because the Bible says so,” as an adequate answer. Even if the Bible is true, one cannot prove something by the thing itself without outside corroboration. As I investigate these things, I do find an outstanding amount is actually corroborated. But that is another subject.

As for me, I find that I do have some measure of faith, and I do believe. I am a Christian, but I still have questions. As I continue to ponder the universe, I find answers, and sometimes more questions. Thanks for pondering it with me.–Christina Knowles

Campbell, Joseph. The Hero with a Thousand Faces. 1st edition, Bollingen Foundation, 1949. 2nd edition, Princeton University Press. 3rd edition, New World Library, 2008.

Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. http://www.iep.utm.edu/altr-grp/ Accessed: 4/4/14

Freedictionary Online. http://www.thefreedictionary.com/martyr Accessed: 4/4/14

UPDATE: A year later, and after a great deal more study and contemplation, I think evolution may be responsible for the altruistic impulse. I currently identify as an atheist; however, I am open to the idea of a creator, but I wholeheartedly believe that if there is a creator, it is not the god of the bible (4-17-15). Until I have sufficient evidence of such a being, I will assume there is not one.

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