Arguing The Death Penalty

I’m going to make a case as to how the death penalty is the only moral response to certain highhanded crimes, how the death penalty upholds human dignity and how the death penalty is indeed prolife.

 

It is thought by the anti folks that punishing a deserving man with the death penalty is mere revenge and therefore cruel but a man, even a criminal, has a right to his just deserts, no more, no less.  When the punishment doesn’t fit the crime then the criminal in a mere subject that the justice system tinkers with in its own subjective pursuit. As C.S. Lewis says, this humanitarian theory removes from punishment the concept of desert and the concept of desert is the only connecting link between punishment and justice. It is only as deserved or undeserved that a punishment can be just or unjust.

 

Next I will enumerate popular arguments and rebuttals to those arguments.

 

The Risk Of Executing The Innocent

 Imprisoning innocent people is also wrong, but we cannot empty the prisons because of that minimal risk. If improvements are needed in the system of representation, or in the use of scientific evidence such as DNA testing, then those reforms should be instituted. However, the need for reform is not a reason to abolish the death penalty. Besides, many of the claims of innocence by those who have been released from death row are actually based on legal technicalities. Just because someone’s conviction is overturned years later and the prosecutor decides not to retry him, does not mean he is actually innocent. If it can be shown that someone is innocent, surely a governor would grant clemency and spare the person. Given our thorough system of appeals through numerous state and federal courts, the execution of an innocent individual today is almost impossible. Our present system of capital punishment limits the ultimate penalty to certain specifically defined crimes and even then, permits the penalty of death only when the jury finds that the aggravating circumstances in the case outweigh all mitigating circumstances. The system further provides judicial review of capital cases. Finally, before capital sentences are carried out, the governor or other executive official will review the sentence to insure that it is a just one, a determination that undoubtedly considers the evidence of the condemned defendant’s guilt. Once all of those decision makers have agreed that a death sentence is appropriate, innocent lives would be lost from failure to impose the sentence. Capital sentences, when carried out, save innocent lives by permanently incapacitating murderers. Some persons who commit capital homicide will slay other innocent persons if given the opportunity to do so. The death penalty is the most effective means of preventing such killers from repeating their crimes. The next most serious penalty, life imprisonment without possibility of parole, prevents murderers from committing some crimes but does not prevent them from murdering in prison.

The mistaken release of guilty murderers should be of far greater concern than the speculative and virtually nonexistent risk of the mistaken execution of an innocent person.

 

The Death Penalty Is Racist And Is Applied Arbitrarily

 While it is true that it is mostly white victims that place murderers on death row (75% of death row inmates killed a white victim). More whites than blacks are executed (56% whites, 34% blacks). While most murderer-victim pairings are same race, whites kill whites, blacks kill blacks, white victims will land a murderer on death row more often than black victims even though 52% of homicides are black victims and 43% of homicides are white victims. It’s also evident that sentencing is arbitrarily handed down. Meaning one case will get the death penalty and a seemingly similar case will get life in prison. The overarching thesis is that the application of the death penalty is unfair.

Discretion has always been an essential part of our system of justice. No one expects the prosecutor to pursue every possible offense or punishment, nor do we expect the same sentence to be imposed just because two crimes appear similar. Each crime is unique, both because the circumstances of each victim are different and because each defendant is different. The U.S. Supreme Court has held that a mandatory death penalty, which applied to everyone convicted of first-degree murder, would be unconstitutional. Hence, we must give prosecutors and juries some discretion. In practice, the death penalty does not single out the worst offenders. Rather, it selects an arbitrary group based on such irrational factors as the quality of the defense counsel, the county in which the crime was committed, or the race of the defendant or victim. Almost all defendants facing the death penalty cannot afford their own attorney. Hence, they are dependent on the quality of the lawyers assigned by the state, many of whom lack experience in capital cases or are so underpaid that they fail to investigate the case properly. A poorly represented defendant is much more likely to be convicted and given a death sentence. Even if the death penalty punishes some while sparing others, it does not follow that everyone should be spared. The guilty should still be punished appropriately, even if some do escape proper punishment unfairly. The death penalty should apply to killers of black people as well as to killers of whites. High paid, skillful lawyers should not be able to get some defendants off on technicalities. The existence of some systemic problems is no reason to abandon the whole death penalty system. After all there are systemic problems with imprisoning people as well. Should we empty the prisons? No. We maintain a justice system even while there are systemic flaws.

 

It Should Not Be Within Mans Power To Take A Life

Why should it be within mans power to mandate life imprisonment? Or mandate treatment? Or mandate anything?

Victims have the right to punish wrongdoers and the reasons for creating a state include reasons for potential victims to transfer that right to the state and avoid the chaos and vengeance of vigilante justice. After all, retributive justice is not revenge because it hands a criminal his just deserts whereas revenge, propelled by emotion, is not concerned with giving a criminal no more than what is just, revenge is concerned with satisfying the rage.

Because we have a system of justice in our society that is based on the inalienable view that all people are made in the image of God and endowed with human dignity we correct misbalances and it is right to do so as long as the punishment matches the crime.

 

Man Shouldn’t Play God

 See my post here.

 

The Death Penalty Is Cruel And Unusual

When someone takes a life, the balance of justice is disturbed. Unless that balance is restored, society succumbs to a rule of violence. Only the taking of the murderer’s life restores the balance and allows society to show convincingly that murder is an intolerable crime that will be punished in kind. For the most cruel and heinous crimes, the ones for which the death penalty is applied, offenders deserve the worst punishment under our system of law, and that is the death penalty. Any lesser punishment would undermine the value society places on protecting lives and life in general.

In 2011 Anders Breivik killed 77 people, mostly children, the largest mass shooting in modern history. He was deemed sane and sentenced to serve 21 years in prison “in a three-cell suite of rooms equipped with exercise equipment, a television and a laptop.” That’s 100 days of posh prison time for each person he murdered, with a legal release possible at age 53. After his 21-year smack-on-the-hand for killing 77 people, Breivik could be kept there indefinitely by judges adding a succession of five-year extensions. This is thought of as the more humane punishment for murderers in contrast to the US whose criminal justice system is thought of as “cruelly punitive”.

What’s ironic is that Norway’s humanitarian theory is cruel and unusual because it removes just deserts from punishment and imposes therapeutic means of punishment that is subjectively devised and handed down. If it’s up to judge’s subjective therapy then should it not be in the hands of experts? After all we’re talking about prescriptions, not just deserts. The Humanitarian theory, then, removes sentences from the hands of jurists whom the public conscience is entitled to criticize and places them in the hands of technical experts whose special sciences do not even employ such categories as rights or justice. If a criminal’s sentence does not have to accord with what he deserves, it does not have to be just. At that point we are all at the mercy of those who are in power to call anything we do a crime and give it any therapeutic or remedial solution they choose, including gas chambers and medical alterations.

At each appeal Breivik will be assessed by a panel that will take no note of just deserts, they will solely ponder him- is he remorseful, is he rehabilitated, is he no longer a threat?  77 dead children won’t even exist in the periphery, only two subjects- the moods of the panel and the sales pitch of the murderer.

Wrongdoers have a “right to be punished” such that not punishing them with just deserts wrongs them. What is meant is that wrongdoers have the right to be treated as the kind of being who can be held responsible and punished, rather than as sick or dangerous beasts.  It is more respectful of normal humans to treat them as beings with the kind of dignity that comes with being responsible for their choices than not. Treating normal humans as merely more or less dangerous animals, whose behavior can hopefully be modified with threats and rewards is to over-extend the medical model. The medical model should be applied only to those whose mental capacities are distinctly sub-normal. Which speaks to the therapeutic sentence. Retributive justice maintains the dignity of the wrongdoer whereas therapeutic sentencing (sentencing concerned with rehabilitation or deterrence and not just deserts) treats the wrongdoer as sub-human. It is exactly because he is a human being with dignity, with all his faculties, who chose an evil act by free will that restoration should be just deserts.

 

 

Retributive justice is the only objective (because it is exactly what he deserves, no more, no less), humane (because it maintains his dignity as a human being with faculties of free will and reason) and prolife (because it treats life as valuable and profoundly worth protecting) sentence of justice there is.

Arguing The Death Penalty

With Life Comes Death

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Ever since my daughter’s birth there has been a looming… I really couldn’t put my finger on it… just, a wave of mourning. I feel scandalized putting this intimate feeling to print. It recently occurred to me what this funereal feeling is. Each month I look forward to with my child is a month of my finite and mortal life that has passed by. She just turned one and a whole year, poof, gone. For her, each day is the beginning of the rest of her life while my days are half used up. With the birth of the next generation in my little family I have intrinsically passed the torch. She is the flame bearer. Now my days are spent grooming her to blossom. I no longer matter as much. My contribution was born and now I wilt into the background. It is my daughter’s turn. Don’t get me wrong, I love that she is just beginning and I get to witness all her firsts just as my mother witnessed all my firsts. I wonder if my mother felt the weight of entropy in her life as I took my first steps, as I moved out of the house, as I moved on with my life?

 

I had never been afraid of death. I smugly felt ‘if my time is up it’s up’ as is a luxury of youthful thought. Two things afford a young person this carelessness. The first is that they haven’t acquired many things they love yet and the second is that death is a far off threat. How will I feel when I’m 60? How will I feel when I or my husband get cancer? I think I will wonder, “How did I get here?”

And you may find yourself
Living in a shotgun shack
And you may find yourself
In another part of the world
And you may find yourself
Behind the wheel of a large automobile
And you may find yourself in a beautiful house
With a beautiful wife
And you may ask yourself, well
How did I get here?

Letting the days go by.

-Once In A Lifetime by The Talking Heads

Isla makes me afraid of death. She will enjoy the years that have already passed for me and then she will lose me just as I will lose my mother. None of us quivers in our boots at funerals because we are still alive taking for granted all the days we’re endowed with. We drive away, get back to our kids sports practice, go to sleep, wake up. The sun is on time. We continue living. Eventually our family photos end up in a dusty flee market and the future buys them up for Halloween decorations.

 

There are generations of influential people in graveyards. Are there more dead than living? This is a tangent, but did you know there are thousands of pieces of debris orbiting the planet in low-earth space? Thousands of pieces of junk left behind by previous generations tethered to our conscious. The memories and buried bodies of people are earthly relics tethered to our conscious. We know they existed because there are traces of evidence but their imprint is a whisper in the wind until it becomes untethered and gets swallowed up by the universe.

 

So while Isla’s body is feverishly repairing and replacing cells my body is rusting. Eventually I will have crossed the threshold and my body will degenerate. I will grow mindful and ruminating while my daughter has perhaps bore a daughter herself. Finally I will breathe my last breath, drift off into the supreme deep sleep, and my daughter will hold a funeral. I will be remembered until some day I’m not. By then a fourth generation will take her first steps.

 

What is it all for?

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As I become more acutely aware of my limited days I can’t help but feel panicked. I don’t want to die.

Too late, my time has come,
Sends shivers down my spine,
Body’s aching all the time.
Goodbye, everybody, I’ve got to go,
Gotta leave you all behind and face the truth.

Mama, I don’t wanna die

-Bohemian Rhapsody by Queen

How do I not languish in despair? I am in bondage to death.

 

This is how.  I know of no other way.

 

We do not lose heart, although our outer body is decaying, our inner soul is being renewed day by day. We look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are unseen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal. For we know that if our earthly body is torn down, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, a house eternal in the heavens. For indeed in this temporal life we groan, being burdened, in order that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. His life. Now He who prepared us for this very purpose is God, who gave to us the Spirit as a pledge. Therefore, being always of good courage, and knowing that while we are at home in the body we are absent from the Lord — for we walk by faith, not by sight — we are of good courage.

-paraphrase of 2 Corinthians 4:16-5:10

 

While someday I will be done here, I will not be finished.

With Life Comes Death

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This is an artistic film. I think the thrilling scenes are enough to carry a mainstream viewer but the artistic pace toward the climax is slow. Or rather concealed. Evil doesn’t start out bombastic and in your face, it starts with little background-noise slights and then more overt wrongs until it scandalizes into grand evil. Film critics have had contrasting reactions from “vile, contemptible, an embarrassment to Paramount Studios” to “riveting, masterpiece, visually striking.” It is downright Aronofsky and should be sealed with his family crest!

 

This nightmare (is this a dream?) is a Christian allegory.  That’s what I see.

 

‘He’ (Javier Bardem) is the Creator God, the houseguests are depraved mankind, the baby is the expiating Christ given as a sacrifice for the forgiveness of our sins, the carbon crystal is the seed of life and the forbidden fruit (the perfect genesis that belongs to God alone).

 

But who or what is mother?

 

Some critics have said this is a story about mankind ravaging mother earth, where Jennifer Lawrence’s ‘She’ (there are no names of characters only Him, Her, She and He) is the world. I think that’s too lazy an interpretation. There are too many things that wouldn’t add up. If it’s a lecture on the despicable way we treat the earth then what does the innocent son of man have to do with it? What of God’s taking earth’s love and recreating? It seems God’s preoccupation is with man. He says, for a creator “there is never enough.” Else, there would be no creation. He must bore forth. For the act of creating is out of desire to yield something ‘other’ than thou. God’s constitution is conceiving. He conceived of the earth but his fondness is for humanity.  This has me thinking about the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit in the Christian Trinity- that perfect relationship, why more, why us? I’m not sure this film presents the relationship between God and His creatures in accord with Christian doctrine but it is an allegory and a work of art. That these themes are even given screen time is groundbreaking to me in an industry that’s void of existential thought beyond ‘I’.

 

If She isn’t simply mother earth could she be Lucifer? Lucifer after all is a fallen angel who had protected the throne of God just as She protects His writing room and His cherished tree of life- the carbon crystal. There is also great parallel of His poet’s words and the word of God. There is even anointing done with ashes, by God and his priest, of his fan followers, blessing them; “receive his words.” The allegory goes on. Lucifer was exceedingly beautiful. Lucifer grows loathsome of service to God. ‘She’ is a stridently sacrificial yet jealous character. Yearning to have Him to herself, to have His gaze exclusively upon her, to have first priority when viewing His work of art. Then Lucifer is cast out of heaven and upon judgment is burnt by fire and disintegrated into ash. Jennifer Lawrence’s ‘she’ forebodes about the apocalypse. The narrative in mother! displays genesis through the book of revelation.

 

Or maybe lowercase mother is simply a person. She is the commoner with the womb that carries Jesus. The same person who seeks a word with him on his walk up to Calvary to whom he says “My mother is someone who hears the word of God and does it.” Lawrence’s She is sick of God’s plans for their household. She is the commoner that is enchanted, even moved, by God’s word but doesn’t accept the radical regeneration that’s required. Her idea of service is still prideful. She doesn’t do it 100% for God, she does it for herself. The home is her work, the womb is her work. He receives praise for His work, She wishes for praise for Hers. This isn’t simply a presentation of misogynistic burden shouldered by women. All un-regenerated people are saturated in self-glory, unable to free themselves from that outlook.  Unable to abide the leadership of Him.

 

There are plenty of stories in the bible that have God resetting the course. Outmoding animal sacrifice for the ultimate blood sacrifice Jesus Christ, Noah’s ark and the great flood, Sodom and Gomorrah, etc. Now, whether the recreation in the film means God as a frustrated amateur that just can’t seem to get it right and narcissistically scraps His work so that He can receive more love, more adoration next time or God as the perfect creator that, out of abundance of love, painstakingly gives second chances, there is artistic license with this. Does the creator ‘He’ create out of an absence and a desperation for more or out of an abundance and a selfless choice to share?

 

This film reminded me a lot of Aronofsky’s earlier works. There were beautiful cinematic scenes that reminded me of several films. There was Requiem For A Dream in the pulsating organic walls and delusional visions. I saw Lars Von Trier’s Antichrist with the opening and closing sequences of nature insidiously consuming civilization with its tentacles. I saw Gone Girl in the scenes of the crazed fans and paparazzi. I saw Children Of Men with the war ravaged trenches and slummed refugee camps. The decent into Hell was almost as if an elevator were taking you through the generations of the earth’s crust with each layer being an egregious era in mankind’s history.

 

One thing Aronofsky got spot on is the depravity of man. And I’m not talking about the stereotypical political jargon that a bleeding heart (no pun intended) would sentence you with but rather the curse we’re ALL under. One thing that struck me is the brilliant way Lawrence’s She, whether Lucifer or person or planet, is cast as someone you’re sympathetic for. Of course!…the barging in of houseguests should incense her, of course she shouldn’t forgive the ravenous mob, of course she should be paid more attention to for her sacrificial acts of service and steadfast support of her poet-genius. Of course She should have glory! That’s how mysterious, how outside our mortal comprehension, how ugly to our unregenerate souls, God’s plan is. We see Her as painfully taken advantage of and flogged again and again to the point of total annihilation while He coolly forgives. What is justice for Her? It would be too simple to present sin as the mob but the road to Hell is paved with human good intentions that are apart from His plan. God’s plan is so radical, so rebellious, that forgiveness for a murderous mob is among his orchestration. Certainly God’s justice is mysterious to us. Where His radical love and justice leads in the bible versus where it leads in the film are different paths.

 

There are so many layers to this film I need to see it again. I’m delighted to see such transcendent themes in a star-studded film. It makes you wonder, like Michael Knowles said in the Daily Wire, if Aronofsky hasn’t paid lip service to the Mother Earth interpretation simply to con mainstream audiences into watching the Bible for two hours.

mother!

Can You Raise Your Child Free From Dogma?

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Many modern families make it their aim to raise their child as a blank slate, upon which the sovereign child makes his own choices, forms his own opinions, finds his own identity, and writes his own story. The archipelago child: free to be uninfluenced and untouched by a point of view. There are two approaches: I will not introduce any dogma into my child’s mind, therefore they’ll be unladen of bias or I will offer a glimpse into all dogmas so that my child can infer what they may and piecemeal a unified whole. The result will be a cultured, unbiased, sensitive and understanding person.

Is it possible to fulfill either of these approaches? With the first approach the parent is ultimately relinquishing their parenting and resting their child in wait for some outside influence  to impress their mind. It takes the culpability out of the job of parenting. The parent with the first approach, down the line, could say “I didn’t impress any beliefs on my child, in his freedom he decided his beliefs on his own, I am blameless.” Or, from a different perspective, the parent with the first approach is explicitly culpable for not introducing the best, the correct, worldview. But this implies transcendent, objective truth, that there is a right and a wrong. There is. I’ll get to that later. With regard to the second approach, is it humanly possible to expose your child to all dogmas and theories that exist let alone the meaningful parts of them in their entire applicable context? If you’re leaving out certain ideologies then are you not unwittingly shaping your child’s ideas and submitting them to dogma?

The first principle a child learns as they grow up is no and yes.  It is a valuable principle!

They desire something that they shouldn’t have because it’s not in their best interest. Why has it been decided they shouldn’t have it? Many would say cultural conditioning. That some force; paternalism, sexism, Puritanism, laid a foundation for behavioral expectations and now it’s time to shatter that ceiling by washing our kids of expectations. A sort of contrary rebirth. Not a rebirth to orthodoxy but a rebirth to abandon.

Yet there remains some universal manipulations we beholden our kids with. They desire to avoid a nap but the parent knows a nap reduces fatigue, resets their mood, lends itself to growth, etc. The very first dogma a parent will introduce their child to establishes the parent’s outside authority on the child. Parents represent God to small children. Second, it establishes truths and the right and wrong way to behave in accordance with the truth.

I know what’s best for you at 1 year old, what is best for you is a nap because it will reduce fatigue and help you grow. Child, it is right that you fight your natural desire to resist a nap and wrong that you give in to your nature. This is the first, elementary dogma you introduce your child to: fight your natural desires for the sake of your life. Does this sound extreme? If a child doesn’t learn obedience to truths that restrain their desires then they may fall subject to a burnt hand on the stove or hit by a car for not looking both ways or even more complicated and tragic events.

Right off the bat you’ve established right and wrong. But some parents, being exposed to and educated by enlightened progressive theories, will negate the most primitive, basic common sense and appointed authority that they have to undermine such oppressive bulwarks like right and wrong. Opinion, desires and tastes are the weathervane. Madcap opinions that are evolving, unauthoritative, lawless and meaningless. After all how do you write law on one man’s opinion? Law is written using precedent, wisdom of the elders, and inalienable truths. Law has survived the ages and been useful because it’s true. Yet we guffaw truth and encourage the child to navigate life with some intrinsic knowledge she has that is superior to an adult’s long-forged, accumulated wisdom. So open-minded that her brain falls out.

What is it that motivates people to find dogma repugnant? One thing. When it is established that this way is the right way, it means another way is wrong. If there’s a good then there is a bad. It creates grouping, ranking, a pecking order. It creates limitations, failures, hurt feelings. How can we, humans, decide a way is right over another? Especially if it hurts someone else’s feelings. That’s the second truth your child will learn after no and yes: life is not fair. From birth we are born with disadvantages, some of which will be impossible to overcome. The fact that we are born into a material body that is hurtling toward entropy makes our life unfair. This machine of a body will fail us and someone else’s machine will be better. So, too, about the principles of life and how they match/mismatch our desires. Is a principle untrue if it’s at odds with my nature? A common cultural sentiment is “be who you are”. Or is it that my nature is a beast that needs the principle to groom it? “Become who you are.”

How do you know what’s true?

What’s right for a moody, exhausted child?

That’s how simple truth really is. One just needs eyes to see.

To paraphrase GK Chesterton, when a person chooses not to believe in what’s right, it’s not that they believe in nothing, it’s that they believe in anything. The mind is not a vacuum. Some thing will fill it: religious dogma, the culture’s dogma or the State’s dogma. There is no such thing as dogma free. Start teaching your child the truth or another force, benevolent or malevolent, will start indoctrinating your child for you.

Can You Raise Your Child Free From Dogma?

A Prayer For Our Unborn Baby

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I haven’t met you yet but already you are known. You are 27 weeks old and you have been designed with eyebrows, eyelashes and fingerprints. You weigh almost 2 pounds but your chance for survival if you were born this early would be at least 85%. At this point you curl your fingers into a tiny fist. 7 weeks ago by ultrasound we saw your face, your form, and you were crossing your ankles and cupping a hand around your butt cheek. I feel you flutter and kick and I’m amazed how much strength you have at barely 2 pounds. So far you have been easy on me, as I have not struggled. Have I been taking care of you?

 

Soon, the knitting together of your soul and your body will transform from God’s hand only and be our responsibility. What is in store for you? You will come to know sunshine and moonlight. You will feel small confronting the scope of the universe. You will soon understand how far away the stars are. You will see cat paws for the first time. You will see human faces as abstractions and be too young to interpret identities but you will come to know me as mother. What is in store for me?

 

I will grasp for wisdom, revelation and patience as I nurture you. I will fail to understand why you’re so upset. I will be desperate to meet your needs. I will see dandelion seeds blown off a stem for the first time through your eyes. I will hold your fingerprint in my hand and marvel at your creation. Things I take for granted will be big again when you discover a tickle. The simplest trick of peek-a-boo will show me that laughter is beckoning and abundant.

 

But

 

You will know desire and heartbreak as you endeavor your life. You will feel fear and trepidation as a sovereign person who is a part of the world but on your own. You will feel loneliness and alien being trapped with your own thoughts. You will be hurt and sometimes for no apparent reason. You will struggle to remain optimistic and steadfast. You will make terrible decisions that could have tragic consequences. You will see evil. You will feel the void of space between you and your creator. You will feel the void of space between your capacity and your purpose. You will feel despair. During a season you will feel like you cannot climb out of your existential desolation. Your body will fail you and you will yearn to be free from it. You will feel sorry and you will make pleas. You will be selfish and you will make a fool of yourself.

 

But you will never be forgotten. You will have us, your mother and father, for a season but you’ll have your Father for eternity. We have hopes for you. You have great potential. Our hope is not for a rocket scientist or the next President. We don’t hope you’ll have all A’s or get into a prestigious college. We don’t hope for you to be successful and wealthy. We don’t hope for you to be popular or well liked. We don’t hope for a hundred friends or even simply happiness for you.

 

We hope for goodness.

 

May you have courage, justice, gentleness, selflessness, forgiveness, humility, integrity, dignity, morality, decency, loyalty, clarity, patience, kindness, temperance and self-control. We hope for you to have a good heart and a discerning mind. Your battle will not be for hierarchy or status. It will not be for gain of possessions or loved ones. It will not be for a secular activist cause. These worldly pursuits are not bad in and of themselves, framed right they are noble things, but your primary battle will be against evil. To hate evil and love good! That is our hope for you. We don’t expect perfection, for it does not exist. We expect your best effort. It will be hard, gruesome and exhausting but it will be right. And while doing so, endeavor to enjoy yourself. Marvel at the cosmos, marvel at the quantum molecules, marvel at your created fingerprint, marvel at your place in existence.

 

By God’s grace, know your worth. Every hair on your head known and loved by Him before we even knew and loved you. And I pray that we savor the moments and don’t let them go to waste.

 

“This world is a great sculptor’s shop. We are the statues and there’s a rumor going around that some of us are someday going to come to life.” –C.S. Lewis

A Prayer For Our Unborn Baby

Valentines Day

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If the only thing you’re celebrating on Valentines Day is romantic love you’re missing out.

On the contrary, if you reject Valentines Day because it’s a Hallmark holiday, you’re missing out. The gift giving sweetness (too sweet?) of Valentines Day is a modern homage of something quite old, indeed original; love.

The first commercial production of the Valentine card in America was a work of art, made of imported lace and delicate paper floral by artist Esther Howland in the 1840’s. Hallmark wasn’t founded until 1910. The etymology of the word holiday derives from the Old English word that means holy day. In the fourth century AD there were several patron saints known as Valentine or Valentinus. Their stories vary but the common theme is rebellion against Roman oppression for the sake of marriage. The Christian church appropriated a pagan feast holiday in February known as Lupercalia, which was a festival for the Roman God of agriculture (fertility). We had marriage and fertility, the link of Valentine’s Day to love didn’t happen until the Middle Ages. Romanticism beckoned in our obsession with sentimental love. The kind of love, as C.S. Lewis describes, in which “we shall not have to do anything: only let affection pour over us like a warm bath and all, it is implied, will be well.” All the loves can be exploited in this shallow way. It is our labor to find a good balance of the loves. Each love is not self sufficient.

The pagan Greeks and later the Christian Greeks had a nuanced view of love. There is Storge pronounced store-gay (a grown affection or fondness), Eros (romantic love) and Philia (brotherly or friendship love). These are the loves that are natural to man. Agape pronounced ah-gah-peh (covenant love or Christian love) is a divine love from God. Eros was seen as an irrational, dangerous kind of love that could possess you and rob you of your senses. That people hope to fall ‘madly’ in love is surviving evidence of this. Erotic love is a hunger, a need that drives us toward satisfaction. But Eros dies precisely because it is a power born of need, when the need is satisfied Eros dies. I believe our culture has neutered love with its myopic view towards Eros. There is an undervaluing of the other robust forms of love in our life that when directed, in concert toward goodness, fulfill something close to true love. While our Western culture has become fixated on sex, sexiness and sexuality it has become ignorant of true love.

Storge describes a fondness one has for an old sweater or your childhood dog or an elderly man you see every morning at the coffee shop. You are strangers but his mere presence has incubated a comfort, a familiarity. A parents affection for a child straddles this love, this love and Philia. For example, a parent has instinctual affection for their child, they clothe him and nurture him but they also behave honorably for him so that he may mimic good behavior. Your child, who starts out a stranger that you nevertheless are fond of, grows through your rearing and eventually, upon adulthood, becomes your friend. This shows the transformation from Storge to Philia.

Examples of Philia love are the relationships between a parent and child, friendships, ally cities/states/tribes, military troops, teachers and students. The purpose of the Philia type of love is to cultivate virtue in one’s life as his life relates to another’s for a common goal. Unlike Storge, Philia love is mutual. Philia is the highest form of love that can emanate from Man. Philia, Storge and even Eros are accidental or coincidental, you find yourself in this relationship just as a child finds himself with his parents, or you find yourself a new friend or a lover because of proximity. Had you not gone to that college or joined that group or gotten that job, your paths would not have crossed. While Agape is a deliberate love, you were chosen and you choose to love steadfastly.

Words such as philanthropy (generosity to Mankind), philanderer (a man flirtatious with his affections), philharmonic (lovely harmonies), philosopher (lover of wisdom), Philadelphia (brotherly love) come from the root Philo.

Examples of Agape love are the relationship between spouses and the relationship between God and Man. John 3:16 talks of Agape love. In this verse, “For God so loved the world”, the Greek word for love is agapao. Agape love is a self sacrificial love. This type of love is the highest form of love known to Mankind. This type of love can only emanate from God. Marriage is a holy covenant that manifests Agape love. This is a kind of love that loves another regardless of what they may receive. Unlike Philia love that acts virtuous in search of virtue in return, Agape love sacrificially gives, no matter if the person deserves it or returns it, because it is good. ‘Love is patient, love is kind, love does not boast, it is not arrogant or rude, it does not insist on its own way, it is not irritable or resentful, it does not rejoice in failures but rejoices in truth, love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things’. This old scripture isn’t simply a sentiment. It is a faithful love, Agape love. It is no wonder this love is not natural to man, this love is divine.

One of the greatest valentines I’ve given in my 33 year old life wasn’t given in the spirit of romantic love. It was the simple gesture of giving flowers to an important woman in my life, my mother. My mother was an excellent teacher, parent and supporter. Her life has had deprivation, loneliness and disappointment but she loves me sacrificially. She did her best to raise me right. She is paradoxically virtuous and fallible, brave and human. She gives me a charitable and selfless love and that means more to me than the quickening pulse of romance. How long do the chemical reactions of the body last? But selfless love that echos heaven, that is some love.

The gift of the flowers lit up her day, as she had never had flowers delivered to her in the 70 years of her life. In fact, the deliveryman stood there in her open doorway with the flowers and she insisted he must have the wrong house. When he said, “well aren’t you so and so,” she realized the flowers were just where they were supposed to be. I think the shock of it all; delivered flowers, that someone thought of her, that an ordinary day became extraordinary really touched her heart. I had no idea she would enjoy the gift, much less be elated. That was a special Valentines Day!

It’s a shame that our fixation on romantic love deprives us of the other expressions of love that are so precious. I’ll try to do my best to cherish them all.

Valentines Day

Death The Great Leveler

The-Fountain

I am not at peace with death. It does not console me that my loved ones lived a reasonably long or a reasonably full life. Death is still unbearable whether it afflicts an infant or a grandmother or a stranger in the news. We have the placating convenience of short memories and attention spans to repress the reality of death. Life goes on for us and we can forget our predicament since we are not constantly surrounded by sickness, suffering and premature death as they were in say the middle ages but, still, lying in wait in the recesses of our mind is the ever real threat to our life. We can only deny it so long before it bombards our life and washes over it.

I have found myself, just as others have, remarking ‘when it’s my time it’s my time’, fooling myself into surrendering to the futility of the final destiny of death or making it easier by taking the Zen approach. Making peace with it. When I say it, if I’m honest with myself, I know its naïve. I say it because I naively believe it won’t happen to me, not yet, that happens to other people. Truth is I could die tomorrow. I will die someday.  Our human constitution represses confrontation with death. It tells us to go on, move forward. I, personally, want to live long, the longer the better. It’s a weakness of mine.  Is it contrary to find the desire to live long a weakness? It should be considered a strength to want to live long and full. I think it’s a weakness because of what I believe must be true: that I am not just a coincidental life, I was deliberately made. If I am a creature that was thoughtfully made by a creator then there is a relationship there that death doesn’t end. At the very least I live on in the memory of my creator. But I believe I am more than just a memory. How can we have been made so intellectually if at the end of it all we are just a faded memory or less? We must be more and if there’s more beyond death then what am I so afraid of?

At this point it is somewhat easy for me to presume my life will go on longer since I’m 33 years of age. I imagine that when I’m 70 my thoughts about death will increase and on a secular level death will seem just as irrational. There are some reasonable things about death, after all everyone can’t live forever, it would overpopulate the earth and consume all the resources in the existence we know. Death is also just when defending one’s life against a life-threatening attacker and is just when reconciling capital punishment for a guilty murderer. Some will say death is a welcome relief from suffering. Death is also a reference point that gives urgency to life. If we lived forever what timetable would urge us to take action? Being is inexplicably linked to time and time moves forward until it’s final resting place. So while there is time, there is death.

An interesting aspect of the film I love, Ex Machina, is the scene in which Nathan maxresdefault-1024x576discusses a Jackson Pollock painting with Caleb. Nathan says of Pollock, “He let his mind go blank, and his hand go where it wanted. Not deliberate, not random. Some place in between…What if Pollock had reversed the challenge. What if instead of making art without thinking, he said, ‘You know what? I can’t paint anything, unless I know exactly why I’m doing it.’ What would have happened?” To which Caleb responds, “He never would have made a single mark.”

I find this illustration to fit in excellently with our existential crisis of death. How do we reconcile our potency with the impotency of death. In other words, knowing that our mortal life is finite, in time, hurtling towards death, what reason is there for making a single mark? It cannot be the simple reason of an elementary feeling: happiness. And even so, what if it is happiness? It would be only temporary. It seems to me that it is a disproportionate application to give human beings the unique, complicated, limitless capacity to self-reflect and to reason to have the final purpose be something as maudlin, as momentary, as happiness. An insane happiness that is satisfied with a moment. Or perhaps your life is paving the way for future generations, moments upon moments. How is that reasonable? I’m built with the capacity to reflect on my own existence only for an evolutionary reason- to broker offspring? And what of the very last generation?

The secular solution of living an authentic life or being truly happy is not enough to balance our human capacity with the closeness of death. Especially given that it is an impossibility, of one’s own volition, to be truly happy or have true authentic resoluteness in this life. There is no triumphant act of resolution in which I would perfect myself once and for all and maintain myself as a perfect rendering throughout the whole of my life. The law of entropy as it relates to particles and humanity prohibits perfection. There must be more to explain our purpose.

On a human level, if one accepts death as the last word then how do you reconcile pain and suffering and unluckiness or even love and beauty if death is the final arbiter?

Let’s say you had a good life. You were free to make your own choices, you loved and were loved all the while knowing death is around the corner ready to snuff it out, the final despot. Would you not be grasping for every precious moment in the mere 85 years (if you’re so blessed) of your meaningful existence on this 4.5 billion year old planet?

You are but a speck in time.

Or what if you were a life-long slave? Devoid of any meaningful existence for however long you live and then your life is ended before it even started. You didn’t get to aspire to much other than fulfilling the tasks of the master. What would have been the meaning of your life?

There is awesome beauty in this life and there is terrible pestilence and there can be no absolute steadfast fulfillment in this physical universe. It’s a fact. There can and will be greatness in this life but not perfection. And isn’t that why we’re always desirous of more? More of the good thing. Are we given a glimpse of something magnificently divine all for nothing? Even the most aware animal, outside humans, or the most aware computer isn’t aware of it’s own awareness. It doesn’t reflect on itself and feel existential angst that it will die.

Again in Ex Machina (spoilers):6a0133f5caa026970b01bb08330ac6970d-800wi

The AI has finally transcended the mere machinery when it becomes aware of it’s own existence and impending death. Thus it makes the self-conscious (not pre-programmed) objective to escape. The REAL difference between true AI, and a computer programmed with such responses, is that the computer will sit idly and do nothing until you give it a task. However, a true AI will USE these resources to achieve a goal, which is shaped by its existential experiences and not something it was encoded with. Siri may give us human like responses, but ‘she’ will not do anything, unless we tell ‘her’ to.

The expert consensus on a cats consciousness is that they live moment to moment. They don’t have the capacity to think of a future. In other words, they don’t feel angst that they will die eventually. They feel pain in the moment but they don’t know this pain is indicative of their impending death. We know that they dream but not in words or ideas since they don’t have language. They dream in picture moment by moment. They do have memories that inform their actions but they don’t understand ‘future’.  

But we know.

This makes all the more profound the reconciling we make in this life, the way we use our will. Can we escape absolute death?

The Christian interpretation of death is intriguing for me. Christian theology says we are enslaved our whole life by the fear of death. All our vices and even virtues are a denial of this sober reality. That death is the final destiny for man. My own spiritual struggle and failures have laden me with a fear of death. The more precious I find things to be- people, animals, time- the more I cling to this life. We are not called to abandon this life but to elevate it. It’s the paradoxical calling of being in the world but not of the world. Unlike the secular view we can find hope and gratitude in being a creature in relation to a creator. In Christian theology the progress of our being in time is in relation to God and not in relation to death for God defeated death. Obviously death still occurs but it has been reframed.

For Christians there is a deliverance of death, a rebirth, and a new life that will go on forever, a life that is stricken of suffering and fragility. We will be perfect.  It is said it will literally be paradise. You will not have mortal want or need. You will be changed. Only mankind? What about other creatures of the earth? There is biblical evidence that the purpose of animals in this life is for food but there is also biblical evidence that God didn’t make such wonderful and diverse creatures only to wipe them out.

Theologian John Piper says it deftly here:

“The likelihood that animals will be in the age to come is based on Isaiah 11 and Isaiah 65.”

Isaiah 11: The wolf shall dwell with the lamb and the leopard shall lie down with the young goat and the calf and the lion and the fatted calf together. And the little child shall lead them, the cow and the bear shall graze. Their young shall lie down together and the lion shall eat straw like an ox. The nursing child shall play upon the hole of the cobra and the weaned child shall put his hand on the adder’s den. They shall not hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain, for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.

Isaiah 65: The wolf and the lamb shall graze together. The lion shall eat straw like an ox and dust shall be the serpent’s food. They shall not hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain, says the Lord.

“Here is the question. Did God create a group of beings only to destroy them in the end, a whole group like animals? Let’s have animals for history and no animals for eternity. I doubt it. Did he create amazing diversity in the animal realm only to simplify everything by getting rid of that diversity in the age to come so that you have stunning, amazed worship at God’s diversity in creation in history, but you don’t have it in the age to come. That is all gone. I doubt that. And so it does seem to me from these two texts and from those two principles that there will be animals in the age to come.”

So there is a relief there. We are not forgotten. The intellect we were created with is not arbitrary.

There will be continuity.  

Our souls and eventually our bodies, our I, will go on after death.  The meaning of our creaturely lives will be justified. Death will take my body, for now, but it will not take my being.

Death The Great Leveler

Play me that Mountain Music: out of many, one

mountain-music

“You’ve got to have smelt a lot of manure before you can sing like a hillbilly.” –Hank Williams Sr.

Country music has become the subject of the quintessential ‘eyeroll’ of the 21st Century. It, as well as the South in general has become the pariah of the intellectual hipster and the urban Progressive. Those that have hung onto a respect or even downright like of country music are thought to be one of the following: either an unintelligent clueless mainstream suburbanite or an unintelligent inbreeding red neck yokel. Either way they have extremely bad taste and are not sophisticated!

They are not as cool as we.

What’s a travesty about all this is that Country music is a deeply American creation, E Pluribus Unum, that has influence from the Calvinist morals of the Puritans, the folk songs and ballads of the emigrating English, Scot and Irish settlers to the Appalachians, the Jazz, Gospel and Blues from the Black community, and Ranchera from the Mexican community. Country music always had history and heritage entrenched in its bones while navigating the rootlessness of the new frontier. It was one of the first genres of music to speak plain about death and suffering, especially around the Civil War, while music at that time was often too syrupy in its sentimentality. Country music embraced the rugged, drawing on the reverent. It was born out of a time of perseverance and fortitude. Life was not cozy and affluent as it is now. You worked hard and you barely got by but by the grace of God. Mourning was a very acute emotion. Death and suffering was a cloak over the rural working South.

My pocketbook is empty

And my heart is filled with pain

I’m a thousand miles away from home

Just waiting for a train.

-Jimmie Rodgers

As I said, Country music is one of the clearest examples of Southern working-class attitudes toward life and death. Evangelical hymns and sermons in the rural South fostered Country Music. The Protestants that founded America brought a deeply devout way of thinking that included Reformed Theology (Calvinism) advocating greater purity of worship and doctrine, as well as personal and group piety. They were archaic survivalists coming from State control in England, Lowland Scotland and Ulster Northern Ireland. They are familiar with being ostracized and believe in the strength of the family as a survivalist method but also as a deeply religious value. Southerners mourn in their songs. They mourn their wife, their lover, and their children, even their dog. In modern times this is heckled and laughed at but unlike the Northeast in the 19th Century who established institutions to avoid suffering and death, the South digested tragedy, mourned suffering, always looking to the afterlife, the eternal. To the struggling Southerner who was deeply poor with low mortality rates and a laborers stoicism death, if God wills it, was often a relief, for the Lord is on the other side. Interestingly, suicide rates in the South were strikingly low. There was an understanding of our status as human beings, fallen, in need of regeneration, of the love for community to shoulder the suffering together and to live with Godly dignity, not suppressing suffering but accepting it.

“Of emotions, of love, of breakup, of love and hate and death and dying, mama, apple pie, and the whole thing. It covers a lot of territory, country music does.”  -Johnny Cash

Blues music, though that term was not coined yet, was born out of the black laborer slave community. The earliest blues-like music was a functional expression, rendered in a call-and-response style without accompaniment or harmony and unbounded by the formality of any particular musical structure that was rooted in the African American spirituals. It was later when the southern, black, ex-slave population was acculturated to a considerable degree by and among their Scots-Irish “redneck” neighbors. A common trait among Blues in the Black community and Country in the rural White community is both were generally regarded as poor people music, separate from the upper- and middle-classes. Which speaks to the bourgeoisie attitude, in fact prejudice, that still infects the intellectual and Progressive minds of today.

By the 1920’s broadcast radio made exposure for country music more available and the first country ‘hit’ was in 1923; Fiddlin’ John Carson’s album. By the late 20’s the fiddle and guitar began replacing the traditional banjo. The Appalachian dulcimer, mandolin, and harmonica also turned up on the scene. The Great Depression forced many rural whites into industrial areas where the genre was influenced by modern Blues and Gospel music with the sub-genre Boogie Woogie which was Blues with a dance beat focus.

In the 1930’s Texas-Oklahoma region Country started developing an influence from Swing-Jazz and came to feature the steel guitar. In the 1940’s Honky-Tonk music developed including a steel guitar-fiddle combination with its roots in Western Swing and the Ranchera music of Mexico. Also during the 1940’s Bluegrass emerged out of a nostalgic yearning to bring Country music back to its roots. Nashville was established as Country music’s studio city with the help of Hank Williams. The term “Country and Western music” (later shortened to “Country music”) was adopted by the recording industry in 1949 to replace the derogatory label “Hillbilly music” that was coined in 1925.

By the 50’s and 60’s Country music was a full blown commercial success with the advancement of Rockabilly that some describe as a combination of Country and Rhythm and Blues as others describe it as a blend of Bluegrass and Rock-n-roll of which Elvis Presley is the most notorious example.

The 1970’s saw Outlaw music rise up with music recorded outside the corporate Nashville sound from such artists as Willy Nelson. Southern Rock also established during this period blending Bluegrass and Boogie with Rock producing such artists as Lynyrd Skynyrd.  The gap between Country music and Pop narrowed during this time as the electric guitar took prominence. By the 80’s and 90’s country went pop. Today there is a multi-genre diversity in Country music with inclusion of Pop, Rock, Hip hop, even Techno.

One can say Country music as it is today bares no resemblance to the Americana it evolved from but he would have to be intellectually honest about all genres of music as they stand today. Popular culture and commercial sales changed music. All music. Nothing is what it was but one could argue that the soul of the music still lingers in the unconscious backdrop of the Country song. What music more clearly shows its soul than Country in which you will still catch its artists singing of God, family, community, suffering, death and mourning, reverence and humility, and perseverance? And heck, modernity introduced into the music the luxury of fun, aint nothin’ wrong with that.

Play me that Mountain Music: out of many, one

Got Anxiety?

Palm-trees-boat-tropical-sea-beach-sand-clouds_1920x1200

Have you ever dreamed of a more peaceful existence? Leaving your life as you know it and moving to a beach island. Selling all your belongings and buying a boat to set sail at sea. Meeting that special someone that completes your life. Travel, beauty, status and love: the four pillars of Western culture upon which our economy is built. However, no matter where you go, there you are. Anxiety and all.

You have good reason to have anxiety. You are a vulnerable physical being, a complicated network of fragile organs all biding their time before eventually letting you down catastrophically at a moment of their own choosing. We have insufficient information upon which to make most major life decisions: we are steering more or less blind. We are saturated with media that convince us we are not satisfied. We live not far from the savage animal community and carry in our bones- into the suburbs- the fear of savagery encroaching on us. We rely for our self-esteem and sense of comfort on the love of people we cannot control and whose needs and hopes will never align seamlessly with our own. The world we live in is strife with wars, threats and instability and our fundamental biology tells us to procreate and bring more children into this.

Anxiety

But is it all futile?

viktor-franklViktor Frankl was a Jewish doctor, psychologist and philosopher. He lived from 1905-1997. He and his sister survived the Nazi concentration camp. His mother, father, brother and wife all died at the camp. He was prisoner 119,104. He was working on a manuscript that was his life’s work before he was arrested. He sewed it into the lining of his coat when he was arrested by Nazis only to lose it during his transfer to Auschwitz. His manuscript was titled The Doctor and the Soul. He watched those in the labor camps perish after they lost all hope in the future. But he kept busy recalling the text of his manuscript and rewriting it on secret bits of paper. It gave him purpose and meaning when his life was deteriorated and wickedly oppressed. The following is his theory on anxiety.

He called his form of therapy logotherapy, from the Greek word logos, which can mean study, word, spirit, God, or meaning.  I find logos to be personally meaningful since my mind immediately thinks of The Word and what more influential of a text is there when it comes to a person’s existential condition? It is the last sense Frankl focuses on, although the other definitions are never far off.  Comparing himself with the other great Viennese psychiatrists, Freud and Adler, he suggested that Freud essentially postulated a will to pleasure as the root of all human motivation, and Adler a will to power.  Logotherapy postulates a will to meaning.

Frankl also uses the Greek word noös, which means mind or spirit.  In traditional psychology we focus on “psychodynamics,” which sees people as trying to reduce psychological tension.  Instead, or in addition, Frankl says we should pay attention to noödynamics, wherein tension is necessary for health when it comes to meaning.  People, maybe even unknowingly, desire the tension involved in striving for some worthy goal! Perhaps one perverse interpretation of this yearning we see in popular culture is the ‘drama queen’, people who seek out drama but for vain purposes. It could be an unconscious desire for tension that if used in the affirmative would be for a higher purpose.

“Being human is being responsible — existentially responsible, responsible for one’s own existence.” –Viktor Frankl

Animals have instincts that guide them thus reducing the burden of ‘choice’. In traditional societies we have replaced instincts with traditions that guide us thus still reducing choice.  Today, we hardly even have that.  Most people attempt to find guidance in conformity and conventionality but it becomes increasingly difficult to avoid facing the fact that we now have the freedom and the responsibility to make our own choices in life, to find our own meaning. And because of this choice we are afflicted with anxiety.

manderlay_ver3I am reminded of Lars Von Trier’s film Manderlay in which there is a fictional town in 1930’s Alabama where slavery still reigns. A progressive young woman comes into town trying to transform it from slavery to free democracy only to ultimately find out that the slaves wish to keep the status quo and persist in following ‘mam’s’ code of conduct manual, which the eldest slave enforces. This mental discussion from the movie always stuck with me. Could it be that the people would rather have an easy totalitarianism than a burdened freedom? So that one doesn’t have to face the anxiety of existential responsibility.

Frankl suggests that one of the most conspicuous signs of anxiety in our society is boredom and because of this boredom we fill our lives with stuff. Pleasures, power, conformity, OCD’s, hatred, anger, etc. There is anticipatory anxiety:  Someone may be so afraid of getting certain anxiety-related symptoms that getting those symptoms becomes inevitable.  The anticipatory anxiety causes the very thing that is feared!  Test anxiety is an obvious example:  If you are afraid of doing poorly on tests, the anxiety will prevent you from doing well on the test, leading you to be afraid of tests, and so on. The converse but similar symptom of anxiety is hyperintention.  This is a matter of trying too hard, which itself prevents you from succeeding at something.  One of the most common examples is insomnia:  Many people, when they can’t sleep, continue to try to fall asleep, using every method in the book.  Of course, trying to sleep itself prevents sleep, so the cycle continues.  A third is hyperreflection. In other words the self fulfilling prophecy. An example would be someone who learns that they should view themselves as a victim thus starts behaving like a victim such as a woman who is sexually abused as a child but nevertheless grows up to be a healthy functioning adult but upon reading literature that tells her people with this experience often have sexual dysfunction as adults she starts suddenly being dysfunctional in that area.

Frankl attributes anxiety to man’s attitude to his surroundings, how he let’s his surroundings affect himself. It is the obsession with oneself that leads to anxiety and in extreme conditions ultimately leads to loss of hope or futility. Could it be a coincidence that anxiety is developing more rapidly in our modern Western culture in which we are told ever so increasingly to ‘look inward’ for meaning, to love yourself before you can love someone else, to admire our own beauty through selfies, to take quizzes that compare us to our Facebook friends, find self worth from the amount of Instagram followers we have, etc? We live in an age of narcissism. ‘It’s not you, it’s me’ really is accurate these days.

In the labor camps Frankl witnessed people die upon losing all hope but he also witnessed people find meaning despite their suffering. That is one thing your captor, oppressor, authority can never take from you: the spark in your soul and the attitude with which you process your experience.

How to find meaning?

Experiential values. This is by experiencing something we value such as great art or natural wonders or showing love to a beloved, beyond just loving them as objects but loving them meaningfully.

Creative values. This is doing a deed. Becoming involved in one’s creative project such as art, writing, invention, music, so on.

Attitudinal values. This is finding meaning through such virtues as compassion, bravery, a good sense of humor and believe it or not; suffering.

“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing:  the last of the human freedoms — to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.” –Viktor Frankl

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Ultimately, however, experiential, creative, and attitudinal values are merely surface manifestations of something much more fundamental, which he calls supra-meaning or transcendence.  Suprameaning is the idea that there is, in fact, ultimate meaning in life, meaning that is not dependent on others, on our projects, or even on our dignity.  It is a reference to God and spiritual meaning.

This sets Frankl’s existentialism apart from the existentialism of someone like Jean Paul Sartre.  Sartre and other atheistic existentialists suggest that life is ultimately meaningless, and we must find the courage to face that meaninglessness.  Sartre says we must learn to endure ultimate meaninglessness; Frankl instead says that we need to learn to endure our inability to fully comprehend ultimate meaningfulness, for “Logos is deeper than logic.”

A relief is that meaning is there to be discovered. It doesn’t have to be invented it is already written into the complex and amazing fabric of the universe and we free-willed consciously reflecting persons need only discover it.

Got Anxiety?

What Does God Really Want From You?

Matisyahu-rollingstone

Does God want discomfort and suffering in your life? Does God want limitations on your life through such avenues as law, morality, traditions, covenants? Does the story of Abraham show that God changes his mind or that God fulfills his promises?

Matisyahu, the observant Hasidic Jewish reggae singer has abandoned the observances and taken on a quasi-religious, spiritual, customized faith. The article below reads : “Matisyahu’s relationship with Judaism: It’s complicated.” Indeed.

http://www.haaretz.com/life/music-theater/1.646213

Are you unbound when you abandon the doctrine of God or lost?

The subheading of the Haaretz article says: “divested of his beard, his wife and his ultra-Orthodox trappings.” Matisyahu has become unbound. He says, “This stage of my life is about what you would consider the unbinding. Getting out of the religion, getting out of the marriage, the relationships.” He compares it to God bringing the Jews out of the bondage of the Egyptians. It seems he feels he’s going directly to God by abandoning the dictates and customs of the Hebrew bible.

Notice, though, that God told Moses to tell Pharaoh “Let my people go so that they may serve Me.” It wasn’t simply secular freedom that God wanted for his people but rather freedom to serve God. Matisyahu also compares his new unbinding to the story of Abraham binding and offering as sacrifice his son Isaac and then being stopped by an angel. It seems he misses the point. God promised that through Isaac Abraham’s offspring would be named. If it were God’s will that Isaac have died He would have found another way for Isaac to live and have offspring because God fulfills his promises. God wanted to know that Abraham trusted him so when Abraham brought Isaac up the mountain and was willing to sacrifice him while not fulling understanding why but because he trusted God that was all God needed to know and God fulfilled his promise. In Matisyahu’s view God changed his mind for the sake of Isaac’s freedom. This would be the secular view. But God always knew what He would do even if Abraham and Isaac didn’t and the point is He was trusted. So I don’t know if Matisyahu’s unbinding is for religious transcendence. It seems, rather, that it’s for secular pursuits.

In another article he says his new album, produced under his new irreligious image, is “dealing with more real-life issues and less ideology.” By “real-life” it would, again, seem to mean secular pursuits and it’s telling that he considers biblical doctrine to be “ideology”. What’s more real in a religious person’s life than one’s standing in God’s eyes through the observance of God’s will as outlined in the bible?

Some are saying this new stripping of the observances “is some kind of weakness.” Even in the comments section of the Facebook linked article people are saying these are all excuses for selling out to the comforts of fame. I don’t know what’s in Matisyahu’s heart and mind nor do I know how he stands in God’s favor but all of this sparks interest for me into the important question of what does God want from us, how can it be known and is it absolute?

The British short story writer Rudyard Kipling wrote in The Elephant’s Child:

I keep six honest serving men

(they taught me all I knew);

Their names are What and Why and When

And How and Where and Who.

It does seem that a lot of what Matisyahu didn’t like about being a practicing Jew is that it came from a place of blind obligation. Conversely now, as he remarks on the law: “I don’t do it because I have to, otherwise I’m sinning. I do it because I love it. I do certain things and other things I don’t do. So it’s not so black-and-white as to whether I’m observant.” But what if his love (for certain observances) is fleeting as it was with his wife? The heart is fickle.

We know who gave the law (God), we know how (the bible) but why? Paul, in the New Testament Romans 9:32 says that the reason Israel stumbled into destruction was not that they didn’t pursue the law, but that they pursued it in the wrong way: from works and not from faith; in the effort of the flesh instead of the power of the Spirit. In other words, moral effort can be a mortal sin.

Galatians Chapter 3 describes why the law was given. Even though the law as it was given is good, the flesh corrupted the law. Because of corrupt flesh the law reveals sin and intensifies sin; and second, the law sees to it that the inheritance will come to and through the promised seed. The purpose of the law was not to make people alive but to hold them in sin until the promise was made in a final sense to the seed of Abraham, with Jesus Christ. The reason the law compounded sin instead of giving life was that the recipients of the law were ruled by the flesh and devoid of the Holy Spirit. Romans 8:7 describes the kind of mind which the law met with when it came: “The mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law, indeed, it cannot; and those who are in the flesh cannot please God.” The law requires proud and independent people to humble themselves and depend on God’s transforming mercy. What a person does (works) will never be enough. Half the observances, all the observances? No matter. It is by grace through faith, the New Testament faith in He who fulfills Abraham’s seed that brings one to God.

Matisyahu is right that the law (the observances) is a trapping that cannot free him but freedom is not found by abandoning the law either. It is promised through He who fulfills the law. Could it be that he is abandoning salvation by works and depending on grace through faith? Could it be that he’s stepping into the New Testament? Or is he stepping into the flesh? Only God knows for sure.

What Does God Really Want From You?