Tuesday, July 31, 2012

The World Turned Upside Down

The oldest and easiest error we fall into is thinking that those who are rich and powerful have God's favor, and those who aren't are being punished. The Old Testament Book of Job starkly condemns this wrong idea, and when Job's 'friends' - who blamed Job for bringing his misfortunes onto himself by sinning against God - are judged at the end of the tale, they are slated for punishment.

It's true that we often come to grief by becoming addicted to drugs, gambling, adultery, or some other self-destructive behavior. But even more often people are casualties of the ubiquitous cruelties of life on planet earth. Alfred Lord Tennyson wrote:
Who trusted God was love indeed
And love Creation's final law
Tho' Nature, red in tooth and claw
With ravine, shriek'd against his creed
Jesus turned the world on its head by giving the Sermon on the Mount. Here it is, from Matthew 5:7:

Now when Jesus saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him, and he began to teach them.

 He said:
 “Blessed are the poor in spirit,
    for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
  Blessed are those who mourn,
    for they will be comforted.
  Blessed are the humble,
    for they will inherit the earth.
  Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
    for they will be filled.
  Blessed are the merciful,
    for they will be shown mercy.
  Blessed are the pure in heart,
    for they will see God.
  Blessed are the peacemakers,
    for they will be called children of God.
  Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,
    for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
  Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me.  Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you."

Even more dramatic is Jesus' parable of Lazarus and the rich man, from Luke 16:19. In it, Lazarus is a destitute person of the street whom the rich man sees daily and despises. Upon dying, Lazarus goes to heaven and the rich man to hell.

These words fly in the face of worldly power, and were thought to be the words of a madman by the Jewish High Priests and Roman authorities. Ask yourself, honestly, if you would teach your children to be this trusting and passive. It's a very hard path that Jesus has laid out for us. He asks us to "sell all you have, give it to the poor, and follow me." And he says to his disciples, "The last shall be first, and the first last. He who is the servant of all is the greatest among you." Even Jesus' disciples were dumbfounded by that statement.


This behavior largely alienates us from the modern world, if followed to the letter. Nevertheless, it is the price we pay for the Kingdom of Heaven. I don't know about you, but all I can do in this life is attempt to live this way. I don't have faith enough to go all in.


But, as the saying goes, "Half a loaf is better than none". I believe God will forgive us the other half loaf we can't deliver.


Jesus goes on to say:
“You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.

"You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven."

Friday, July 6, 2012

Who Are The Slaves?

Slaves are people without rights or freedoms. They can be compelled at any time to do their master's will. They can't own property. Their master owns them, and can take anything they have at any time. In traditional slavery the master has an incentive to care for his property, and provides for their feeding, housing, and health care.

If we look carefully at the reality of life in many countries, it's worse than slavery. Consider the Democratic People's Republic of North Korea. The people own nothing, cannot engage in any work or trade on their own, can be imprisoned or killed at any time, and many are sick and starving. International aid agencies are the only force preventing mass deaths. Their leaders have no care, own everything, and treat them worse than animals. The very name of the country is a cruel fraud; there's nothing "democratic" or "republican" about North Korea. The people are forced under pain of imprisonment to worship their "Supreme Leader" as a god. It's the worst nation in the world, but many other countries are running a close second. 

How does this happen to a nation? There is an ancient spirit of selfish cruelty that dwells in all of us. Our sense of right and wrong gives us strength to subdue this spirit, and most people do. But the small percentage who don't can wreak havoc. Like us, the leaders we allow into power can succumb to that vile spirit at any time, and frequently do.

Many societies have mechanisms that assist us in this battle over ourselves. Religion can be a great help, and the great religions have clear and unambiguous scriptures that spell out the rules of self control. For example, in Asian religion and culture, humility is considered the supreme virtue. Ancient Greek religion considered hubris (the opposite of humility) to be the worst vice in the world, and the most dangerous for society. Judeo-Christianity, too, has a message of self-sacrifice embedded in the words of the prophets.

Here in America we used to venerate great people of humility, and Abraham Lincoln was one of them. He was an enemy of all forms of slavery, having experienced it himself. His father rented him out to neighbors when he was a boy, and pocketed the money. Regarding the American Civil War and the our battle to free the slaves, Lincoln said,

"It is the eternal struggle between two principles, right and wrong, throughout the world. It is the same spirit that says 'you toil and work and earn bread, and I'll eat it.' No matter in what shape it comes, whether from the mouth of a king who seeks to bestride the people of his own nation, and live by the fruit of their labor, or from one race of men as an apology for enslaving another race, it is the same tyrannical principle....  As I would not be a slave, so I would not be a master. This expresses my idea of democracy. Whatever differs from this, to the extent of the difference, is no democracy."

 

What  would Lincoln think of our nation today, where government takes, on average, about 48% of the money we make? That is, if we pay taxes at all. One political party has rigged the system so that about 45% of the people pay no federal taxes, and those who earn the most money -  the upper 10% - pay over 90% of all taxes. At the same time, this political party constantly slanders and demonizes the wealthy, telling them, "You're not paying your fair share!" They are fueling class warfare and envy of others, a clear evil. They're condoning theft; the forceful confiscation of personal property by government.  Ironically, the very richest segment of this party leads the charge. It's a cynical and cruel tactic to seize all political power in America.

 

Fortunately, most of us have the power to vote, and we must use that power to place better people in office. Violence is not an option. Another Civil War is unthinkable, except in the 'cold' sense. We are already in that war.

We also must recognize that God, the Creator of All, is our only master. God alone gave us our rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.  God's dominion is our only hope for true freedom and happiness.