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I’m Going to Keep Believing What I Believe, Too. December 19, 2014

Posted by michaelnjohns in Uncategorized.

Some time ago I had a few lovely guests in my home, almost every week.  They’d come and talk to me about a wonderful book they had placed their faith in, and some wonderful people that they trusted with their eternal souls.  I read some of the book, had questions, asked them and heard their answers.  I read some more, had more questions, and so on.  They were very persuasive, but I had read another book through my childhood and into my adulthood, that seemed to have better answers, in my opinion.  They even said they liked my book, and believed it was right, too.  But when I read my book and compared it with theirs, my book even seemed to say that their book was wrong.  I kept waiting to hear a persuasive argument that proved why their book was also right, and I didn’t get one.  I also didn’t hear them asking any questions about my book, as they felt they were already versed in it well enough they didn’t need to know anything else about it from my perspective.

My visitors varied by week, as assignments changed and my level of curiosity seemed compelling to them.  I even spoke to people they called “elders.”  But we reached a point at which we mutually decided to stop meeting, because we weren’t able to compromise on our mutually exclusive beliefs.  Call me hard hearted, but despite their persuasiveness, I wasn’t going to change what I believed in and join their group. It was pretty clear that although I presented my own proofs that my book had everything I needed for “life and godliness,” and theirs seemed to have holes in its’ poorly woven tapestry, they weren’t about to change their minds either.  We said a prayer (for one another, in earnest), they left my home, and I have continued to pray for them and believe what I believe.

People get caught up in things.  It can be very emotional.  It can also be very logical.  There are all kinds of movements out in the world.  Political, social, spiritual, individual.  Some of these are good and some are ok, and some are, in my opinion, a bad idea.  What if you place your faith in some social or religious movement and it doesn’t pan out?  What if you find out there are mistakes, and what you were taught doesn’t match what you’ve learned through careful study?  What if you trust a person and they fail? What if you decide it’s logical or moral to do something, and you find out later you were wrong?  Or illogical or immoral to do something, you chose not to do that, and in the end it didn’t make a difference?  I joked with my son that people are allowed to believe in whatever they want and the government can’t step in and assert something else.  They’re not allowed, in America, to do that.  Whether it’s J-W-H, Jesus, God, Buddha, Allah, He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named, E. Gary Gygax, or the Flying Spaghetti Monster, we’re allowed to worship who and what we want.  And we’re allowed to worship how we want, too, as long as it conforms to the federal, state and local laws.  As murder is against the law, for example, human sacrifice wouldn’t be allowed as a part of a worship ritual.  As terrorism is against the law, threatening to kill or torturing someone unless they recant their beliefs and join up is not allowed either.

Some people eat meat, others abstain.  Some wear fur, others don’t.  Some go to the circus or the zoo to see the animals, others don’t.  Some poach fur or ivory tusks, others do not.  Some drink alcohol, others do not.  Some behave a certain way, others don’t.  As for the legality or illegality of something, we have laws in our society to keep things civilized, and I don’t know them all.  I do think that we should all strive to obey the laws and do what we know is right under the law, and not do things the law says is wrong.  I don’t even know all of the 613 laws the Israelites were supposed to live by.  I don’t even keep the basic 10, when interpreted by Jesus.  So I’ve been, for a lamentably short while, a whole lot less opinionated and judgemental of others.  Jesus himself taught we shouldn’t judge others unless we want to face judgement ourselves.  So, help me with the plank of offense in my eye and then I can see clearly to help you with the speck in yours.

I’m not writing to apologize.  I’m going to keep believing what I believe.  Regardless of whether my book calls something a sin, which is to say it’s bad, people who want to do that are going to keep doing that.  And it will get to a point where they’re no longer doing it in secret in the dark.  They’ll eventually loudly proclaim that it’s OK for them to do it. Some groups will use guns and terror, others will try other forms of social pressure.  But whether my book says it or they yell something contrary, that’s not going to change anyone’s mind, if they don’t want to change their mind.  And if I nit-pick a finer point with someone, they can nit-pick right back.  There’s a logic behind what I read, and there are limits to my understanding of it.  There’s a method to a design, and if I don’t respect the design, or the Designer, there could be trouble.

If a chef has tested a recipe and I have a better idea when I make it, I might be asking for the dish to taste gross.  For example, if I substitute sugar for salt, or baking powder for soda, or anchovies for catfish.  If an engineer designs a solid house, and I don’t follow that design because I’ve got a better idea, I’m asking for the house to fall on my head.  For example, if I substitute two by fours for four by eights, or wood for bricks and mortar, or plain pipe sections where there should be plumber’s putty or a weld.  The design of a traffic light is to help people get where they are going safely.  When people run a light after it’s red, they might get hit by an oncoming car.  The crash happens because the person selfishly has a better idea, and violates the design intent of the traffic light.

I believe what I believe about the way humans are designed, and I’m not changing my opinion based on a vote, or other people yelling and screaming and parading in the streets.  But go ahead and do that, because you have a right to your opinion.  It’s fine.  Just please stay out of my face with that, I don’t want to see it and I think I have a right not to see it.

Recent events in the news have made people more suspicious of law-enforcement.  Sure, in a batch of apples, there might be one or two bad ones.  In the characters of human hearts, there are probably a few bent toward evil.  But by whose standards?  And if you disagree with a governmental decision, at what point does it justify rioting (assembling is OK, violent assembling is not), looting (businesses not connected to the decision) and arson (of businesses not connected to the decision)?  One wrong doesn’t make it right, two wrongs don’t make it right, and three or more wrongs, are still wrong.  My book says if you do something wrong, you should be afraid because law enforcement people carry weapons and use them.  And my book says if you do what is good, there should be nothing to worry about.  So far, in my own life, I’ve had interactions with law enforcement including traffic tickets and one stop just to find out who I was (and I’m a white guy), and I had no trouble because I followed their instructions.  I also believe what I believe about society, that it is in decline because people are deciding for themselves about questions of right and wrong behavior choices, and they are in violation of those basic design intentions.  To a ridiculous extreme, just because people are mugged, assaulted, or murdered every day, should we rewrite those laws because these are apparently popular pastimes?  Just because people do something all the time doesn’t make it right.  Just because people sneak through the red light right after it changes doesn’t make them OK either.  And just because I do some things that I will admit aren’t on the “right” or “loving” side doesn’t make me right either.

But I learned a lesson from my interaction with the crew of book-believers.  I’m done fighting.  Until you or I are ready to be persuaded, what’s the point?  We may as well not have each other over to discuss any more.  I used to tell people what I thought, willy-nilly, whether my opinion was asked or not.  But now I withhold it unless you ask, or unless you’re foolish enough to read what I write.  If I ever get appointed to a place where I can express those opinions, I’ll try to think of a delicate way to say it, but I still hold what I believe is truth.  I used to be a lot less loving, I guess.  We Christ-followers are supposed to speak the truth in love, regardless of our audience’s opinions of our truth.  I think many speakers, pastors and teachers are keen to speak the truth, but they leave love behind somewhere, which is why I think people don’t want to hear them the way they used to flock to Jesus.  Not to mention, I don’t read or hear in the news reports, about a lot of genuine healings going on in the modern era, unless they happen at a hospital or under a competent doctor’s care.

What’s “good?”  Who decides?  What’s “evil?”  God gave Israel a set of rules, 613 of them, to set them apart.  It made them act, dress, and look different from everyone else around them.  I don’t subscribe to all of those 613, but I rationally parse through the Old Testament to decide if that law might be something more healthy, or profitable, for me to choose to subscribe to.  If it was for the Hebrew audience and not intended for me (just my opinion, mind you), I can choose.  I’m not a slave to the Old Testament Law, but it’s useful to learn, even if I don’t subscribe to it.  Why no shellfish?  Logic- look up a pretty flagellate called Vibrio Parahaemolyticus, which the Israelites wouldn’t have had a clue about.  They had no microscopes.  It dies when the food is cooked to a safe temp, but they didn’t know that, and it was popular to eat it raw.  The trend nowadays in culinary circles is to eat fish “cooked” in citrus acids, and also steak tartare, but I’m not gonna eat that.  Also, there’s a wisdom in listening for repetition of teachings.  If it’s in the Old Testament AND in the New Testament, I’m gonna perk up my ears and listen, because it might be important.

But if I follow Jesus, all I really have to follow is 2.  Love God, and love my neighbor.  And in the modern world, if I love God and love my neighbor (including my “enemy,” whoever that might be), I look pretty different from a lot of people in the world.  And I do love you, even though we may disagree.  At the risk of offending you, inasmuch as that could be perceived as unloving, I’m still going to eat what I like to eat, and drink what I like to drink, wear what I want to wear, read what I want to read (here I want to say that I want to read everything), believe what I believe, and to the best of my ability, do what I’m going to do that I think is right, and I’ll see nothing wrong with that.  And I’m going to do my best to show people that I care, no matter what their behavior choices are.  When the house falls, call me and I’ll do what I can to help.  I won’t even say “I told you so.”  Because I didn’t.  If I told you so, you could do the same to me.  All we sinners are gonna sin, and I am one of them.  So I hope you’ll help if my house falls, too.

I start anything new with an open, if suspicious, mind.  I loved the discussions of our two books, for a while, until I realized their minds were closed to anything but their truth.  Or mine was closed to anything but mine.  It got boring, when we stopped learning from one another, or I learned they weren’t learning anything about my point of view.  The book is fascinating, it just disagrees with my book, in my opinion.  They believed both books were legitimate, but placed a high enough value on their book to disregard any differences I pointed out.  I started Facebook and haven’t been on there in at least a week, but that used to be fun.  Until people started their fights, disrespected each other, and aired their dirty laundry out in the public eye, as if I cared about that.  I started Twitter and it’s mostly fun.  But I’ve got some work to do soon on my social networks, to unfollow a few connections because they just bash you over the head with what they believe and what they think you should do or not do.  I don’t really like being bashed over the head.  If I don’t already agree with you, it’s not persuasive, and it might be abusive.  And I don’t really like hearing about your circle of people and how they done you wrong.  If I want to hear about that, I’ll turn on the country music station.  I say that to say, there’s an appropriate audience, and a not-so-appropriate one, for any discussion or art or expression.  Maybe I’m not it.  Maybe you’re not it.

You’re still welcome to come over and share a meal or a discussion.  But I’m going to eat what I want.  If you have dietary restrictions, let me know and I’ll see if I can cook you something different, if you can’t eat what I am eating.  But I’m not changing my personal menu for you.  I’m going to eat what I’m going to eat.  I love being hospitable.  I love taking care of people.  But if you’re one of those easily offended people, I’m afraid I’ve already offended you.  And for that, I’m just a little sorry.  But I probably won’t change my mind, at least not today.  Pray to your god for me, and I’ll pray to mine for you.  Maybe I’ll come around.  But until then, you’re going to keep believing you’re right and I’m wrong.  And I’m going to keep believing what I believe, too.



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