Saturday, November 3, 2018

Hypocrisy vs. Openly Bad Acting

In our culture, as well as in the biblical record, there is something especially wrong with being a hypocrite. Saying one thing and doing another, or presenting yourself as one way (usually favorable) while acting privately another way (usually less favorable) is typically considered to be especially bad. This is, I think, correct (since I am a Christian, and a Bible-believing one, no less!).

In fact, we often hear complaints about other people tempered with addendums like, “Well, at least she isn’t lying about who she is,” or “He may be a total jerk, but at least he never pretends to like anyone,” etc. In fact, virtually no matter how poorly a person may act, lacking hypocrisy seems to count as some kind of virtue, even for these bad actors.

Yet, intuitively, and definitely biblically, there is something wrong about a total lack of shame. That is, there is something wrong with one who would openly do evil and not care about the consequences. Here there almost seems to be an inconsistency on the surface; on the one hand, we should not be hypocrites, because hypocrisy is an especially bad sin. On the other, we have biblical texts condemning evildoers for openly oppressing the poor, disregarding God’s law, etc. In fact, it is their opennessin evildoing that seems to be cause for an extra portion of condemnation. So which is it? Should we not be hypocrites or hide our evil?

The quick answer is, of course, we should simply avoid evil altogether. That would ease the tension quite easily. Of course, the result here is evildoers aren’t exactly exempted when they lack hypocrisy. There is another route we could take, and I hinted at it earlier: shame. Or rather, in this case, shamelessness.

People in our culture are often shameless when it comes to traditional or biblical morality.[1]This shamelessness means they do not have a sensitive enough conscience or sense of moral guilt such that they know their deeds are evil. Or, in another sense: they know; they just don’t care. One can think of someone who thinks God exists, but simply shakes his fist at God and exclaims, “I hate you!” Such a person is not to be commended for not having hypocrisy, but instead should be reprimanded for such shameless behavior before a holy and good God. Acting “with shame” would be a moral recognition of the wrongness of the action, as opposed to pretending one is good (though obviously acting with shame can easily lead to hypocrisy). Our culture tends to extol shamelessness (to a certain extent—shame is the tactic used for addressing certain cultural taboos, both in older times as well as contemporary ones).

So we can see the tension can be resolved: being a hypocrite is bad, and so is shamelessness. It is not a virtue to avoid being a hypocrite by being shameless.

[1]By “often” I simply mean that it is not uncommon.

Thursday, July 5, 2018

How Should Christians Address Transgenderism?

In the last post, we saw that it can be problematic to refer to some people as “Christian homosexuals.”In this post, the continuation, I’d like to discuss the idea of Christian LGBT—specifically the “T.” I’d read a blog post where a well-meaning person suggested it would be a good step for the Southern Baptist Convention to seek to hear from members of the LGBT Community. There’s a charitable way to interpret this suggestion, but it got me thinking about this issue. In the acronym LGBT, one of these things is not like the other. The “T,” specifically, does not relate to sexual orientation. In fact, it trades on the supposed distinction between gender and sex, and so differs greatly. A trans man is one who was born a female in sex, but identifies as a man in gender. This identification may or may not coincide with sex re-assignment (now called “gender confirmation”) surgery.

Can the Christian Church recognize so-called Christian transgender? In order to answer this, one must answer what his anthropology and philosophy of gender/sex are. On the Christian view, we are persons made in the image of God, created as male and female. The intention is for the two to be separate, and thus, along with the last post I made, we can conclude there is something wrongly ordered about the mixing together of the two in one human being in some way.

However, we must ask ourselves the questions: are gender and sex two separate things, or identical? Are there really such things as gender roles or gender distinctives? Our society has been of incoherent mind about each of these questions, but Christians cannot afford to be. To the first: if gender and sex coincide (or are identical), then there really isn’t such a thing as transgender as outlined above. Whatever sex you are “assigned”[1]is what your gender is, and hence what you really are. If gender and sex are not identical or do not coincide, we have to ask if we think God assigns a gender and allows it to be distinct from the sex. If we think that God does assign a gender, then we must answer the second question in the affirmative. We must think there are gender distinctions, and that includes at least functional roles of some kind or other. Additionally, if we answer the first question by saying gender/sex are identical or at least coincide, we must answer the second question in the affirmative. Only in the case that we say sex and gender do not necessarily coincide and God does not assign a gender to a person can we answer the second question in the negative (and even here, answering “no” does not necessarily follow). 

If there are no gender roles or distinctions, it makes little sense to say there is a true gender beyond the sex one is (at least currently). So this means, essentially, there are gender roles and distinctions. As Christians, we ought to think about gender and sex in terms of what God intends, in a rightly-ordered fashion. God intends that some of us are male and some are female, not switching or intermingling the two. I further think it’s problematic to say there are no gender roles or distinctions, given the Christian view. Thus, while we can debate about the functions of the roles and the kinds and extent of the distinction, Christians should not debate that there aresuch roles and distinctions.

As such, recognizing “Christian transgender” as a category is unhelpful from a Christian standpoint. As with the LGB post earlier, it’s important for us to recognize these people are made in the image of God. We ought to find ways to love them and come alongside them in support of who they are or can be in Christ. And we ought to recognize there is a rightly ordered way—a way humans were meant to be—and move forward with any proposals with a distinctly biblical and Christian way of viewing this issue.

[1]A somewhat silly concept, as what sex one is typically is a matter of objective, empirical fact, not subject to arguments from the humanities.

Saturday, June 16, 2018

Rightly-Ordered vs. Wrongly-Ordered Desires

This post came from a few different conversations I have had over the past few days. Something that American evangelical Christianity is largely not talking about is whether and to what degree we will accept the idea of those who identify as both Christian and LGBT+. Now, strictly speaking, we arehaving this conversation. But we’re missing one or more key points of discussion, and it is to these that we now turn (over two separate posts).

First, consider rightly-ordered and wrongly-ordered desires. To illustrate this, we’ll initially look at another kind of right order. Suppose a war veteran has lost a limb (say an arm). This war veteran lost his arm through no fault of his own; he is not culpable for his state of having lost that limb (he lost it in battle and not through negligence or self-harm). Yet there is something wrongly ordered with his body (not “wrong” in a moral sense, but in an intended sense); something is not the way it was supposedto be. It doesn’t make them any less of a person, nor is the veteran blameworthy in any way.

Something similar can go on with desires. Let’s pick a desire that most everyone would say is unhealthy or wrongly-ordered: pedophilia. Let’s suppose someone came to you and said he identified as a “Christian pedophile,” albeit a non-practicing one. We would recognize, even if he had done nothing to cultivate this desire, that this was wrongly-ordered; it isn’t the way things were meant to be.

In the same way, when someone says they are a non-practicing Christian homosexual, we should recognize that even if this person’s desires are not directly chosen, or even indirectly chosen (say, cultivated by watching pornography or something), these desires are wrongly ordered; they are not the way God created us to be. This doesn’t mean the person is culpable for their desires, nor does it make them any less of a person made in the image of God. But it does mean we ought to be careful in celebrating or even “normalizing” a kind of “Christian homosexuality.” 

In C.S. Lewis’ argument from desire (check it out via Google), the idea is that basic desires have a fulfilment in the natural world. I would expand this (and I think this was Lewis’ intention anyway) to rightly-ordered desires. If there is a rightly-ordered desire, there is a right way to fulfil it in the natural world. The rightly-ordered desire for sexual union can be fulfilled in the right context of marriage between a woman and a man. If we do not distinguish between rightly and wrongly-ordered desires in the cases of Christian homosexuals, we will be only a half-step away from arguing for same-sex marriages (albeit monogamous ones).

We must love our brothers and sisters who have these desires. And we (who do not have this struggle) must be willing to admit we cannot understand their experiences and temptations specifically. And we must find a way to have these people be full members of the body of Christ, just as every believer, wherever they find themselves, should be—with fully biblical and orthodox views, as this is the way life was intended to be. We must also have an eschatological view, as Jesus Christ’s return and kingdom is what will set everything right. In the end—after the kingdom, resurrection, judgment, and all—all of our tears will be wiped away. All of our longings and experiences will be fulfilled in the person of our Lord Jesus Christ. May he truly come quickly. 

Saturday, April 7, 2018

Technology and the Objectifying of People

I’ve been wondering about the role of technology in our everyday lives. I’ve heard a claim that a study suggested we naturally view others online (such as in social media platforms) as objects. Objects are there for us to be used, and when they don’t conform to the usage we require (or when they fail to meet our needs or wants in some other way), we become frustrated with them. That frustration is likely due to a lack of control over the object that we should have (or think we should have). So when the TV remote fails to work, or when our phone’s battery inexplicably starts draining toward zero in the middle of an activity, we get upset.

Sometimes that frustration translates to outward words and actions, such as throwing the remote down in disgust, yelling at the “stupid” phone, etc. But what does this have to do with social media and technology? With Facebook (or Twitter, especially), we are or can be isolated from any other humans while communicating online. This communication often occurs with little context beforehand, often allowing us to communicate both with loved ones as well as complete strangers. When we view people online as objects, we fail to view them as human beings. That may sound simplistic, but it’s worth ruminating on.

Perhaps the best analogue may be video games. I grew up with the Super Nintendo, and played a little of xbox (the original, kids!) in college. Whenever you played by yourself (or maybe with someone else who was in the same room), you would play against the “computer,” or, as we say now, the “AI.” The AI could be easy to defeat. In these cases, you don’t mind much the AI, because it poses virtually no real challenge; it presents an obstacle to your success almost in name only. Consider the very first walking mushroom bad-guy thingy on Super Mario Bros. for Nintendo. You only die off there if you’ve never played before, there’s a malfunction, or you got way too cocky to pay attention at all. Even though the AI is an object (or objects), you don’t mind—you may even be pleased—because it’s pretty much doing what you want it to do.

But the AI, especially in today’s gaming world, can often be maddeningly difficult to overcome. In these cases, it’s a very different story—one that often involves some colorful language, and perhaps the violent throwing of an unsuspecting fellow object. The more the object fails to perform in the way we would like or expect—the more we are prevented from achieving our goal or goals—the more frustrated, and abusive, we become.

So it is with our fellow humans on Facebook, Twitter, etc. Perhaps our goal is to convince someone of our political position, or just to express approval for the “best” kind of dog. But then these goals are not always realized, because someone disagreed, or someone wasn’t even talking to you but posted something we thought was clearly wrong. We may be viewing people on the Internet as AI. Inasmuch as the AI online are doing what we want, we approve. When the AI does not or impedes us in some way, we become frustrated, and unleash all the abuse and vitriol that goes along with it.

“Now wait a minute,” you might say. “I don’t do that!” And perhaps you do not. Not everyone does. But nearly always this person is intentional about it, or has cultivated the kind of character that shows kindness to people, as creations made in the image of God. Our default, without this cultivation and intentionality, is to treat people online as AI. And this is not necessarily limited to strangers. To the degree we are prevented from realizing our goals we are also frustrated by the AI. So in a situation where we care greatly about the outcome (say a political or theological debate), even our loved ones may suffer online in a way they may not were we to discuss it in person.

Why is this? We were created to be in community. This community is naturally intended to be face-to-face. This can be replicated to some degree online, with Skype and phone conversations (not so much for text). But it is very difficult to do much with e-mail, text, Facebook, etc. To be sure, there are exceptions, but even these seem to have such relationships increase greatly with more “traditional” forms of contact. When we lack this face-to-face community, we suffer social consequences of isolation. This affects us as people. Even if we have a robust social life outside of online interactions, the people we lack real community with are closer to the AI: they are meeting some need or goal (entertaining us, paying us compliments, etc.) or failing to do so (opposing us intellectually, communicating things or in ways we do not approve of, etc.).

Perhaps the most frustrating thing about AI is that if they oppose you, you cannot control them. You can only overcome or destroy them. So it is online. With people, you cannot make them change their views or their behavior. So you can only overcome them (e.g., overwhelm them with your arguments, unfriend them, etc.) or destroy them (e.g., berate them until they go away). And the best part? In this scenario, the AI also treats you like you’re AI. So good news.

What do we do? I propose we recognize the Christian doctrine that teaches all humans are made in the image of God. Second, we seek to serve people online, rather than have them serve us (Philippians 2:4). Third, we should be involved in our real-world communities and spheres of influence. I have been guilty of viewing people as objects in the past, and perhaps together, in communities both online and in the real world, we will grow.

Monday, March 19, 2018

Faithful and Just to Forgive

I recently heard a song on the radio that mentioned God “is faithful and just to forgive us.” And I know that’s right—it is, after all, from 1 John 1:9! However, I immediately realized something. My entire life I focused on the term “faithful.” For me, 1 John 1:9 was a testimony to God’s faithfulness in his saving those who would confess their sins and want to follow him. Surely, this is true. However, I always glossed over the words “and just.” It is just for God to forgive us! What a thought! God doesn’t simply shrug his shoulders at sin and overlook justice for a tiny microsecond. No, when we receive salvation, in a sense we’re getting what we deserve.

What? Has Randy gone crazy? No, not at all. Rather, in this short post I want to point out that we are given Christ’s righteousness. He is the one who never sinned, and who deserves nothing less than all of God’s riches and treasure. We are said to be joint-heirs with Jesus Christ in Romans 8:17. He will get what he deserves; we will be made part of that! Of course, the fact that we’re made part of it is itself grace; it is an instance of us getting what we don’t deserve. But it is fundamentally right and just for God to then forgive us. What a comforting thought!