‘I love all Humanity’

Have you ever ‘loved all humanity, or all people’? I think we have probably all said it in conversation at one time or another, if only as a defense before we said something slagging on a segment of humanity, maybe even against one person. It is very fashionable now to love all humanity, or at least to say you do. Loving people in the abstract is easy, since it costs nothing and we never have to act on it. It’s hard to love one person however, because the standards of love are so high. To quote St. Paul in the bible,

“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.”

Beautiful words, almost incandescent words that can never be put out. They cannot be discredited because they are so obviously true, and they epitomize the meaning of ‘love’.

No matter how hard we try, we just can’t seem to live up to the love described here, certainly not on a daily basis, probably not even for an hour. Truth be told, we don’t really try that often at all- our own failings and the failings in the object of our love throw a wet blanket over our better feelings, that innocent love.

What about those moments..? You know the ones I mean, even if we only experience it once in our lives, I firmly believe everyone, regardless of circumstances experiences a moment where we love humanity almost line-by-line like the passage above. It could be as we witness suffering like the Tsunami in 2004 or more recently and closer to home, like the fires in Fort McMurray. Maybe in seeing the first responders risking their own lives on 9/11, or watching teens cheering for another teen with an intellectual disability. You could experience it in the beaming face of a bride on her wedding day. It could also be in a moment when your group of friends is breaking up geographically, probably never to see each other in the same place ever again, like after college or when mustering out of the army.

At that moment it becomes clear- patience and kindness come into focus, while envy, boasting and pride fade into nothing. Past anger disappears, the record of an individual or group is suddenly swept clean. We want the best for everyone: We love humanity. Not in the abstract or with careless words, but at that moment we are ready to give our lives for the salvation and good of others. Picture one of those moments in your mind before you read any further. Ready?

If you ever wondered what Christians mean by “the love of Christ”? this is it. That feeling you get once in a blue moon is what Jesus displayed every day we witnessed Him on earth and continues to have toward us, with one big difference. For us, we have this feeling for a moment and then it is gone. With Christ, “Love never fails”. We are on rare occasion shown a glimpse of the true and perpetual love of God for humanity in our own extremely limited version of it; call it ‘love-lite’. The love of Christ for each one of us is not based in ignorance of what we are really like, but in full knowledge of the weaknesses and the willful and deep-seated pride in each person.

“Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account” -Hebrews 4:13

Would you give your life for humanity?

Jesus did. Imagine what that love is like- picture Him on the cross saying “forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing“. Then imagine what it is like to be the object of that love. The creator and sustainer of the universe, crucified by humanity, loving you.

Dennis Toufexis,
Director, Reasonable Faith Montreal chapter

Excerpt from Suggested reading:  The Four Loves (C.S. Lewis)

“When we see the face of God we shall know that we have always known it. He has been a party to, has made, sustained and moved moment by moment within, all our earthly experiences of innocent love. All that was true love in them was, even on earth, far more His than ours, and ours only because His.”

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The Paris Terror Attack in an Age of Cynicism

The First Few Seconds
The tragedy of the terrorist attacks in Paris was before everyone’s face seconds after the events were first reported. Analogous to this technological miracle was the instant reaction of people everywhere through social media, as Twitter and Facebook exploded with comments from the concerned, the shocked, the angry and even the indifferent.

Soon after this a vast array of individuals changed their Facebook profile picture to display the French flag. This itself was followed by many declaiming against this image as being either racist in its nature since many non-white/non-Europeans are regularly murdered by terrorists, or being yet another example of the button-pushing do-nothing self-serving narcissism of taking a selfie with a tragic event superimposed on it.

It doesn’t even end there. The persons making these assertions were themselves soon in the dock, accused of being equally self-serving in that they were merely trying to separate themselves from the popular view so that they could gain the high ground and look upon the lesser beings who went along with the crowd- in other words, “The Sheep”, with derision.

This all happened in minutes. Not even hours, but minutes, and with some digging it could probably be proven that it happened in seconds. That’s a lot of high feelings in a short amount of time.

Nothing is What it Seems
What exactly is going on? It is important to note that the event itself seemed to fade into the background, replaced by the massed recriminations which interestingly had little to do with how people genuinely viewed what happened, or what must be done, or how this could be prevented in future. It seemed the real question was how questionable was the motivation of the people making their statements.

This is no small matter, and it is very telling about our cynical culture’s impact on individuals; it’s not the message, it’s what’s behind the message that counts, and in an age where a book won’t sell without “Secret” or “Hidden” in the title and conspiracy theories rule, nobody trusts anyone, or anything, anymore. I mean, what can a person talk about that isn’t either a sham, or will be immediately and loudly denounced as a sham? Without trust, all communication enters a kind of fantasy world of pointlessness, of dogs chasing their tails, of the Mad-Hatter and the Queen of Hearts alternately pouring tea and shouting for people’s heads to come off.

The Falcon Cannot Hear the Falconer
The professional classes to whom everyone turned to in the past can’t help because they are now considered as mere stooges for one side or the other. Anyone standing up for a principle based on some form of truth will soon be torn down by the host of cynics decrying the very concept that their can be a truth. The foundation of our culture has crumbled. There is only shifting sand to build anything on. As Yeats once wrote

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the center cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

Yet We Have Convictions and are Moral!
Someone might reply that these sudden accusations of others motivations stem from passionate convictions about justice and rights, the hallmarks of our era. It is true that moral pronouncements seem to be everywhere spewing from every mouth. Ask a person their view on an issue and a condemnation of the opposing view comes thundering out; but ask WHY something is moral or immoral and one is likely to be greeted by a painful silence.

The Game of Right and Wrong
Are we not just playing at passion and morality? If we can’t give the simplest explanation of why we feel something is moral beyond “everyone knows” or a mere utilitarian “it works better for us this way”, then our moral choices become nothing more than preference- chocolate verses vanilla ice-cream. Here the cynic is like a wolf in the fold, capable of torpedoing anyone’s desperate attempt to cobble together a defense. It’s easy because there is no defense. There never has been. The shame of yesterday is the normal of today and the embarrassment of the future. All morality is subjective and therefore ultimately absurd. Justice and Rights become things that make us feel we are doing good, without knowing why, and tomorrow they might mean something else anyway.

You Have to Leave the Culture to be Renewed
The Christian is an outsider, even when living in one of the so-called Christian cultures as existed in the past, because no culture in history ever really accepts them, and they cannot accept any culture  without the deepest of reservations because they are all built on the shifting sand of human pride. Christians are “looking for the city which has foundations, whose architect and builder is God” (Hebrews 11:10). This city, the Kingdom of God, is unchanging, unlike human attempts at subjective morality and truth. God is the standard by which we can measure everything. Christ is the Chief Cornerstone of truth.

In God there is no cynicism, only inquiry, and that totally free; He allows accusations against Himself so that He can better reveal Himself to His children, humanity. Nothing is hidden- there is no secret darkness in God. His perfection and the wonder of His life-giving character are unfathomable, but they are good all the way down, every layer. They can be trusted because unlike us, God never changes- He’s already as good as it can get.

To the Christian the terrorist attacks in France, Lebanon, Mexico and Iraq come as no surprise, although they meet them with a shower of tears. These are attempts by some to impose their ideas on others, in this case by despicable acts of violence that must be strenuously condemned and resisted. The attempts by individuals to impose their cynicism or their superiority over others through social media or any other means must also be resisted. Not through violence, but through standing on the only firm foundation- the Eternal God, the source of all truth. Although cultures are always opposed to God, individuals can be renewed and escape the spiral of meaninglessness by embracing the God who wants to embrace them.

Dennis Toufexis,
Director, Reasonable Faith Montreal chapter

 

Excerpt from Suggested reading: The Abolition of Man (C.S. Lewis)

The kind of explanation which explains things away may give us something, though at a heavy cost. But you cannot go on ‘explaining away’ for ever: you will find that you have explained explanation itself away. You cannot go on ‘seeing through’ things for ever.

The whole point of seeing through something is to see something through it. It is good that the window should be transparent, because the street or garden beyond it is opaque. How if you saw through the garden too? It is no use trying to ‘see through’ first principles.

If you see through everything, then everything is transparent. But a wholly transparent world is an invisible world. To ‘see through’ all things is the same as not to see.

 

 

 

 

Stephen Fry and the Meaning of Life

Putting God on Trial: The Prosecutor’s Indignation
Stephen Fry’s appearance on the Meaning of Life show has caused quite a stir and gained international attention. When asked “What would Stephen Fry say to God?”, he replied with alacrity and in a way that showed he was no stranger to the issue, as indeed none of us should be.

Measured words rarely gain the attention of an audience, particularly in the age of internet discourse where the shouting is expected to have begun before the issue has even been fully enunciated. Mr. Fry’s words were passionate to say the least- accusatory would be a more apt description. He spoke of how he would start by saying “how dare you!”, and select a number of examples in creation that put into question the concept of a benign Creator. He made it abundantly clear that given the opportunity he would give God a good going-over.

The Right to Rage
Does his fury at God make any sense? That depends, quite apart from the issue of suffering, if there is a God or not. If there is no God then rage clearly has no place and is absurd, since there must be an object of the rage, and that object is something or someone that has done something morally wrong. No one gets angry at a rock when it falls on a friend and kills them. In a universe that accidentally creates itself there is nothing and no one to rage against, and raging against the universe itself is as futile as raging against the rock- neither of them hears or cares or understands the question. It would be like a man given three days to live being angry with the number three and swearing revenge against it.

What about if God does exist? Surely then Mr. Fry could admonish Him for the failings of His design that allows for such things as cancer, His lack of regard for what He made, in that people suffer, and His capriciousness as to who suffers and when they do?

I’m not sure if he does in fact have a rational basis for being God’s judge, since after all it implies superior wisdom as well as a superior moral position. How else does one judge someone else except by those standards?

A murderer is tried against a superior wisdom (the law) that is higher than any remonstrations that the murderer can bring forward in relation to motive or desire. The law can only be applied by those not guilty of the same crime; they must have a superior moral position that they can appeal to in the face of the murderer’s personal feelings that he can act any way he likes and it is not wrong.

The Right to Judge
To which of these can Stephen Fry appeal to? He looks at the problems he finds in the universe and has to claim he would have made it better than God, if only in some areas. It is interesting that this is one of the implicit claims Job makes in the biblical book of Job (written over 3000 year ago) in the midst of his own suffering. The problem is that Mr. Fry can’t possibly claim to have a greater wisdom than God concerning creation. None of us can, since our limitations in understanding are evident to us every minute of every day of our lives. Some claim they can “read” other people but clearly they can’t, even in the most superficial way. We don’t even know our own minds. Astronomers can look at the universe through a telescope or biologists at a microbe through a microscope, but still have only a rudimentary grasp of what they are looking at. Order the universe more wisely? That power is beyond any created thing.

The Morality of It
No, it can’t be a failing of understanding or wisdom on the part of God- regardless of any “why” questions, He has proved by His ability to manage astonishing complexity and bring about a diverse and magnificent universe on a macro and micro level; it must therefore be a moral failing that Mr. Fry is raging against.

Unfortunately the ground here is no firmer than it was on the issue of superior wisdom, because if he really did want to get angry he would be required to appeal to or claim a superior morality. What however, could this standard possibly be? In a universe without God the concept of morality is an evolutionary construct, each society producing its own codes of conduct, all of which a product of their genes, themselves a product of chance plus time. If as he says God is a moral monster, then that God created Stephen Fry and placed him in a society with a morality that believed any god creating a world with cancer is a moral monster, then instilled in them a view that God is not supposed to be a moral monster.

So God creates a world where he knowingly judges and condemns Himself by His own rules. If Mr. Fry rages, he uses the standard given to him by God and implies that this God-given standard is a good and ultimate source of justice and judgment. As C.S. Lewis wrote

The moment you say that one set of moral ideas can be better than another; you are in fact, measuring them both by a standard, saying that one of them conforms to that standard more nearly than the other. The standard that measures the two things is something different from either… you are in fact comparing them both with some ‘Real Morality’ admitting that there is such a thing as real Right independent of what people think, and that some people’s ideas get nearer to the real Right than others.

Doing the Right Thing the Wrong Way
I submit that his anger is actually a godly anger, similar to Asaph’s complaint in Psalm 73 about the wicked getting away with murder. Questioning God and being surprised by what we perceive as His wrong-headed activities seems to be a stepping stone to a more profound understanding of how God can use everything to reach people for their good.

“He is not a tame Lion; but He is good”
Can God be good when he creates a world where there are insects that blind children, or where there is such a thing as Leukemia, which are not the fault of of people? It doesn’t seem possible, but at the same time it looks impossible for it to be otherwise. Incompetent He cannot be; uninterested, how could He be? All work is purposeful, there is no work done for no reason at all. An infinite God is infinitely higher and more intelligent than man, yet He made mankind such that man reaches out and calls to His creator. It must be assumed that the Creator not only understands, but is also listening. The universe cannot be a mere experiment since He would know the results in advance, so knowledge-gathering cannot be the goal.

What if God has a good reason?
A God who creates relational beings that seek relationship with Him may have made them for just such a purpose. Relationships are not as simple as “give me what I want and we’ll be fine” except from the most childish viewpoint (and not even then). They must be more complex and nuanced if they are to have any value; the more parties understand the depth of the others’ purpose and character, the stronger and more meaningful the relationship.

Someone might object “Is there no better way to get this result?”. Couldn’t God have made a world where He brought about good through good? God may use instruments that shock us, but maybe we need to be shocked on a corporate and personal level in a way that may be destructive in the short term. Did God make a world where we seek to be healthy and wealthy only to reject the source of any good we enjoy (Himself the author of all good things), while we show how little good we do with what we have been given? Let’s face it- left to ourselves in this world, we fluctuate between disdain and tolerance, with unselfish love coming in a distant third. Health and wealth don’t seem to produce a paradise even though they are given for our good. By that economy everyone living in the Golden Triangle of Greenwich, Conn, the wealthiest Neighborhood in America, should be the happiest, most charitable and most loving people in the world, but does anyone believe that?

Our “Light and Momentary Troubles”
Christians get to look suffering right in the face like everyone else does. Their children get sick, and their family members die. Yet they go on believing in a good and loving God. Why? This passage from the bible might give some insight:

“Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.”
-2nd Corinthians 4:16-18

By “light and temporary” the author spoke of his own trials, being beaten, threatened, shipwrecked, suffering serious physical ailments, jailed, watching friends being persecuted and killed by the state. He was no stranger to pain. Yet looking at the long term he could see the hand of God working to a good purpose, and an eternal one. It should be remember that he went on to be executed for his faith, and all of his friends mourned him.

Conclusion
Is it possible that God can turn evil into good? We have all seen it in our lives- things seemingly good turn bad, and the ostensibly bad turn good. Our field of vision in this area is finite, and if we were honest, surprisingly shallow. Our power to interpret events is curtailed by our own weakness and limitations.

What must the disciples have thought when the saw the suffering of Jesus Christ? They were crushed; everything they believed seems to have turned to ashes, and they lost their beloved friend. Something bigger and better was going on. God showed He knows what suffering is.

Instead of raging against God, even when brought on by compassion for the inexplicable suffering of others, what if we looked at the world in a different and perhaps more profound way? Maybe we would see that the God who created compassion, love and tenderness toward the sick and suffering might just be a God who is compassionate, loving and tender? That was certainly what Jesus was like on earth, and He said He was just reflecting His Father. Could we can trust Him when He says all things are done for a good purpose? If there is no God, none of this matters. If there is, the pieces of the puzzle fall into place in a way that can is satisfying, encouraging and ultimately comforting.

Dennis Toufexis,
Director, Reasonable Faith Montreal chapter

Excerpt from Suggested reading: A Grief Observed (C.S. Lewis)

“You never know how much you really believe anything until its truth of falsehood becomes a matter of life and death to you. It is easy to say you believe a rope to be strong and sound as long as you are merely using it to cord a box. But suppose you had to hang by that rope over a precipice. Wouldn’t you then first discover how much you really trusted it?”