Posts

Showing posts from March, 2017

Transformation rather than conversion

The theological term conversion has sufficiently troubled me that I have avoided using it for decades. Initially, this avoidance was unconscious but more recently has been intentional.
The English word conversion has today, especially in religious contexts, the overwhelming connotation of a change in a person’s beliefs or thinking. Yet Christianity is about learning to walk the Jesus path ever more faithfully, not about persuading people to hold right beliefs.
Actions speak louder than words. My observation of religious people (including me!) is that considerable disparity often exists between an individual’s avowed theological beliefs/thinking and what that person’s actions indicate s/he actually believes/thinks. While it’s easy to describe that disparity as hypocrisy, the disparity is frequently better understood as the aspirational difference between what a person would like to believe and what s/he actually believes.
Christian evangelical efforts focused on conversion easily prod…

Why I object to putting America first

I object to Trump’s campaign slogan and post-election efforts to “put America first” for two reasons. Firstly, trying to “put America first” is ultimately self-defeating behavior similar to an egocentric’s efforts to put him/herself first. As I have repeatedly explained in Ethical Musings posts, no person is an island. Our individual welfare depends upon assistance from other people. Therefore, reciprocal altruism and not self-serving behaviors best describe human behavior, regardless of any dissent by selfish gene proponents. The survival of the fittest, for humans, requires not only personal but also interpersonal competencies. Theological ethics express this idea in the various formulations of the Golden Rule, e.g., love others as you love yourself. Similarly, as globalism inexorably expands until one day it will touch every aspect of our existence, larger human communities, such as nations, will maximally thrive only by practicing reciprocal altruism. In other word, win-win will …

Giving to panhandlers

Pope Francis recently offered advice regarding the perennial question of whether giving money to a panhandler is good. He said, Give and don’t worry about it. His advice is scripturally sound and was offered in an interview with a Milan magazine before the beginning of Lent. An Ethical Musings’ reader took the Pope’s advice to heart. Here’s the reader’s description of what happened the first time that he followed the Pope’s guidance: This evening I was walking up to the State House and ran into a panhandler, he asked could I spare a dollar. I said, yes and gave him more than a dollar, shook his hand, looked him in the eye, wished him luck – I think he was shocked and I was also. We spoke to one another like two people. He looked me in the eye as we were shaking hands, thanked me and wished me luck. The Pope is right – I believe we both felt good about the meeting.
Try giving to panhandlers during Lent. If you are willing to share, I’d like to read about your experiences.

A new Lenten discipline

In view of my previous Ethical Musings post about Rethinking Ash Wednesday, traditional Lenten practices of giving something up to demonstrate one’s true feelings of regret and penance for one’s sins or of taking on a new discipline to help one to sin less in the future by becoming a better Christian are outdated. Instead, a more appropriate and spiritually helpful discipline is to commit to celebrating life daily, weekly, or at least once during Lent. This discipline is admittedly out of step with traditional ecclesiastical emphases on confessing one’s sins and penitence, e.g., many parishes will use (pp. 148-153, Book of Common Prayer) on Sundays during Lent. However, this discipline coheres with a twenty-first century understanding of Ash Wednesday and Lent. Celebrating life can take many different forms; one’s imagination is the primary limiter of what is possible. Options include arranging a feast or night of lodging in a hotel for a homeless person, an outsize generous gift for…

Rethinking Ash Wednesday

In this post, I suggest a more modern interpretation of why Christians continue to impose ashes. (My 2016 Ethical Musings post Ash Wednesday sketched the traditional understandings of the annual Christian practice of imposing ashes.) Christianity needs to rethink Ash Wednesday. Few twenty-first Christians in the developed world feel very guilty, especially compared to Christians during the Middle Ages. Furthermore, guilt is a poor motivator for changing behavior. Finally, increasing numbers of Christians reject not only the theological doctrine of original sin but also all of the several interpretations of Jesus’ crucifixion that emphasize his death as an essential requirement for God forgiving human sin. Hence, a majority of Christians have voted with their feet, absenting themselves from Ash Wednesday observances, tacitly believing the observances generally meaningless and irrelevant. Rethinking Ash Wednesday begins by recognizing that the words used to impose ashes – Remember that…