Monthly Archives: January 2010

Law abiding, bad citizens

We can't break even one

We can't break even one

Most humans that I know, and I would say most humans, have grown up and managed to not get thrown in jail. Now, this could be for a variety of reasons but for purposes of this article we are going to assume it’s because everyone grows up somehow knowing the laws, and then not breaking them (at least the ones that will get you thrown in jail).

It’s really not that hard to not break the laws that land you in jail, it usually takes conscious effort to get to that point. No child is ever sat in front of the legal statutes and laws of the land and told to memorise them, and be aware not to break them.  So how do we miraculously grow up not just murdering people, stealing their stuff and blowing up their garden gnomes?

Well, I don’t really have to answer that do I? A child gets raised small experiences at a time. Experience 1 is trying to stick a fork into a power socket, which could end in a few ways.

  1. abrupt and violent encounter with moving electrons.
  2. abrupt and violent encounter (from the child’s perspective) with moving parental hands (done in a loving fashion of course)
  3. abrupt and violent encounter (child’s perspective again) with a screaming parental mouth, sometimes accompanied by running and the wild flapping of arms (which helps mitigate the violence and inject some comedic entertainment into the event)

Every one of the items in this admittedly incomplete list should provide the child with the understanding that power points should be avoided, on pain of violence.

That experience teaches the child nothing about the laws of the country at all (except maybe later on when they realise corporal punishment might be illegal) however by other small experiences, like violent encounters with angry mouths for taking a toy from Johnny’s toy box, the child learns that you don’t take things from other people. They are not taught that it is illegal to do this, they are just taught that it’s not nice. Thus, hopefully/usually, the sum total of these experiences leaves you with a law abiding product. At some point we are made aware that it is also illegal, I guess, but as far as I can see/remember it’s not an explicitly taught thing.

The bonus of this kind of learning is that you don’t have to sit in front of stuffy law books and worry about breaking laws like (if you live in Ohio) not getting a fish drunk. You get to learn on the job, which is great for instructor and pupil. You even get a probationary period within which to learn these laws, infractions are dealt with less harshly for those still in the probationary period.

Amusingly, the ones that do eventually sit in front of the dusty law books and learn them, get disliked by everyone (until cheap legal advice is required).

So, you have a product of a collection of experiences that doesn’t go about getting thrown into prison. Does this make that product a good citizen? Well that all depends on the arena really. If the metric of consideration is the conspicuous lack of trying to stab you or abuse your garden gnomes with explosives, then yes the product can be considered a Good Citizen. However, if the metric of consideration is some sort of award by the community (local, national or global) then the criteria stops being passive, that is ‘just not breaking laws’ and becomes active. That is going and actively trying to improve conditions for fellow man.

Essentially the guy that doesn’t set fire to your front lawn is not considered a good citizen, but the guy that comes and mows it for you, does a good job, and does it consistently without asking for payment you might consider a good citizen.

So teaching a child, actively or passively, about the law and the obedience to it doesn’t really seem to generate extraordinary citizens just ordinary ones. Who, let’s face it, generally break laws anyway even if not the ones that land you in prison. In my experience and interactions everyone admits to speeding, in South Africa there are very few people that have not bribed a traffic cop (or as a passive thing did not speak up about solicitation or offering of a bribe). And more seriously, in my social experience, people that admit to driving drunk. All of these are done after a conscious decision was made as to the probability of getting caught. However teaching a kid the importance of relationship and the value of life helps them attribute greater value to those things, and possibly then he/she would become active in improving the situation of those around him/her.

So really what I am saying is that teaching obedience to the law is great, but by observation and experience humans tend to weigh up the risks vs. the rewards of breaking the law. Circumstance is a heavy factor in this weighing up, and every man has his price. To claim that you would never take a life is fine and all, and probably true, a long as ‘never’ for you also includes your family not being attacked or not walking in on your partner and catching them in the act of infidelity. See, not many people go out with plans to wreck their lives by way of murder. But for some being merely human and subject to emotional extremes it just seems to happen.

This consideration, besides percolating in my brain for who knows how long, was brought to the fore as I was cycling home this week and I went past a pre-school, the school was a religion specific school, advertising the teaching of that religion’s laws in the school’s curriculum (it was not a Christian school). If I take this in a Christian context, and apply the general understanding that teaching the law will bring about good citizens, then teaching the commands of Jesus will produce good Christians, right? But that is just not true, no matter how hard we try to do that at Sunday school.

A statement was made at a Sunday school meeting I was in (by a video guy on a projector) that ‘Christian’ kids that left school and went to varsity more often than not tended to ‘stray’ from Christianity and then in their mid to late 30’s some might make a u-turn and return to the fold. The reason given for this was that the kids were not taught a certain lifestyle.

After my brain digested this suggestion, it was rejected with the message ‘does not compute’. It doesn’t matter what kind of lifestyle you teach kids, when those kids go off and immerse themselves in a university or college environment, they tend to chase the experiences of that environment. Being drinking and partying, and often there is a slip of sexual inhibitions. If you have taught a child that the bible is law and scientifically accurate and literal then when the child is confronted with scientific experimentation, knowledge and the technology based on this science, questions are raised. It doesn’t matter what kind of rules and regulations you teach children as a Christian parent/teacher/mentor, it’s about teaching that child to seek relationship with Christ.

A person that is taught religious law and intellectual assent to scripture or biblical theory does not necessarily make a good (faithful?) Christian, or perhaps does not make a Christian at all. The person that finds relationship with God is given a new nature, and their values often change (value attribution changes). This is not to say a ‘real’ Christian does not fall, just that the language used earlier about a decade or longer hiatus from Christianity with regard to not teaching Christian lifestyle practices can be rejected.

The reactionary nature we have to the potential of kids falling away and modifying the means frequency or duration of how we teach Christian principle is like applying checkers strategy to basketball, it’s pointless.

The focus needs to be on chasing relationship, rather than a self help seminar on 3 steps to observe the Sabbath.

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Comfortable Language

This is awesome

Awesome

Awesome

This is awesome

Awesome

Awesome

This is awesome

Awesome

Awesome

To start, I decided to use Google to find image results for the word awesome, my tricksy plan was to take the first image from the search results, and then take something that could genuinely be called awesome and contrast the two. I got tired of looking through the following results http://tinyurl.com/yajqcyl for anything actually awesome (giant disclaimer, I have ‘safe search’ on strict, so I don’t know what comes up with it off) I have to admit that the first image would have me say ‘awesome’ but you can consider that geeky weakness.

Awesome:

Adjective

So, the first image can jokingly be described as awesome, but it certainly doesn’t actually inspire awe or wonder in me. However having plastered the word awesome onto the first image we have nowhere to go but equivalency or ‘down’ when looking at the follow up pictures, the last being truly awesome.

I was thinking the other day about how we speak, well, truth be told I think about how we speak a lot, as I am in rather a large number of ‘discussions’. “Never!” I hear you cry, in shock and amazement, yet it is true, I have the odd verbal altercation with a very few people every decade or so. Anyway, the differences, in these incredibly rare discussions often tend to end up being a difference in the definition or perception of a word or phrase. So I have prevailing ponderings about our language and the flippancy (or not) with which we bandy words about. The general trend is to exaggerate with our adjectives, or without thinking, to apply a word to something because it sounds more exciting. I have noticed a trend in myself to define an event as “the most (something or other) EVER”. While it usually is not the most anything ever at all. As a consequence, I could come home from work, having had the worst day ever, and my wife will have the sympathy of a rock, because everything is always the most/least/biggest thing EVER. Indeed, I cry wolf a lot, to stretch a story.

This train of thought lead me to consider the possible connection between the way in which we talk and the way we respond to things we read or hear. I have commented on mankind’s rather terminal (as a species) propensity for ignoring anything that isn’t an immediate and personal threat. Global warming is not an immediate threat, and water has always come out of our taps, so that is not a problem for me, but the risk of cancer from the aspartame in fake sugar must be stopped immediately. Though, this is probably a bad example, as the massive, and massively KNOWN probability of respiratory issues smokers will face are ignored. So a better example would be the immediate and personal risk to me of wearing an outfit that does not match. Utter social suicide… people will be talking for weeks. “YAHAAAA!” you cry with gusto, causing me to spill coffee on my person, “you are being ridiculously flippant with your last example there, Mr. Finger pointing blog writer!” And yet, no, I don’t think that I really am. I see more effort going into avoiding being a fashionable outcast than goes into not wasting water, or whatever other environmental issue you currently wish to focus on. Is this sad and potentially disastrous tendency caused by or, more probably, exacerbated by our desensitization to words/phrases like ‘crisis’, ‘disastrous’ or ‘global warming’. The flippancy extends further by people joking about a particularly cold day “pah, I thought we were supposed to be getting hotter, global warming is a lie. ha ha ha ha.” (Significant looks at the conversation participants to ensure they all got the joke). While I am certainly painting myself to be more serious than the threat of aspartame death from fake sugar, my idea is still worth considering.

We are bombarded constantly by all kinds of extreme adjectives that they are no longer extreme, they are the norm. We have not found any other adjectives to replace them, to ensure that the audience actually gets the urgency of any given situation. The hierarchy of words is in a shambles. I think that this is also evidenced among Christians and/or professing Christians. God is awesome, God is Love. Yet, that packet of chips was awesome and I totally LOVE those glasses on you. Can you see the problem? Oh, we don’t really love like real love. Those glasses just look really good. Mr over exaggerating blog writer must clearly be able to see that it’s just a turn of phrase. Well turns of phrase get us into hot water as well. There are so many discussions being had, right now even, about whether or not a specific scripture was allegory or literal. Whether Christians genuinely, physically and literally receive a new nature, or are new creations (2 Corinthians 5:17), or whether that is just a turn of phrase is one of the discussions. If it is literal you might expect some kind of evidence, or change in this new creation, if it is merely figurative then perhaps not. If many of these things are figurative, as many are more willing to believe, then the commandments or instructions can be interpreted in any way we choose, being more suggestions than anything else.

As Christians we say certain things, we sing certain things and it’s because that’s just what Christians do… isn’t it? It doesn’t REALLY honestly mean anything, does it? It’s just a nice song; it is not to be taken literally. The song might say something like, “I will go, wherever you will lead me” and either we don’t think about what we are saying, or we just retranslate it, within our framework of how we understand Christianity to be something along the lines of “I will claim to follow you, in spirit and mind, anything intangible, as long as there is no actual change or physical requirement from me, let’s keep this just intellectual shall we?” This invades our speech and we start to sit with a Christianity that is all allegory, figurative speech, personal interpretation that won’t break any perceptions and nothing gets taken literally. The evidence of salvation becomes intangible and open for interpretation by each individual.

Could it be that we draw the definition of the word from the event we are applying it to? Or that our perception of a phrase or word is coloured in the manner we use it most? We have a perception of “romantic husband and wife love” hugely coloured by Hollywood (thanks Hollywood for your ridiculously shallow love) and when that goes away it’s time to move on, to find the new love. We define the love we have for brothers and sisters and friends a certain way too. It is usually not a selfless love; it is selfless to varying degrees but never completely. It can by no means be considered unconditional, given enough time, a spouses love will be killed if not requited, often it has to be requited in a rather specific manner too, love is pretty conditional. Now, when we read in scripture that God is Love we can only call to mind our own perception of what Love is. Or, because we have often heard others profess a love for us, and seen these great Hollywood romances where everyone claims they will be together forever we apply that understanding of unconditional Love to God. We tend to not be so impressed, but true unconditional love is really rather impressive. It is a part of true awesomeness. It is just so awesome that I am left honestly speechless, not because ‘awesome’ has been applied too often to chips and cars, but because an honest look at the literal impact of what actual unconditional Love is (even my poor understanding of it), is just something that honestly does inspire awe. It is quite simply awesome. Most other things just can’t be considered awesome anymore.

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