1.23.2014

Split Ends

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I've had two conversations this month that share a common theme.  The first was with a colleague of mine who told me that all religions serve the same purpose, which is to provide meaning in life, direction for one's own life, and motivation to do good in that life.  The second was with a friend of mine who told me a mutual friend, tired of the hypocrisy of so-called Christians who didn't give a damn about social issues, had recently shifted her "religion" on Facebook from "Christian" to "justice-seeker." 

If you know the worlds I swim in, these conversations shouldn't be very surprising.  For the life philosophy contained in them is, one can argue, the dominant line of thinking among my peers.  Perhaps it is even the majority view for society as a whole, this notion that religions are either multiple means to the same ends or alternatively narrow-minded and dangerous.  That seems to be the main vibe one gets with the Christian faith, at least around these parts: if what "Christian" means is being kind, avoiding vices, and caring about the poor, then "alright!"; but if it means believing that Jesus is the only way to God, then "hey now!"

If religions are the means, what are the ends?  In other words, what do we truly seek with our lives, which we'll orient much or all of our daily activities and lifelong dreams towards in order the achieve?  I'm sure there are others, but off the top of my head, I can think of nine, which I present in alphabetical order and in as unbiased a way as possible:

Comfort.  This can either mean ease or healing.

Culture.  Whether country of origin, ethnicity, religious tradition, profession, or institution (or even sports allegiance?), some group with norms that we so identify with that it is what we orient our lives around and want to pass on to others.

Fame.  This can either mean being famous today or leaving a legacy for tomorrow.

Justice.  Some of us are wired to want to do as much good as possible in resolving social and structural injustices.

Kindness.  Some of us are wired to want to do as much good as possible to our fellow humans.

Pleasure.  Pleasure-seekers tend to be more physically oriented and more now-oriented.

Possessions.  For some, possessions are a means to another end, but for some, possessions are the end.

Power.  Outside of the fame that comes with it, power can be an end to some who seek the influence that comes with it.

Truth.  Truth-seekers tend to be more cerebral, since it takes a focus on the mind to wrestle with big questions like the meaning of life.

Christians have (or at least should have) an answer for every kind of person above, and I actually don't think that answer necessarily needs to be that you are seeking the wrong end and need to pick a nobler one.   Of course, Christians should think that the ultimate end is, in the words of the great catechism, "to glorify God and enjoy Him forever."  But, I think, all of these ends above can all be good things to pursue within the construct of glorifying God and enjoying Him forever. 

Different religions have something to say about each of these nine ends, and Christianity is no exception.  Though we may be, through nature or nurture, predisposed towards some of these ends and against others, we are free to choose which one truly governs our life, and we are free to choose which religion or philosophy provides the best framework and motivation for successfully pursuing those ends.  But that doesn't mean that our choices are necessarily right - right for us or right in general - and I think most people would agree with that statement.

Where you'll find more disagreement is with a tenth end, which is salvation, the sense that we are in need of redemption, reclamation, cleansing, atonement, deliverance, rescue, recovery, however you want to think of it.  There can be some contention about how one is saved, and whether it is logical/fair/true/nice to say that other ways are better than others, let alone that there is only one way to be saved.  Heck, there can be some contention about whether one needs to be saved at all.  Let me stop here and hope that in the next day or two I can complete this line of thinking. 









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