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Apologetics

Q&R Foreword, Introduction, Contents, Chapter One: Good & Evil

QUESTIONS AND RESPONSES 

FOREWORD 

When someone makes an appointment to see me, a ‘generalist’ pastoral counselor, what do we talk about?

Short answer: anything at all that’s important for them.

Within the first five minutes I invite my parishioner/client to ‘give me a headline or two’. And, then, mostly, we jump into the deep end.

Some memorable ones:

#  ‘Rowland, I used to belong to a biker gang. Recently I’ve started going to church and I heard about the need to ‘confess your sins to one another’. Well, I killed seven people during those wild years… And nobody else knows…’

# ‘Pastor, I’m in my fifties now, and I’ve never had a close relationship with a man. I’d love to have been a mother, but it’s too late. I have a strong sexual drive and my way of dealing with that is to pleasure myself. My pastor, however, is a fundamentalist who reckons I’ll go to hell for doing what I do. I’m scared and often sleepless about it all. What do you think?’

#  To a 15/16-year-old: ‘Jane, what do you want to do with your life?’ ‘Oh, that’s easy: kill a couple of people.’ ‘Uh-huh… Anything else?’ ‘Yeah… burn down the [social welfare organisation’s] building: they should have been protecting me…’

# Undergrad student: ‘We’re doing philosophy, and recently studied the so-called “proofs” for God’s existence. My evangelical friend says he’s impressed by the “first cause” idea. I reckon there could have been an infinite regression of causes…’

Where do these conversations go from there? Read on. Here are my 30 ‘big ones’: one for each day of the month if you want to give yourself some quality-time thinking about these issues and chasing up the footnotes…  (This is the first book I’ve written post-Google: love it!).

At this point you may need to know just a little about me. General ideological approach? ‘Progressive Evangelical Christian’. Not theologically ‘fundamentalist’ or ‘liberal’ – I have strong issues with some of their respective presuppositions. My Anglican friends say I’m ‘broad church’. Father Richard Rohr and popular Christian writer Brian McLaren are generally OK! Is there truth in other religions? Of course, God’s truth can be discovered in the most unlikely places. Is it OK to doubt what authority-figures put into our heads when we were impressionable? Again: of course. How much serious pastoral counseling have I actually done? About 25,000 hours, starting when I was a College Christian student leader in 1957, then within eleven full- and part-time pastoral vocations, etc. etc.

Come and enjoy the ride my fellow-strugglers/learners…

Rowland Croucher        ([email protected])  (jmm.org.au)
Melbourne, Australia
November 2013.

 

 

INTRODUCTION 

It’s called the ‘Swan-song phenomenon’… Psychologist Dean Keith Simonton of the University of California studied 1919 compositions written by 172 classical composers and compared how highly the works were rated by musicologists with how close the creation of those works came to the composers’ deaths.

Main finding: compositions that were written later in the artists’ lives – when, as Simonton wrote, ‘death was raising a fist to knock on the door’ – tended to be briefer, with cleaner, simpler melody lines, and yet scored high in aesthetic significance according to the experts.[1]

I’m now 76, and it’s about 20 years since my last book was published. This little contribution is my best effort to say in a ‘cleaner, simpler’ fashion what I believe about the most important questions facing humankind. Writers these days can put their words together in a ‘cryptic teasing’ fashion: if the reader wants to know more about something, they can simply check with everyone’s friend Google Search.

As my Gmail auto-signature says…

Shalom! Salaam! Pax!
Rowland Croucher

jmm.org.au

December 2013

 

 

CONTENTS

(Still rough, as at 27/1/2014: any suggestions?)

 

PART 1: THE BIG PICTURE… 

 

1.  GOOD & EVIL: Why be good? Why fight evil? And are we born or made to be good or evil (or either or both)?

2.  GOD & SATAN: What are we postmoderns supposed to do with all that medieval stuff?

3.  AUTHORITY & CERTAINTY: The eternal question: ‘What is Truth?’ Sources of truth: reason, a sacred book (e.g. the Bible), tradition, experience – and more…

4. JESUS & CHRISTIANITY:  ‘An Ancient Near Eastern carpenter claims to be God – can thoughtful people still believe that?’

5. RELIGIONS, CHURCHES & SECTS: ‘They can’t all/any of them be right can they?’

6. FUNDAMENTALISM(S): Source of most of the world’s ideological-ethno-religious conflicts. Paradigm-shifts (‘You don’t know you’re wearing chains until you begin to move…’)

 

PART 2: ME, MYSELF & MINE – OH, AND OTHERS… 

 

7. WHO AM I? Who gives me my grade/worth? Parents, mentors, and heroes.

8. FAMILIES: How to make something of your life – even if you didn’t choose your parents well. 

9. WOMEN & MEN: Vive la difference? Mars/Venus and other theories…

10. RELATIONSHIPS – LOVE/JUSTICE (Keys to all relationships): ‘Why do we mistreat so many people – defenceless children, religious and racial/ethnic minorities, the handicapped, sweat-shop workers… the list goes on…?’ (And, in many countries, women are doing better academically, but earn 5%+ less than men – where’s the sense/justice in that)?

11. PRIDE & POWER: ‘Why do too many humans want to be #1?’

 

PART 3: (ROMANTIC) LOVE, SEX AND MARRIAGE…

 

12. ROMANCE/FALLING IN LOVE: ‘A genetic trick nature plays on us to hook us into marriage’?

13. HOMOSEXUALITY & GENDER ISSUES: If blacks/gays/ dwarfs/whoever had no choice… what are they asking of the rest of us?

14. SEX: ‘It can all be very nice or very horrible… Why?’ Sexual abuse…

15. MASTURBATION: ‘Nothing to be ashamed of; nothing to be proud of either.’

16. MARRIAGE

 

PART 4: YOU’VE GOT ONE LIFE: MAKE THE MOST OF IT…

 

17. HAPPINESS & JOY: ‘No, they’re not the same, but why am I mostly bereft of both of them?’ Emotional and intellectual intelligence…

18. SPIRITUAL DISCIPLINES: Lectio divina, prayer, meditation, solitude, silence, stillness: finding peace in the desert – every day.

19. SUCCESS & FAILURE/WORK & PLAY 

20. STRESS & BURNOUT:

21. LEADERS & FOLLOWERS:

22. BIRDS & FLOWERS: ‘How can I enjoy “all things bright and beautiful” more?

 

PART 5: (MORE) VIRTUES, VICES & HUMAN ARRANGEMENTS

 

23. WAR & PEACE:

24. POVERTY & HUNGER:

25. LAWS & POLITICS: Unfortunate necessities; mantras and shibolleths.

26. ABORTION & EUTHANASIA etc. : Moral issues where good (and bad) people differ.

 

PART 5: AND IN THE END…

 

27. APOCALYPSE CHECKLIST: Caring for the planet – for future generations.

28. GROWING OLD:  Towards simplicity the other side of complexity.

29. SICKNESS & HEALTH: If I reduced it to 10 ‘health commandments’ what would my list look like?’

30. DEATH & DYING:

31. TIME & ETERNITY: Theories about nothingness, reincarnation, heaven, & hell.

 

YOUR CHECK-LIST FOR A VERY GOOD LIFE: What’s general and universal; and what’s relative and personal.

~~

Draft Lifestyle Check-List (anything missing?)


Chapter 1: GOOD AND EVIL 

Cruelty and wrong are not the greatest forces in the world. There is nothing eternal in them. Only love is eternal. 

~~ Elizabeth Elliot

The line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes nor between parties either - but right through the human heart.

~~ Alexandr Solzhenitzyn

I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality. This is why right, temporarily defeated, is stronger than evil triumphant.

~~ Martin Luther King Jr

There is no good and evil, there is only power and those too weak to seek it.

​~~ J. K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone

~~~~~

Three of the best, most serene human beings I’ve ever known were married – until death parted them – to very angry men. How did those women get to be like that? During the last quarter-century Nelson Mandela was the world’s most admired human being.  How did he get to be like that? (Best clue: ‘Resentment is like drinking poison and then hoping it will kill your enemies’).

~~

One Monday morning a distressed and battered woman in her 30s came to see me. She’d just been released – again – from hospital. ‘I guess I can cope with being treated like this – even the broken bones,’ she said, ‘but it’s not fair for my two kids. They’re becoming more and more frightened…’

‘So what do you want to do?’ I asked.

‘I’m leaving, but I have nowhere to go.’

‘Do you want me to find a safe place?’

One phone call and it was arranged, to begin that night. The following week I heard that her psychotic husband planned to come after me with a gun. Sometimes it’s not even safe being a pastor! 

Born or Made ?

Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot, pedophile priests… : were they born or made like that? (Stalin: ‘One death is a tragedy. A million deaths is a statistic’).

What drives the sniper/s in Syria to shoot women in the pelvic area one day, and the left breast the next and the right breast the day after, according to a British medical volunteer quoted in the world’s press last week? (Today I read of Egyptian snipers who aim at strangers’ eyes).

I grew up during the Second World War, when our world was mostly divided into ‘Allies’ and ‘Others’. We boys played ‘Aussies and Japs’, ‘goodies and baddies’, ‘cops and robbers’. At our primary school there were bullies and ‘sissies’, and once a year Santa Claus sorted out who was naughty and nice. In our little church we were ‘good’ (= ‘saved’); others might be good too but because they were not ‘of us’ their eternal destiny was decidedly suspect. But then, I wondered, why were there sometimes very heated arguments in our little Christian ‘Assembly’ over some issues? Two of our elders had a stand-up row in everyone’s hearing about whether we should play a radio ‘in church’ (one of them argued that as Satan was ‘the prince of the power of the air’ radio-waves were contaminated with evil)…

Which – if any – of these boxes would you tick? :

All are born good (Confucius)  [   ]

We are all contaminated with ‘original sin’; so sin corrupts the entire human nature  (Augustine)[2]    

People are able to choose not to sin (Pelagius) [   ]

Whoever is without sin may cast the first stone (Jesus, John 8:7). All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Paul, Romans 3:23).   [   ]

‘In spite of everything, I still believe that people are really good at heart,’ (Anne Frank, German-born diarist and Holocaust victim)  [   ]

‘The sad truth is that most evil is done by people who never make up their minds to be good or evil’ (Hannah Arendt, German-Jewish political philosopher)  [   ]

‘The line between good and evil is permeable and almost anyone can be induced to cross it when pressured by situational forces’ (Philip Zimbardo) [   ]

World War II criminal Adolph Eichmann said he was simply following instructions when he ordered the deaths of millions of Jews. Yale University psychologist Stanley Milgram asked himself how common that attitude might be? He devised a classic experiment where 40 participants were asked/ordered to progressively increase electric shocks from 15 to 450 volts to an unseen (but vocal) victim. How many went all the way? A later sample of students said ‘3%.’ The actual number? 26 of the 40! Only 14 stopped earlier. Other research on obedience has corroborated these results. Scary![3] 

And God…?

Are you happy with any of these? ’

God did not create evil. Just as darkness is the absence of light, evil is the absence of God’ (Albert Einstein)  [   ]

The forces of light and darkness are pitted against each other in a permanent stand-off, with humanity as the battlefield (Manicheanism)  [   ]

‘Zoroastrianism is about the opposition of good and evil. For the triumph of good, we have to make a choice. We can enlist on the side of good by prospering, making money and using our wealth to help others’ (Rohinton Mistry)  [   ]

‘When asked why, God being good, there was evil in the world, Sri Ramakrishna said, “To thicken the plot.”’ (Unknown)  [   ]

What is good? What is evil? 

Here’s a Buddhist contribution: ‘Goodness… moves us in the direction of harmonious coexistence, empathy and solidarity with others. The nature of evil, on the other hand, is to divide: people from people, humanity from the rest of nature… Remaining silent in the face of injustice is the same as supporting it.’[4]

And a Jewish insight: ‘A thimbleful of light will banish a roomful of darkness… Evil is not a thing or force, but merely the absence or concealment of good. One need not “defeat” the evil in the world; one need only bring to light its inherent goodness.[5]

That may not be simple.  C S Lewis in The Problem of Pain warns us: ’If God is wiser… his judgment must differ from ours on many things, and not least on good and evil. What seems to us good may therefore not be good in his eyes, and what seems to us evil may not be evil’. Reinhold Niebuhr (Moral Man and Immoral Society) offers a brilliant expose of the evils of institutions: dominant groups (which devise laws and enjoy special status and privileges) are less likely to sacrifice self-interest and listen to prophets. Nations, for example, are intrinsically selfish. ‘Power sacrifices justice to peace within the community and destroys peace between communities’.[6]    And history teaches us that evil lurks both in humanity’s dark corners and also its high places. (Wasn’t it Edgar in Shakespeare’s King Lear who said ‘The devil is a gentleman’?).

From theory to practice: what can I do? 

Altruism – a selfless concern for the well-being of others – may be both culturally specific and a learned approach to life. Charles Darwin suggested that we’re all born with basic needs and instincts to survive, but as social beings, we learn that by aiding others we benefit ourselves. (Ever read Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People) ?

If someone needs your help, why not? If something needs cleaning up, why not you? If you have an opportunity to initiate a ‘random act of kindness’, why not? And re our words, remember the famous Sai Baba quote:  ‘Is it true? Is it kind? Is it necessary? And does it improve the silence?’

A caveat: not every person or situation needs my intervention to fix things. Thoreau warned, ‘If you see someone coming towards you with the obvious intent of doing you good, run for your life!’ (Elsewhere, cheekily: ‘As for Doing-good… I have tried it fairly, and, strange as it may seem, am satisfied that it does not agree with my constitution’). One of the wisest pastors I knew used to say:  ‘The best thing you can do for some people is leave them alone.’

Here are four helpful principles:

1. I can do something (rather than nothing).

It is better to light a candle than to curse the darkness. ~~ Chinese proverb

The world is not dangerous because of those who do harm, but because of those who look at it without doing anything. ~~ Albert Einstein

‘We shall have to repent in this generation not so much for the evil deeds of the wicked people but for the appalling silence of the good people…’ ’Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. To ignore evil is to become an accomplice to it.’ ~~  M.L.King

All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good [people] to do nothing. ~~ Edmund Burke

‘In Germany they came first for the Communists, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Communist. Then they came for the Jews, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Jew. Then they came for the trade unionists, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a trade unionist. Then they came for the Catholics, and I didn’t speak up because I was a Protestant. Then they came for me, and by that time no one was left to speak up.’ ~~ Martin Niemoeller

2. The Power of One.

You, yes you, can make a difference. History – and legend – is replete with stories about sometimes ordinary individuals who were overwhelmed with a desire to rectify a wrong, and, against all odds, defeated evil. Dr. W E Sangster put it well: ‘How were the slaves freed? Did all England wake up one morning and say “This is wrong. We must free the slaves?” No! One man woke up one morning with the groan of God in his soul and William Wilberforce and his friends laboured until Britain paid a larger sum than her national debt to set the slaves free. ‘How was all the social trouble after the industrial revolution ameliorated? God groaned in the heart of Lord Shaftesbury and he toiled and toiled to serve and save the poor. How were the prisons cleaned up in England? Did everybody suddenly say, “These prisons are places of indescribable filth?” No! God groaned in the heart of Elizabeth Fry. Progress is the echo of the groan of God in the hearts of [individual] men and women.’ [7]

And always remember, as Mother Teresa reminded us, ‘I alone cannot change the world, but I can cast a stone across the waters to create many ripples.’

3. I’m not on my own: ‘I can do all things, through Christ, who strengthens me’.

All things? Yes, even fail. There are two things you can say about biblical leaders: they all seemed to be failures, and they spent a lot of time alone in deserts. Jesus struggled with good and evil for forty days in the desert; he confronted the sometimes subtle evils of religious legalism as well as the more overt evils of ‘the powers’.

‘Meditation – morning and evening – is the best antidote known to humanity to keep us awake, clear-minded about the illusions that lure us and the fears that control us. And to keep us attuned to the beauty and freshness of reality as each day invites us to be more awake, more real.’ [8]

4. So ‘Do Good’: It’s a Good Choice…

And do good with good motives. In my last year of high school I studied an essay by, I think, William Lamb. Its message (as I remember it): ‘I love doing good for people anonymously but have it found out by accident.’ Pathetic, I thought.

A friend had a sign over the exit-door of his university room: EYM (Examine Your Motive). Jesus warned us about this: ‘Don’t let your left hand know what your right hand is doing’ (Matthew 6:3).

By doing good we become good  ~~ Jean-Jacques Rousseau

And St. Paul: ‘Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor…  Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers… Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; do not claim to be wiser than you are. Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. 18 If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God; for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” No, “if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.’ [9]

Do all the good you can,

By all the means you can,

In all the ways you can, In all the places you can,

At all the times you can,

To all the people you can,

As long as you ever can.

~~John Wesley

Watch your thoughts, for they become words. Watch your words, for they become actions. Watch your actions, for they become habits. Watch your habits, for they become character. Watch your character, for it becomes your destiny. ~~ Unknown

And Never Forget… ‘In each of us, two natures are at war – the good and the evil. All our lives the fight goes on between them, and one of them must conquer. But in our own hands lies the power to choose – what we want most to be we are.’ ~~ Robert Louis Stevenson ​

You’ve heard this widely-quoted wisdom by a Native American elder: ‘Inside of me there are two dogs. One of the dogs is mean and evil. The other dog is good. The mean dog fights the good dog all the time.’ When asked which dog wins, he replied, ‘The one I feed the most.’

Finally, a daily prayer to help conquer evil and be committed to goodness: 

Good morning heavenly Father,

Good morning Lord Jesus,

Good morning Holy Spirit.

Heavenly Father, I worship you as the creator and sustainer of the universe.

Lord Jesus, I worship you, Savior and Lord of the world.

Holy Spirit, I worship you, sanctifier of the people of God.

Glory to the Father, and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit.

Heavenly Father, I pray that I may live this day in your presence and please you more and more.

Lord Jesus, I pray that this day I may take up my cross and follow you.

Holy Spirit, I pray that this day you will fill me with yourself and cause your fruit to ripen in my life: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. 

Holy, blessed and glorious Trinity, three persons in one God, have mercy upon me.

Amen. [10]


 

[1] Time, ‘The Art of Living’, September 23, 2013, p. 4

[2]  ‘Augustine taught that Adam’s guilt as transmitted to his descendants much enfeebles, though does not destroy, the freedom of their will, Protestant reformers Martin Luther and John Calvin affirmed that Original Sin completely destroyed liberty’ (see Wikipedia total depravity). Also http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Augustine_of_Hippo

[3]  http://psychology.about.com/od/historyofpsychology/a/milgram.htm 

[4]  Buddhist Inspiration for daily living ( http://www.ikedaquotes.org/good-evil )

[5] http://www.chabad.org/therebbe/article_cdo/aid/60857/jewish/Good-and-Evil.htm

[6] Excellent summary here: http://strongreading.blogspot.com.au/2010/06/niebuhr-reinhold-moral-man-and-immoral.html . See also http://www.jmm.org.au/articles/4761.htm 

[7] http://www.jmm.org.au/articles/11513.htm ,  http://www.jmm.org.au/articles/3957.htm , http://www.jmm.org.au/articles/3984.htm , http://www.jmm.org.au/articles/28920.htm , http://www.jmm.org.au/articles/835.htm 

[8]  Laurence Freeman OSB’s weekly reading which arrived in my email inbox today. www.wcom.org.

[9]  Excerpts Romans 12:9-21 NRSV.

[10]  John Stott’s ‘Morning Trinitarian Prayer’. There are variations of this prayer in books by and about John Stott. This version is from Basic Christian: The Inside Story of John Stott.

 

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