When Quoting Jesus Harshes Your Mellow


If the Internet were somehow the complete representation of the words of Jesus, the Bible would pretty much come down to this:

And one of the scribes came up and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that [Jesus] answered them well, asked him, “Which commandment is the most important of all?” Jesus answered, “The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”
—Mark 12:29-31

“Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.”
—Matthew 7: 1-5

Jesus, sword in mouthIn summary: Love God and love your neighbor—and don’t badly judge your neighbor, either.

If the Internet is any indicator, that’s the sole breadth of what Jesus supposedly said.

And thinking that is pretty stupid, when you ponder it. But then many of the greatest quoters of the Bible have actually never read it from cover to cover, so what should we expect?

When some bad stuff went down in ancient Palestine, a group of people came to Jesus for an explanation:

There were some present at that very time who told [Jesus] about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. And he answered them, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.”
—Luke 13:1-5

Yeah, He went there.

“Way to harsh the mellow, Jesus! Those people came to you for some comfort, not criticism. What a buzzkill!”

But you see, the thing about the Christian faith is that it’s not a departure from reality. It’s not the puppy dogs and rainbow-farting unicorns you see on the Web. It’s blood, guts, and in your face. It’s as real as it gets. And Jesus isn’t going to selectively filter what He says to people so they can feel good about themselves and bad about the bad people, which, coincidentally, is what Jesus is saying everyone standing before Him is, bad.

Good people don’t have to repent. Only the wicked, rotten, evil ones.

When Jesus tells the crowd, “Unless you repent, you will all likewise perish,” He’s not mincing words. He’s saying this:

That terrible thing that happened to those people? If you don’t turn from your own wickedness and turn to God, something like it is going to happen to you too.

Except the Bible also says that the bad thing that is going to happen to people who don’t repent is going to go on and on and on.

Jesus also said this:

“I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”
—John 14:6

“And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.”
—John 17:3

Jesus said a lot of things people should listen to.

Don’t be a total hypocrite in your judging. Love God and love your neighbor.

And don’t be a complete dumbass by selectively quoting Jesus without knowing the rest of what He said. Because whatever your agenda is in doing so, you need to get over it. Why? Because unless you turn from your evil personal agenda and turn to God and His agenda, you also will end very, very badly.

Attack of the Online “Prophets”


Ad hominem abusive.

If you don’t know what that means, here’s the ever-convenient Wikipedia with the answer:

An ad hominem (Latin for “to the man” or “to the person”), short for argumentum ad hominem, is a general category of fallacies in which a claim or argument is rejected on the basis of some irrelevant fact about the author of or the person presenting the claim or argument. Fallacious ad hominem reasoning is normally categorized as an informal fallacy, more precisely as a genetic fallacy,  a subcategory of fallacies of irrelevance. Ad hominem reasoning is not always fallacious, for example, when it relates to the credibility of statements of fact.
Wikipedia entry for ad hominem

I’ve been on the Internet from before it was the Internet. Back in my earlier days at Carnegie Mellon University, I would send emails to a friend at MIT using the old ARPANET defense network, which evolved into the modern Internet. How long ago was this? Well, the smiley emoticon was “invented” at CMU during my tenure as a student.

So, I’ve watched the Internet grow up.

Sad to say, but I think that as the Internet grew up, the people who used it didn’t. And this brings us back to that Latin phrase above and its definition.

I don’t know what has happened in recent years, but I’m seeing an increase in ad hominem attacks online. The worst part of this is the attacks often come from Christians.

A fictional, but true to form, example:

ScourgePerson A : “Yes, you need to love people in Jesus’ name, but you can’t excuse their sin. Love them, but call them to repentance too.”

Person B : “Clearly, you are a legalistic fool who doesn’t know the Lord. Jesus is love. Love is all that matters—and you would know that if you truly know Him. But you don’t. I bet a Pharisee like you has never loved anyone except yourself.”

That’s what passes for discourse and an engagement of ideas, and I’m seeing it more and more on Christian websites.

Beyond the fact of ad hominem‘s status as a logical fallacy unworthy of use in debates and discussions, it’s the faux prophetic attitude of people that bothers me greatly. Too many Christians are presuming to know the spiritual condition of another person with whom they converse online, but without having met that person or read anything else that person may have written. Instead, ad hominem attacks often come out at the first interaction.

At the risk of being accused of an ad hominem attack myself, I must say that this borders on divination. Really. Because the ad hominem user is not only NOT being loving toward a fellow believer, he or she is claiming to scry out the spiritual condition of the other person, as if doing a fortune teller’s “cold reading.”

Folks, we can’t do this. Ever.

Online discourse is in a race to the lowest common denominator. When people who claim to be Christians drop words like unbeliever or heretic almost as a reflex in reference to others online, they run a great risk of sin—and in a public space for lost people to note. We’re the light of the world. If our discourse is filled with negative “prophetic” statements about other people we engage in cyberspace, then that light becomes darkness. Then we scratch our heads when other people say, “No, I don’t want anything to do with your Jesus or your Christian religion.”

If we’re going to be online and discussing difficult topics, engage ideas. Challenge concepts. Dismantle erroneous thinking.

But don’t dismantle people. And for the sake of your own soul, don’t attempt to play diviner into someone else’s spiritual state, especially when that perceived foe states nothing online that would serve as fodder for such pronouncements.

Work Without Meaning–A Response to Gene Veith’s “The Purpose of Work”


Work and life in a cubicleOver at the Gospel Coalition, Gene Veith responds to an article in the New York Times, “What Work Is Really For.” Veith’s “The Purpose of Work” lays out a supposedly Christian response that reads like standard boilerplate: We love our neighbor and love God through our vocational work.

The problem with such standardized answers is that they are cheap and fail to take into account deeper problems. Talk to typical workers today and many of them will state they find little meaning in their work beyond receiving a paycheck. While Veith and company may hold up an ideal of the purpose of work, few people are in a position that reinforces the idea that we love our neighbor and our God through our work.

The reasons for this are many:

1. Our jobs remove us from the transactional. In an agrarian society, the producer of goods interacts directly with buyers. The cattleman sells his cattle to his neighbors. In an economy driven by craftsmen, the artisan sells her goods to a neighbor, who then displays them for other neighbors to see and appreciate. Clothing, jewelry, furniture, art, even homes go from the hand of the craftsman into the hands of the buyer and become readily apparent.The idea Veith champions that an individual loves his neighbor by providing him goods and services is easy to witness in such an economy.

But most workers today don’t witness the fruit of their work. Global conglomerates layer work in such a way that the average worker never interacts with the client. The question of “Who is my neighbor?” is never stronger than in a contemporary work environment. The purpose of work that Veith champions has no reference for most people as a result because the transaction of one individual’s work bettering the life of his neighbor goes unseen.

2. Our economies are now global rather than local. The destruction of cottage industry at the start of the industrial revolution forever changed the breadth of the market. In an expansion of the problem in #1 above, what a worker produces may not even be consumed locally, only by some distant someone. The factory worker in China makes cheap nativity scenes for a large Christian bookstore chain HQed in Dallas, and that thing she produces has no meaning for her because she never sees it displayed locally or even in its proper context.

Because globalism has destroyed the idea of local economies, what a worker makes or provides delivers less meaning than ever into the lives of his or her neighbors. We rarely see the impact of our work on members of our local community. We no longer make the shoes our neighbors wear. We do not sell the chickens our neighbors eat. These items come from some worker far away, someone we have no connection with, no history, no shared experience. And this frustrates Veith’s reasoning enormously.

3. Much of our work has become work for work’s sake. I’ve known people who have worked on projects for a year or more—only to have those projects never see the light of day. Much of work today seems like one worker pushing a rock a mile, only to have her coworker push it back. Government work seems to breed and consume itself, existing solely to sustain bureaucracy. In such environments, all meaning vanishes. We don’t so much work to help our neighbor but work to ensure more work (or to help the faceless conglomerate that has no concept of loyalty to its “neighbor” or even to the people it employs).

4. Many Christians are unwilling to support the professions of neighbors, especially those who make goods by hand. Those in the creative community are all too aware that while we Christians talk a good one about loving our neighbors as ourselves, that love does not extend to commerce. Suggest that the furniture you make by hand is worth its higher cost and righteous scoffers will erupt from the chintzy particleboard of yet more disposable, Chinese-made “woodworks.” I know this is a real issue because I’ve regularly confronted fellow Christians who argue for buying the cheap junk made in a Chinese factory over quality goods made by a fellow believer, even one in their own church. I wonder how much of Gene Veith’s home is decorated with items made—and sold to him—by fellow Christians.

5. Our neighbor is also the one who puts the pink slip on our desk or who takes our job. The way capitalism has degraded in our culture has reduced us to a dog-eat-dog mentality. We love our neighbor when our neighbor loves us. But what of our neighbor downsizing us? What happens when we are let go and replaced with a neighbor who will work for less than we can afford to? That neighbor in Malaysia we were forced to train and who later is given our job—how are we to love him? Yet these are issues many people must face regularly. What is the point of loving one’s neighbor through our work, getting rave performance reviews, then losing our jobs in a massive corporate downsizing? What meaning does unemployment have? And why is it the loneliest people in any church are the unemployed?

I could go on and on. The disconnection of modern work from purpose has never been more stark. In this environment, it should be no surprise that we suffer from so many psychological illnesses. People struggle to find any meaning for their work other than bringing home a paycheck. Who is my neighbor? And how is he benefiting from my work? You and I are struggling to find meaning to the answers our leaders give us.

This is why I find Veith’s response so bland and disconnected from reality. Christians have got to offer better answers than this. While what Veith says may be true in the kind of economy depicted in the Bible, we are no longer that economy. To many people, his answer might as well be how best to appreciate a good buggy whip.

The better question may be how we restore purpose to work by undoing what we can of globalism, returning to more of a local economy, where what you and I make and do for our neighbors can be seen as making a difference in their lives.

To the naysayers, some of this return can be found already in the locavore movement. People choose to eat food produced within a few miles of their homes. This connects neighbors and strengthens communities. Finding better ways to connect neighbor to neighbor through local commerce IS possible, but doing so will require meeting the greatest challenge of all: redoing all aspects of how we think about life and then live it.

The answers to this dilemma are far more difficult to enact than a toss away “your work is a way of loving your neighbor.” Are we Christians up to the challenge of going beyond the surface and into the deeper life?