Sunday, January 12, 2020

This Year I Want to Be More Like Jesus - Updated Version

Lately on social media, I have seen a list of ways to be more like Jesus this coming year. From what I can tell, it was written (or at least popularized) by Craig Greenfield, author of the book Subversive Jesus. In fact, the original Facebook post added the caption "Be like Jesus...Subversive."

This list-meme has gained some popularity, and more than that, it encompasses some fairly popular ideas about Jesus that themselves deserve some analysis.

In light of this, I have decided to endorse the core content of this list. However, I figured I would add a bit to it to clarify each point (my additional comments in parentheses). Why? Because a lot of people can mean a lot of different things when they endorse a list like this. 

Besides, I too can be subversive.

This Year I Want To Be More Like Jesus

- Hang out with sinners (...and lead them to repentance and, therefore, abandoning their former sin: e.g. Luke 15, 19:1-10, cf. Matthew 21:31).

- Upset religious people (...including progressive Christians who like to talk about what “Jesus said/never said” but would brand Him a hateful fundamentalist if they took into account all of His words in the New Testament and His endorsement of the Old Testament).

- Tell stories that make people think (...which includes stories where the protagonist who represents God kills everyone, or where God sends His angels to throw people into hellfire, or where Jesus Himself is the judge who finally condemns the wicked – those are all on the table: Matthew 13:20-30, 36-43, 24:42-51, 25:31-46, Luke 20:9-18).

- Choose unpopular friends ( young-earth creationists, people who still believe that biological sex determines gender or that God designed marriage to be between a man and a woman, and people who hold to biblical inerrancy).

- Be kind, loving, and merciful (...which sometimes includes telling people things that they don’t like in the hopes that it ultimately leads to their betterment: e.g. Luke 13:3, Revelation 3:17-19).

- Take naps on boats (...I can’t argue with that one lol).

Tuesday, December 31, 2019

When Some Doctrines Are Absurd on Their Face - Guaranteed Healing

In this entry on the last day of 2019, I am largely shooting from the hip in reaction to some interactions I have had on Facebook over the last year. But it seemed appropriate, because despite believing in an invisible God who is triune and grants prayers and everything else, I still do have some sense of healthy skepticism.

For that reason, there are times when, just by thinking about it, I can see holes in an idea that claims to be Christian and claims to be biblical. And while a convincing exegetical case for such a doctrine would require an exegetical response, usually that isn’t part of the discussion in these matter. At most, a few passages here and there are presented, clearly out of context or clearly not saying as much as the person presenting them seems to think. And so pointing out the problems even just on the surface of the view can get you a long way.

In this case, I am discussing a belief that is part of the so-called Word of Faith movement and spread about here and there that if you have faith in Jesus, you are guaranteed to be healed if you get sick.

The belief is not just that God may heal you; if you don’t think God acts miraculously then you really aren’t going to like any semblance of biblical Christianity. The belief here is that God will heal you miraculously as long as you have faith that He will.

Underlying this is a general belief that God is good, God heals (as He does many times in the Bible), and so all that keeps you from being cured of cancer or multiple sclerosis or whatever else is your lack of faith.

Now, I should note that this has come up with Bethel Church and a couple there who prayed that God would raise their two-year-old daughter from the dead after she died suddenly. I don’t know much about that case or Bethel Church. My issue is not with the parents of that baby, and I only bring it up because a lot of people reading this will probably be thinking of that. My only commentary there is that God is real, He does do miracles including raising the dead before the resurrection (albeit quite rarely), and I shame no one who asks Him to intervene miraculously – so long as they accept His decision not to grant that request and still worship Him if that is how things pan out.

That said, that story did bring to mind this belief that God always heals (if you have faith) and that it is contrary to who He is to not do so in this life (obviously as a Christian I believe everyone in Christ will be fully healed and live forever with god in the world to come).

Now, it is not just that the Bible gives no guarantees about healing in this life. That is only the beginning of why I reject this doctrine of guarenteed healing.

The real glaring problem with this is the fact that death and suffering apart from natural illness are still things. And all of God’s children, even the most holy and faithful, seem to die before hitting a certain advanced age. Even if they have lived to be 100, there are none who are 1,000 years old. How can it be that there has never every been anyone in history who was faithful and therefore has avoided death?

Does this promise about God always curing the sick if they are faithful only apply to illness, and so therefore every single person who has been holy and faithful has instead died only of accidents and murder? After all, God’s will is that you never get sick...

That must be the case. Either that, or no person has ever been faithful enough to avoid sickness forever. Not even the apostles.

It is believed that at the very least, the apostle John lived to die of old age. But since old age is just another way of describing illness that isn’t specifically diagnosed (no one actually dies of “old age”), did he not have enough faith to be healed and live indefinitely?

But even if we grant that just simply everyone who had enough faith to be healed died of murder or accident, why would the God who wants to bring heaven to earth and heal everyone now still allow them to die (sometimes quite painfully)? If anything, at certain times in history, His most faithful followers have been the most likely to be tortured and murdered. Why would we think that God can, in His sovereignty and wisdom, allow such temporary suffering and death when the temporary suffering of serious illness is out of the question?

What promise of God’s is consistent with death still being part of the world now, so long as it is not from illness? What aspect of God’s love or character is consistent with death being around now but not forever (for those who put their faith in Christ) but requires that illness be gone already?

When I have pressed individuals on this point, they have no answer. They don’t even really attempt one. They just simply accept that they don’t have an answer and just believe what they believe, that God is good so therefore He surely cures all illness if you have faith, and ignore the rest. To them, God guaranteeing healing just makes sense, and nothing else matters.

Unless there is a super-compelling biblical case for this doctrine of healing that I am missing, those who hold this view have to come up with some coherent explanation for why we must assume that God guarantees freedom from illness in this life when death and suffering from other sources is still the norm for everyone, even believers. I am not confident that we will get such an explanation.

Fortunately, as Christians, we do know that any suffering in this life is temporary, as is death for us. The basis for this absurd doctrine of guaranteed healing is the love and the promises of God that will bring us all eternal life. And it is not as though God does not give us a foretaste of the world through miracles even now. We just have to be willing to trust in our heavenly Father and our Savior Jesus Christ in whatever happens in the meantime. God will complete in us the task that He has begun.

So on that note, happy new year :)

Saturday, December 29, 2018

Morality is Hierarchical, Not Absolute (Which Isn’t As Liberal As It Sounds)

One of the most useful ways I have heard moral dilemmas framed was that morality is hierarchical, not absolute.

I got this from an old church community group leader who studied both philosophy and theology and had a lot of very well-reasoned things to say. This was no exception.

Now, this is not to deny that morality is objective. This is not to deny that there is a lawgiver (being God). This doesn't mean that morality is dependent on culture or that there is no actual right and wrong. It just means that sometimes, moral principles will conflict so that you can't follow both of them fully and properly. In these cases, you have to choose to give priority to one over the other, and in doing so, you have not sinned.

Any time that you are in any moral dilemma, this idea of hierarchical morality comes into play, whether you think of it in those terms or not. After all, the whole reason we call it a dilemma is because different moral principles conflict and cannot both be followed.

Biblical Examples

The Bible has many examples, although of the two most interesting to me, one is actually pretty mundane (on the surface, that is). Consider the following two examples:

- The Israelites were tricked into making a treaty with a nation that God had told them to destroy. We see this in Joshua 9 with the Gibeonites. The Israelites were in a moral dilemma. They were commanded not to form a treaty with the Gibeonites, but having been tricked, they certified their treaty with an oath in the name of the Lord. They could not keep their oath without breaking the Lord's command to drive out all the Canaanite nations in the land, or vice versa. Ultimately, they chose to honor their vow (thereby obeying the commandment to keep their vows) at the expense of following the commandment to drive out the Gibeonites.

- In Matthew 12:1-13, Jesus's disciples were accused of sinning because they were picking and eating grain in a field while they walked with Him on the Sabbath. Under the Mosaic Law in the Bible, working on the Sabbath was forbidden.

It was by no means the only time Pharisees got upset about Jesus or His disciples doing things on the Sabbath, and Jesus defended their actions in different ways. For example, in another instance He pointed out that doing certain things are not a sin and, as part of His argument, appealed to the fact that no one bats an eyelash at someone untying a farm animal and leading it to water on the Sabbath (Luke 13:15). But here, Jesus goes a different route: He points to the hierarchical nature of morality.

In this case, Jesus brings up two instances where people were justified despite breaking the written commandment of God. The commands do not have exceptions written in, like modern legal statutes would today. The fact that Jesus would do this should therefore give us pause as believers. If we took an absolute approach to God's commands in scripture, we would have quite a problem. However, when we think of morality as being hierarchical, it isn't a big deal. All moral laws come from God, whether written or not. The written scripture of the Bible is uniquely authoritative because it is more defined and clearer (being written down in words), but all morality is from God just the same. If other moral laws are hierarchical and can at least potentially have exceptions, why would this not be the case just because a moral law is written down?

When His disciples were accused of sin by the Pharisees, the Lord reminded them of when, in the Old Testament, David and his men were in the midst of war and were given consecrated bread from the temple to eat. Although Jesus does not say so explicitly, the fact that He appealed to that instance to defend His disciples implies that they did not sin, even though it was against the Old Testament Law for anyone but priests to eat that bread (Matthew 12:3-4).

Jesus then follows up with how those working in the temple on the Sabbath, in His own words, desecrate that holy day. God commanded that no one should work on the Sabbath (Leviticus 23:3). But Jesus says, explicitly in this case, that they are innocent (Verse 5). They had two conflicting moral principles: follow God's command to not work on the Sabbath or fulfill the command that there be specific temple observances on the day of the Sabbath (e.g Numbers 28:9-10). An absolutist would have no choice but to say that God's law contradicts itself since both laws must always be followed no matter what (which is literally impossible to do). But just as the Jews before Jesus had no qualms about Levites working in God's sanctuary on Saturdays for over 1,000 years before Jesus came, here Jesus simply declares the innocence of those who rightly put one moral principle over another.

Other Examples

There are examples we can easily think of outside the Bible as well. Most serious Christians think sex outside of marriage is a sin, and most professing Christians (and many non-Christians) think adultery is wrong. However, most of us would say that if a married woman is threatened with a gun or a knife by a rapist and submits, she is not guilty of the sin of adultery. An absolutist would be in quite a pickle because such a woman technically had a choice. She wasn't physically bound. She could have chosen to resist and face almost certain death, rather than having sex with the rapist. She technically chose to have sex with a man other than her husband over getting killed. 

Nevertheless, no reasonable person would ever say the woman was guilty of any sin. It wouldn't even be a difficult moral determination. It is only a moral dilemma in the strictest, most literal sense of the term. We would say, without question, that she is completely innocent. But we can only say that because morality is hierarchical, and therefore, the extraordinary circumstances justified her actions.

Many real-life examples are not nearly so easy and clear-cut, but the same idea applies. Whether you are deciding whether or not to lie to protect someone, whether you're not sure if you should blow the whistle on wrongdoing at work when doing so could jeopardize your job or even the whole company, whether you're unsure of whether your nonprofit should accept that donation from a questionable source, there are many times where our duties and other moral principles conflict and the right choice will necessarily mean fulfilling some and not others.

Morality Is Still Objective and Divine

Some may confuse this with morality not being objective, as though there is no true moral law. But that is not true. There is a real, objective moral lawgiver, being God. It is just that principles are somewhat broad and we have to properly apply them to specific instances. In specific instances, if we could read God’s mind, we would know exactly what to do in that specific case. In each instance, the right thing to do is absolute. The point is that with any issue, you cannot simply consider one principle and ignore the others that are relevant. Even if the decision is easy and the right action is obvious, there probably is one principle that took a back seat to an obviously more important principle in that case.

Some might say this line of thinking is situational ethics and is therefore bad. But “situational ethics” is a bit of a nebulous term. In the broadest sense, yes, ethics are situational. But in that broad sense, we have the Bible to point to as affirming that yes, circumstances do affect what course of action is morally right and what is morally wrong. And even those who raise the specter of situational ethics will, in practice, acknowledge that an act that is wrong in one situation can be right in another. Many of them, for example, would agree that killing a human being is a terrible thing to do. In most situations, it is murder, a sin and a crime that should be severely punished. However, if that human being has a gun and is about to kill innocent hostages, killing that person is made right and justified (i.e not a sin) because of the…let’s say it together…situation.

The fact is, even those who take very absolute positions on things are ultimately working within a hierarchical moral framework anyway. Some see a command in scripture and say that therefore it is (as they interpret its meaning) always to be followed absolutely, no matter what. But they are simply putting that particular command above every other command and moral principle. And when moral dilemmas do come, they can cite the moral principle or explicit scriptural command that they followed until the cows come home as if it is the only thing that matters, but they ultimately chose that principle and the corresponding course of action over other moral principles that they surely had acknowledged at some point in the past.

For example, someone who believes a Christian must never, ever kill another human being under any other circumstances and who therefore refuses to use lethal force to stop the killing of others is putting one principle (killing is bad) over another (e.g. love your neighbor as yourself, love your wife as your own body, protect the innocent, etc.). And a believer who does intervene with lethal force is putting the latter principles over the former. Whether they consciously thought about it in the moment they made their decision is not the point. The point is that there were other principles at play whether they thought about it or not.

What about situations commonly posed by Christian apologists as absolutes, such as the common claim that it is always wrong to torture a small child just for the fun of it? Such scenarios, I believe, do illustrate that there is objective morality. In no cultural context and in no situation would it ever be morally acceptable to torture a small child for the fun of it. I don’t think any reasonable person can truly say there is no such thing as objective morality in light of that scenario. Some things just simply are wicked.

However, that scenario is not a broad principle, but rather a specific application of moral principles to a specific situation. That scenario already assumes the fact that there is no moral principle in favor of torturing a small child other than the principle that people should be allowed to have fun. And while the principle that people should be allowed to have fun is an important principle, the moral principles of “children need to be loved and nurtured” and “torturing people is bad” clearly outweigh it! It is an easy decision, obviously, But it still is hierarchical.

Application Outside of Questions of Pure Morality

In much of western civilization, but especially the United States, there is a lot of discussion about people's rights. Properly understood, all rights come from God and government can neither create rights to take them away. Government is supposed to protect the rights of its people. For this reason, especially in the United States, governing national constitutions affirm certain rights that the people have over the power of the government.

This matter is not purely a moral matter, as it pertains to human institutions trying to apply what is right and wrong, as far as they have a role in it, and not what is actually right and wrong itself. But since we do have a concept of individual rights, especially in the USA where our constitution has a whole section on them, the concept of morality being hierarchical also applies to individual rights. Rights are also hierarchical.

For example, in the United States, our constitution affirms that every person has the right to follow their conscience and practice their religious beliefs apart from any non-divine government using its coercive force to interfere. The first amendment to the constitution prohibits government from infringing on the free exercise of a persons religion, with no exceptions listed. The point is not that all religions are right or good (obviously I don't think they are), but that is to be between the individual and God.

At the same time, every person also has a right to life and to not have their life taken by another person. So with that in mind, imagine if a Islamic extremist determines that following his religion (at least as he understands it) means he must kill his daughter who abandoned Islam when she went to college. It is impossible for the government to avoid infringing on his free exercise of religion and to also protect her right to life. In this case, of course, any civilized government would not permit the man to kill his daughter because her right to life clearly and obviously outweighs his right to religious freedom. But while it was an easy decision, it still was one person's rights taking precedence over another, just as moral principles sometimes do.


Honestly, I’m not even trying to make any groundbreaking points here. I just think that when you start thinking of morality being hierarchical, it allows the moral intuitions we already have to make sense. For many, especially Christians, we think of moral laws and principles as rigid principles that can never be broken - except then we do break them and cannot explain why it was the right thing to do even though we know it was. Framing morality this way, as being hierarchical, gives us an intellectual explanation for what can seem hard to explain. And it probably will allow us to better think through moral dilemmas we might come across in our lives.

So, that's I had to say there, at least for now. Happy New Year!

Sunday, April 8, 2018

Churches, Taxes, and Nonprofit Treatment

Every so often, the issue of tax-exemptions for churches and religious organizations in the United States comes up and raises a bit of ire. Of course, at least for the time being, it usually comes up because of an occasional meme floating around Facebook and Twitter, and not because of serious attempts by those in government to call the tax exemptions of religious organizations into question.

But what about tax exemption of churches and religious organizations? Isn’t this unfair special treatment? Shouldn’t pastors have to pay taxes on their income?

My goal here is to explain a bit about tax exemption for religious organizations, clear up a few misunderstandings, and hopefully improve the conversation about how to handle taxes and religious organizations by getting us all on some common understanding about the situation.

The first thing to note is that when we talk about tax-exemptions for churches and other religious organizations, really two different tax statuses are at play, not just one.

Tax-Exempt Status: Tax-Exemption At The Entity Level

The broader category of tax exemption applies at the entity level. And in this regard, there is nothing special about churches and religious organizations at all. Many kinds of organizations fit the requirements are tax-exempt. Others include secular charities, universities, political organizations, Elks lodges, sports leagues, labor unions, fraternal societies and many other kinds of organizations. It is not a matter of privilege for churches but simply fair treatment (although the Constitution does arguably create a degree of privilege due to the First Amendment’s protection of religious freedom). To not give them tax-exemption at the entity level would be to discriminate against these organizations specifically because they are religious.

What then does it mean for an entity to be tax-exempt? This tax-exemption means that an organization that is tax-exempt does not have to calculate income and pay taxes on it like a for-profit business. A normal business takes in money (revenue) in exchange for goods and services, subtracts money paid out in the course of business (expenses), and if revenue exceeds expenses, the business has earned a profit (net income) and pays an income tax on that net income. How this plays out depends on the type of business entity (sole proprietorship, partnership, corporation, etc.), but you get the idea. Tax-exempt entities, however, do not pay taxes on this net income.

Why do tax-exempt entities not pay taxes on that income? The general rule is that these organizations do not exist to earn a profit, and profits they do earn stay in the organization instead of being paid out to owners or stockholders. These organizations don’t even have owners or stockholders to give profits to in the first place.

For a normal business, there is an owner or owners/stockholders who are entitled to the net assets of the company and the net income earned. If a corporation has a great year and earns huge profits, those profits can be paid out to the owners (stockholders) in the form of dividends. For a not-for-profit entity, there are no stockholders. You can’t buy or sell a share in the organization. The assets and income don’t belong to you or anyone else. They have to stay with the organization itself, and there are laws about what such organizations must do with net assets (after they pay their debts) if the organization dissolves. And if a nonprofit organization were to start paying out large amounts of its net income to interested parties (beyond the extent of reasonable wages for services rendered), kind of like a for-profit business paying dividends to its shareholders, the organization could potentially get in trouble with the government and even lose their tax-exempt status.

All that is to say that there is criteria for being tax-exempt at the entity level, and churches and religious organizations generally meet it (there are explicitly for-profit religious organizations that pay taxes but that is another story). So even apart from any argument in favor of granting them special privileges on First Amendment grounds, as some do, exempting a nonprofit entity like a church from business income taxes just makes good sense based on the rules in place. To argue that because they are religious they should not get the tax benefits that other similar organizations get is to actively discriminate against them, not simply decline from giving them special privileges.

Additional Tax-Exempt Status: Tax-Deductible Contributions to the Organizations

Now, there is an additional tax benefit beyond just tax exemption that religious organizations can use, and this benefit is more limited (although it still applies to many types of secular organizations as well).

Churches and religious organizations can receive an advantage reserved specifically under the Internal Revenue Code §501(c)(3). You have probably heard the term “501(c)(3)” before, and this is what it refers to. If you donate to an organization under IRC §501(c)(3), not only does the organization not have to pay income on its net proceeds (donations minus expenses), but those who make contributions get to deduct the money they donate from their taxable income (subject to several limitations). Since income tax in the US is based on taxing percentages of your taxable income, the lower your taxable income is, the less tax you have to pay. This reduction in taxable income helps make up for some of the cost of donating to the organization, and this encourages people to donate. This, in turn, benefits the 501(c )(3) organization by increasing donations to them.

For example, let’s say somebody donates $1,000 to a 501(c)(3) organization. They can deduct that $1,000 from their taxable income. If their marginal tax rate is 25%, they would have paid $250 in tax on that $1,000 had they not deducted it. This means that they get $250 back on their taxes because they donated. As a result, that $1,000 donation really only cost them $750 ($1,000-$250). So if they only had $750 to give, they could give $1,000 due to the tax benefit. This means the organization got $250 than they otherwise would have. That is a pretty useful tax benefit for an organization that depends on donations.

Religious organizations are specified under IRC §501(c)(3), so if you are a church or a synagogue or mosque or theology organization or whatever else, you can apply for 501(c)(3) status and donations to you can be tax-deductible to those who give.

Now, this benefit is not only reserved for religious organizations. IRC §501(c)(3) is one giant sentence, but it also includes educational organizations (e.g. universities), amateur sports (e.g. kid’s soccer), charities (religious and secular), organizations that pursue scientific research, and organizations that exist for the prevention of cruelty to animals. The basic idea being, if it is an organization that in some manner is used to benefit public welfare, people should be encouraged by the tax code to donate to them.

Here, one might argue that even if religious organizations should have tax-exemption out of fairness, it should not get this special designation. Fairness does not require it to the extent that it requires simply tax-exemption at the entity level.

That said, I think the benefits of IRC §501(c)(3) are broadly applied enough that it makes sense to include religious organizations. Contrary to popular belief, the 501(c)(3) benefit is not only for charities that feed the hungry and clothe the poor (although many churches and religious organizations do that as a part of their work). Because it applies to all sorts of entities that can have a broader, less defined benefit to society (like kid’s sports or a university that teaches some person I don’t know about classical philosophy), religious organizations would seem to fit the bill.

One might argue that because religion is controversial, and different religions conflict in their teachings, religious organizations broadly should not be considered beneficial to society, even if one religion is actually true. However, with other organizations and causes, there is no requirement under the code that entities all teach the same things or do not conflict with each other in their beliefs or even in their actions. That is why conservative and liberal universities alike are covered. That is why Feminists for Life and National Right to life are 501c(3) organizations but so is Planned Parenthood. And that is why even pro-atheism organizations like American Atheists and The Freedom from Religion Foundation are 501(c)(3) organizations with all the same tax benefits as everyone else here. The tax code lets the different, conflicting groups all have the tax benefit and lets the people decide whom they think is worth donating to.

It Is Not True That Pastors and Clergy Are Exempt From Paying Taxes

Some people think that pastors do not pay taxes, but that is simply inaccurate. Like the employees of any tax-exempt entity, their income is still subject to income tax like everyone else’s.  Insofar as the money taken in by tax-exempt organizations is paid to employees, that money is taxed in the form of individual income tax levied upon the employee who earns it. Money just isn’t taxed at the organization level when the organization earns it (as it would be in a for-profit corporation).

Now, because of the unusual nature of a clergy job (not just Christian), there are certain tax provisions that apply specifically to them. And there can be some benefits to this. For example, for some clergy (not just Christian), sometimes a church or similar entity can provide housing or a housing allowance, subject to limits, and the clergyman does not have to report this as taxable income. Clergy are not the only sort of employee who get some form of employer-covered housing that is not subject to income tax, but this is certainly a great potential tax benefit to being a pastor.

Despite some benefits, pastors do still have to pay income taxes like everyone else. So while a handful of charlatans may make millions of dollars by lying to people in the name of religion, they still have to pay taxes on it – no matter what those memes you saw on Facebook say.

Churches are tax-exempt. Pastors are not.

Churches and Religious Organizations Actually Do Pay Some Taxes

Churches and religious nonprofits can get out of income tax at the federal level and probably in most (if not all) states. However, they may be subject other forms of taxation common to businesses.

For example, most religious nonprofits have to withhold and remit FICA taxes (Social Security and Medicare) and also pay a matching amount on their employees’ behalf, same as every other employer. Churches specifically have some unique rules when it comes to FICA, but most will have to at least pay the standard employer portion of FICA taxes for any non-minister employees.

Churches and religious nonprofits may also be subject to sales tax and other taxes levied at the state level. As you might imagine, this varies by state.

Nonprofits, including churches, can also potentially owe tax on what is called unrelated business income (UBI). In a nutshell, if a nonprofit engages in a trade or business beyond what is incidental to their mission, they may be required to pay taxes on the income earned. This doesn’t come up too often with churches, as there are exemptions and threshold requirements (the first $1,000 of otherwise taxable UBI is not taxed). But a nonprofit cannot create or buy a business arm and expect to be able to engage in that trade with no taxes. So a church couldn’t create a clothing line or buy an ice cream shop and expect to not have to pay taxes on what is clearly business income.

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Do Millennials Delay Adulthood Because We Have Been Told So Often About How Terrible Adulthood Is?

It is no secret that those in my generation, the millennial generation, have been known for trying to extend adolescence and the simple joys of youth well past the point where past generations would have settled down, married and had kids, and otherwise started doing things we associate with being a real grownup.

Of course, this is by no means universal and is probably overplayed. But it does seem true that it is more common for people in my generation to delay things like marriage, child-bearing, home ownership, and other milestones of adulthood. The trope of men in their late twenties or early thirties who go to work in the day to pay the bills and then return to the apartment or house they share with multiple roommates and play video games until bed is not based on nothing.

The other day I saw something, a meme specifically, that got me thinking: could part of the reason millennials aren't so quick to fill the traditional roles adulthood (marriage, kids, demanding career) is because older generations have been so quick to tell millennials how terrible life is when you get older? From our pessimistic parents lamenting how life is just always out to get you, to older adults taunting younger adults about life only gets way harder, could it be that somewhere along the line, younger people just got to thinking that if older people seem so unhappy, maybe it makes sense to not live like older people do? If all you hear about marriage is how much married people don't like each other and either tolerate each other or get divorced, might that take some of the luster out of marriage? If all you hear about having kids is how hard and draining and life-consuming it is, is it crazy to think that maybe it isn't for you? If all we heard is how much it sucks to adult, then is it any wonder why we aren't so quick to start adulting?

I mean, there are surely other factors to take into account. The great recession and broader economic declines that began even before it have made it much more difficult for millennials to get a real job and get their lives going. Helicopter parenting and participation trophy culture have created more and more young adults who have trouble dealing with disappointment. The decline of Judeo-Christian values and religion in America surely comes into play. Marriage seems less necessary when pre-marital sex is acceptable - although we can largely thank baby boomers and to some extent their parents for making this so. And there's also simply the fact that as people live longer and the world changes, it makes sense and isn't necessarily a bad thing that people don't jump fully into complete adulthood at as young of an age. In ancient times, it was normal to marry and have kids in your early to mid teens because life expectancy was low and the world was a different place. But no one is stressing about women being old maids because they are unmarried at age 20 because what worked then isn't what works now.

Nevertheless, I think the pessimism and negativity of baby boomers plays into it as well. Why wouldn't it? If all you ever hear growing up is how life will just make you miserable, how the best days of your life are when you're young and can play video games all day, how being an adult with kids and responsibilities to others sucks, why would you be eager to jump into that world. The same people in their 50s and 60s who think they are so clever with memes addressing young people saying "life hasn't even begun to f**k you over yet" are the same people who lament that people in their mid-twenties choose to live a different life than they did. If life is so much better when you have no kids and live with roommates and play video games after work, why should we be shocked that people in their mid-twenties do that instead of marrying the first person who will take them and start having kids at age 22 because of some vague societal expectations that don't even really exist anymore?

Of course, perhaps life isn't actually better living with roommates and playing video games. Although that life is easier and more fun, maybe being a real grownup and getting married and having kids and following that path actually makes life more worth living. Maybe just because life gets harder when you have kids and get married doesn't mean that life doesn't also get better. Some older people (older than me at 28 I mean) have said as much to me. Maybe if the attitude was more along the lines of "the best things in life take work and sacrifice to have" and less "you may think life sucks now but this is the best it will ever be," millennials might be more willing to follow int he footsteps of past generations. Maybe if the same people who lament millennials waiting to grow up more than is necessary weren't the same people taunting millennials with how life only gets worse as you grow up, maybe millenials would be more eager to grow up?

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Prolepsis and the Bible: When Future Events Are Spoken of As Current Reality

There are times when future events are described as being present realities. This is true in life and in the scriptures. And this is especially important when evaluating any argument made that because the Bible speaks of something in the present tense, it therefore is saying that whatever is being spoken of is in fact a present reality.

The technical name for this phenomenon is prolepsis. The idea behind prolepsis is quite simple. Merriam-Webster defines it primarily as “the representation or assumption of a future act or development as if presently existing or accomplished.”

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

How To Be Convicted Without It Being Meaningless

If you've been in church for a while, you may be familiar with people talking about being convicted about things. Rather than describing part a criminal proceeding, it refers to when someone has a deeply felt moral view, regarding a specific issue. Sometimes it comes with feelings of guilt leading to repentance. Other times, it is less a matter of guilt and more a strong, heart-felt sense that God has opened your eyes. Whatever the case, people talk about being convicted all the time after hearing certain sermons, reading certain books, having certain experiences etc. Last Sunday at my church, there was a sermon on the book of Amos so I can only imagine how many times the word "convicted" has been used int he last 24 hours by people I know.

Sometimes, people getting convicted is great. Sometimes, it leads to repentance of sin, spiritual growth, righteous deeds, and other very good things. Who knows what good fruit will arise from Sunday's Amos sermon?

And sometimes, people feeling that they are convicted is meaningless. Sometimes it is little more than guilt for the sake of guilt that doesn't lead to any fruit at all. In some cases, this so-called conviction, which is supposed to be from God, never could lead to any fruit in the first place - at least not fruit that resolves the underlying issue which the person was convicted about.