Sunday, July 13, 2014

Philosophy of Revenge

There are few words in the English language that carry as much emotion and imagery as the word revenge. Entire movies and books are based on this idea and many of them are considered classics. In The Count of Monte Cristo, the main character, Edmond Dantès, is falsely accused of treason and sent to prison where his entire young life is ruined. After escaping prison and finding a treasure, he becomes hell bent on exacting his revenge upon those who wronged him. We watch a movie like this completely hooked while sympathizing with the victim. But why? Why do stories of revenge captivate us? Why are so many of us often motivated by it?

I begin by presenting four hypotheticals which will set up my case:

1.       Imagine driving down a city road when you notice in your rearview mirror a large truck tailgating you. You are already doing 10mph over the speed limit. The truck then passes you, but immediately turns into a gas station a block down the road. He turns slowly which forces you to apply your brakes suddenly. Infused with anger, you pull into the gas station and curse him out.

2.       A friend who owes you $1,000 has decided to go back on his word. Since you gave him cash, you cannot prove that you lent him money. Knowing where he lives, you destroy his car by slashing the tires, breaking off the mirrors, and smashing the front windshield.

3.       You decide to surprise your wife with an early visit after a long tour in Afghanistan. Entering your house, you find your wife in bed with another man. Red with anger, you beat the man mercilessly and proceed to destroy all of your wife’s belongings.

4.       Your only daughter was killed by a drunk driver. You await the verdict against the killer only to hear the judge say he isn’t guilty due to a technicality in the investigation. Unable to hold onto your sanity, you follow the man to his house and shoot him to death on his lawn.

Despite the increasing intensity of each example, there is a clear pattern that all of them share. The situation begins with an offense or the feeling that one was wronged. What follows is an act of revenge. Immediately we enter into the realm of morality and justice or, as I prefer to use, ethics. Morality deals with the reality and knowledge of good and evil, right and wrong. Justice deals with rewards and punishments for either adhering or failing to adhere to the moral law; it seeks to right a wrong. Using the aforementioned examples, we can spot the moral nuggets contained within them. It’s obvious that road rage, failing to pay back your debt, infidelity (cheating), and lethal drunk driving are all wrong actions. ‘You’ were clearly wronged in each example. However, has justice been served in each case?

Revenge, contrary to avenge, is personal. It is issued by the victim to correct a wrong done to the victim, rather than correcting a wrong done to another person. Revenge appoints the victim into the judge, the jury, and executioner. However, what does justice say about all this? Does revenge have justice’s blessing? It’s here where the difficulties arise. To introduce my point, I offer a different take on the previous examples:

          1.* The driver tailgating you was speeding in order to make it to the hospital to witness the birth of his first child. After passing you, he noticed his tank was empty and suddenly decided to pull into the gas station.

          2* Your friend who borrowed $1,000 used the money to pay for his sick mother’s hospital bills. He recently lost his job and is no longer able to pay you back.

          3.* Your wife found out about the affair you had overseas with a female soldier. Distraught, she turned to her coworker whose advice led to an affair.

          4.* The drunk driver who killed your only daughter lost his wife and two sons a week before in a fire caused by faulty wiring that he installed in his house. Depressed and full of guilt, he went to the bar to drink his troubles away.

                With these clarifications in place, was your revenge warranted? Was justice served? It’s a rather tricky thing to answer, for now there seems to be both perspectives available. Although these clarifications might not take away from the fact that you’ve been wronged, a little sympathy is owed to the offenders. This should tell us all something about revenge: We simply aren’t in the position to know all the relevant variables. We, as finite beings, are limited to the present moment. It’s impossible to know another person’s circumstances when that particular offense happened. Yet we are quick to make the situation into an unforgivable, unforgettable, offense. “No, they need to pay for what they did to me! How dare them!”

                There is nothing wrong with demanding justice. In fact, recognizing the moral law forces us to recognize the evil in the world and the fact that it needs to be dealt with. However, pretending to know why the offense happened, the offender’s intentions and circumstances, is highly presumptuous. To make matters worse, we want to issue a punishment on top of all our ignorance. Why is smashing your friend’s car justice when you lack most of the relevant data about the situation? Are you that supreme in your thoughts to know that smashing your friend’s car is worth the $1,000 that they owed you? More than likely this punishment of yours set your friend back so much that the damages far outweigh the inconvenience they gave you. I sense a bias in favor of oneself, which is a prime reason why we shouldn’t presume to pursue revenge.

                I’m speaking ideally here, for I recognize the reality of short tempers and other human shortcomings. Of course, we all do what I claim we shouldn’t do. There have been countless times I’ve wanted to pay back a wrong done to me, often in a harsher way than I received. None of us want to be trampled on. None of us want to feel inferior. But we have to come to the realization that we aren’t solving anything by having short tempers and exacting revenge upon others. It causes an unending cycle of hatred and self-serving justice, which turns out not to be justice at all. Revenge is after a feeling, a type of personal vindication that convinces us that we are our own masters. This leads me to a greater point.

                Revenge is despair. It is a form of hopelessness that needs justice now, on our own terms. From this, I argue, that revenge is godless because it lacks faith in God’s goodness and justice. It’s as if revenge is saying, “If I don’t pay back this evil then this wrongdoer will get away with it.” But this is precisely why revenge is hopelessness. It’s the same as saying, “I don’t trust in God to bring about a greater good and to vindicate me.” If this sounds farfetched, consider what would happen if a police officer, some witnesses, and a judge were present at the time the offense was committed against you. Would you not throw up your hands, look at the judge, and point your finger at the offender as soccer players do when a player on the opposing team pushes another player? None of us would lift a finger because we want to be presented as blameless in front of the onlooking court. You wouldn’t punch, curse at, or destroy the property of the offender because you would have faith that the court would deal with him. In fact, nothing would make us more at ease knowing there is a police officer nearby when thugs approach to mug you.

                But we rarely act like the judge is present at the time of the offense. This is because we are in a state of despair, and consequently a state of faithlessness. God is everywhere and is aware of everything that goes on in this world. He knows when you are in trouble, and He certainly knows when another human being trespasses against you. It’s important to listen to St. Paul when he says, “Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” (Romans 12:19) It is God that possesses the knowledge and goodness necessary to avenge you, but He may not do it on your time. Why? Only God knows, but what I can say is that He promises that he has fixed a day in which all will have to give an account of their lives, and a day in which all evil will be punished. This is at the heart of what the Lord spoke: “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.” Again, none of us would lift a finger if a court was present at the time of the offense. Likewise, we ought to believe that God witnesses each trespass and have faith that we will be avenged and vindicated.

                I don’t present this as if it’s easy. It’s one thing to talk and another thing to do, I know. Very few of us would let a stranger hit us, because we fear pain, theft, or any kind of evil another human being can inflict upon us. But this should reinforce the idea that many of us are lacking and have much to improve upon. Faith is never automatic or easy, but instead requires steadfast prayer and communication with God. Am I saying that a Christian who fights off an attacker is a false believer? No. But he certainly needs to develop the heart of a martyr. The Pagan onlookers were in amazement at the steadfast faith the Christians had when they were executed by the thousands. The martyrs acted as if God was right there with them, and in fact He was. Why put up a fight as though you have something to lose? I end with St. Paul:

What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written,

“For your sake we are being killed all the day long;
we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.

“No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8: 31-39)

Sunday, July 6, 2014

The Place of Religion in American Society


A Brief Comment on Religion and Postmodern Contempt

     Now that I am finished with my practical education in welding technology, I can return to my impractical studies of philosophy and theology. After all, according to many atheistic commentators, or even just whimsical and overly sarcastic commentators in general, philosophy and theology are the weakest of disciplines. However, this rarely brings a tear to my eye, but rather invokes an inner sigh as I reflect upon how confused our culture has become. I'm happy that I've taken a break from the blog world, as it has allowed me to sit quietly and carefully observe the 'mood' of our times.

    I've gathered much from my observations and it shouldn't shock you to find that I am disappointed with where we are heading. The emotionalism that flows through young adults is disturbing. I can't think of a single outspoken person aligned with the progressive movement who doesn't resort to calling anyone opposed to their grand vision as being 'bigoted', 'intolerant', 'on the wrong side of history', 'fundamental', 'extremist', etc. They have assumed that their position is true and common sense, which consequently shuts off most routes for constructive dialogue. Yes, we all start from some worldview as our assumption, but when that worldview sees 'constructive dialogue' as a threat, something hateful, then all sorts of dangerous absurdities begin to arise. [That last sentence is aimed at some Christians as well.]

     Thanks to the current 'mood' of our times, the terms 'religion' and 'religious' carry an unfashionably negative connotation. When many think of religion they think of oppression, power hunger, hypocrisy, hatred, rational suppression, and false piety. Religion is blamed for mass atrocities, illiteracy, close-mindedness, and halting social progress. On and on the accusations go, but the fundamental problem with all these criticisms arise from a complete lack of understanding of what the word 'religion' means.

     A religion is not, despite the common rhetoric, a blanketed shotgun term. Rarely does it make sense to use the word in such a way. Islam and Buddhism share almost nothing in common, yet the all-knowing commentators will use the word religion to describe both in a single critiquing stroke. The last time I checked, truth excludes and each religion makes various, often contradictory, truth claims about reality. For example, the sentence "Jesus Christ died on a cross" is either true or false. Islam is inclined to think the latter option is correct. Christianity, obviously, would maintain the former option. Which is true? A "free-thinking" progressive person might evade the question all together and erroneously suggest that all religions teach the same thing and only differ in emotional expression.  For the postmodern disciple "Jesus Christ died on a cross" is really an emotional expression which gives the believer purpose. This is a safe thing to say as it appears to agree with Christianity and as a result avoids hostile confrontations, yet is only camouflaged sophistry.

    Am I being bigoted when I say that Jesus Christ died on the cross, rose from the dead, is seated at the right hand of God, is the Son of God, and is the only way to come to God and receive forgiveness? Again, the postmodern disciple will attempt to relativize my claims. "No, no, what Max really means to say is that Jesus was a wise man who taught many moral things and who also gives him a purpose in life." Surely, I cannot utter such an offensive claim as suggesting that only Christianity is true! Well, I am and I did. I mean what I say to the dismay of progressives.

   I'm not merely stating what makes me 'feel good' or gives me purpose. Obviously I know my own intentions more than anyone else could possibly know (more on this later). So to reduce what I say into emotional, subjective, babble is more offensive than proposing that what I believe is false. I respect the person who disagrees wholeheartedly with Christianity and is bold enough to call it false. They are in no way being bigoted or hateful towards me. My faith isn't above criticism or evaluation, but it certainly is above the unwarranted contempt and lazy analysis by the progressive movement.

Defining Religion

    What is the difference between a philosophy of life and a religion? It's rare to ever get a straight answer on this topic from my opposition. That's telling. To start, both are worldviews, that is, a web of interconnected beliefs that make claims about reality as a whole. A philosophy of life is a worldview that is derived from within the sphere of reason. They often are developed over many years of trail and error, success and failure. Philosophies of life can even include a personal ethic or even a model to achieve personal happiness. A religion might contain some or all of what a philosophy of life has. However, one property separates them: A religion is a worldview which bases its core claims on revelation.

     Revelation is simply revealed information by another person. This includes everything from intentionality, subjective preferences, points of view, emotions; basically everything that's necessary to know what it's like to be, for example, Maxon Bruno. Despite what materialists claim, the brain does not equal the mind. I have privileged access to my thoughts and intentions. My thought about an apple does not equal a certain firing of neurons in my brain, because chemical properties are not the same as mental properties, however arranged or expressed. Due to this reality, reason (science) cannot have direct access to this knowledge. There is no way to prove scientifically, for example, that my intentions for giving money to a homeless person was to honor God rather than trying to score a date with an attractive humanitarian watching from a distance.

     Faith is the means by which we believe in revelation. I have faith that you will fulfill your promise, or faith in your good intentions. I typically don't like reducing faith into a mere trust in something. A scientist doesn't have faith that a certain chemical reaction will take place, because he stands in a direct observable relation to the reaction such that he could have access to all the relevant  variables. Probabilities are within the realm of reason, not faith. I would even hesitate to use faith for our philosophical presuppositions, such as the belief that the external world exists. I cannot help but be appeared to in a fashion which makes me believe that the external world exists. No, faith ought to be reserved for the invisible, the hidden. When you say that you love me, I believe it on faith even if reason helps me get to that cliff's edge by factoring in your previous reliability.

     Religious revelation is similar to this, albeit in a stronger sense. God is a person, and He therefore has privileged access to His thoughts, desires, and intentions. It is not through reason that we come to know God, but only through faith in His revelation. This might be tweaked depending on the religion in question. For example, a Hindu pantheist might express this differently, because they might not see God as a person. However, in terms of the Judeo-Christian worldview, God has revealed Himself, personally, via Scripture. Therefore, the Bible isn't merely book about ethical teachings as hasty progressives assume, but primarily about who God is, what He has done, and what He plans on doing.

Religion in Our Society

     Now that I've explained what religion entails, I can proceed to relate it to our present culture. As I mentioned before, there is a sour opinion of religion in the minds of progressives. Ironically, this contempt is aimed almost exclusively at Christianity. When was the last time that Hindus were condemned in American politics? When was the last time a Buddhist was slammed for his stance on a social issue? Islam occasionally enters the spotlight, but it's usually softened in a politically correct way by reminding us how peaceful it is at its core. Christianity is left to the front lines mainly due to its evangelistic emphasis.

     I begin with a question: Is it wrong for a Christian to use his or her Christianity as a compass when voting for laws and bills? Those who say no often point to the idea of the separation of church and state. According to them, religion has no place in politics. Fair enough. However, I ask one more question in turn: Is it wrong for a secular humanist to use his or her humanism as a compass when voting for laws and bills? Ah, it isn't such an easy answer if you denied Christians that right, isn't it? The truth of the matter is that we all operate on worldviews which guide our actions and literally how we see the world. Humanism makes just as many claims about reality as Christianity does. Even if progressives aren't operating on humanism, the point remains whether you are a naturalist, a spiritualist, or any other 'ist'.

     Is this denial of religion in politics stemming from a bias against the supernatural and the idea of revelation? That's it? So humanism is the default position? But why? Contrary to their claims, however, the 1st Amendment disagrees with this. No where does the 1st Amendment claim that a politician is forbidden to use her Christianity as a compass in her decisions. In fact, the 1st Amendment recognizes the freedom of speech. It only forbids the government from establishing a state church or making Christianity, for example, the unchallengeable presupposition of our government. The government cannot sponsor one religion by hanging banners which state something like, "In Jesus Christ we trust."

    The context of the 1st Amendment is easily demonstrated by how the Founding Fathers interpreted it. John Jay (1745-1829), the first chief justice of the United States, was an outspoken Christian. He used his Christianity as a compass for his decisions. Are we to believe that he smuggled himself into the Judicial system against the wishes of the 1st Amendment? He and many others were around when the 1st Amendment was drafted, and in none of their commentaries did they suggest that religious belief was forbidden in politics. Therefore, the modern extremist view of many progressives is simply false.

     Due to this religious ignorance and bias, there is a progressive hypocrisy in our culture. The moment Christian-based laws are implemented, they weep and cry "theocracy!", "religious oppression!", "Stop shoving your religion down our throats!" But what do they think they are doing when humanistic laws are being implemented? Marching towards a social utopia? No, if Christians are shoving their religion down other people's throats when passing "Christian" laws, then humanists are shoving their humanism down other's throats as well. They can kick and cry all they want, but at the end of the day democracy cannot accommodate everyone's worldviews equally.

A Brief Refutation of the Huffington Post in Light of What Has Been Discussed Thus Far

     An article appeared in the Huffington Post entitled 8 Other Laws That Can Be Ignored Now That Christians Get To Pick And Choose by Ryan Grim. It's a rather snarky and condescending article filled with all the ignorance I just mentioned. You can read it in full here: .

    Ryan Grim opens by explaining the Hobby Lobby controversy. The retail chain, Hobby Lobby, found that it shouldn't have to supply its employees with abortion inducing 'contraceptives'. This stands against the Obama administration's mandate that requires companies to supply contraceptives, regardless of the deeply held beliefs of the owners. The high court ruled in favor of Hobby Lobby.

     Grim sarcastically adds, "Their deeply held religious belief that some particular form of contraception is immoral carries more weight than the force of law." I believe this misses the point, however. The majority of Christians are in agreement, and rightfully so, that aborting a fertilized human egg is killing a human essence, and therefore is tantamount to homicide. It should be added, briefly, that this isn't strictly a religious objection for there are many who are against most forms of abortion who share no religious affiliation at all. Regardless, I wonder what Grim would do if the law commanded him to report Jewish activity, knowing that by doing so it would lead to their arrests and executions. Would his "deeply held" moral beliefs carry more weight than the force of the law? I certainly hope so, for not all laws are moral laws. We only have to take a trip back to Nazi lane in order for us to remember that no society is immune from immoral laws.

     The hypocrisy in Grim's post comes about by recognizing that not even his worldview, if implemented politically, would accommodate all 'deeply held' beliefs. So ultimately his point is mute and uninteresting. He offers no solutions to his own grievances, because I suspect that if he did then he'd realize his own hypocrisy in the process. He appears to be another (atheist?) progressive attempting to rig the political chessboard by purchasing the rights to the words "bigot", "extremist", "religion", and "intolerance". But I suppose it's just Christians who fight dirty?

    It should be added that the word 'contraception' literally means "against conception"( contra = against, conceptiō = conceive). By the word's very etymology, it's very definition, a contraception that causes abortion is no contraception at all. Moreover, it's not as though Hobby Lobby tossed out the mandate in full because they are not against safe or, what I call, true contraceptives*. They are only against offering abortion-causing "contraceptives".

    The last I checked, the abortion debate isn't over. It remains one of the biggest social issues in our country because of the amount of protests and opposition coming from both sides. This isn't merely a  complaint from a minority, as most of Grim's sophomoric examples illustrate**, but rather is arising from a strong political force. The problem is with Obama's mandate, and its hastily deciding the issue before the debate is over and forcing companies to offer its employees what many consider homicide pills. A fair compromise is already on the table, but those who wish to shove their humanism down our throats seem to want none of it.

*As for the claims that Hobby Lobby is hypocritical for 'investing' in abortion companies, I refer you to this article:

**For example, he claims the Bible is "packed" with stories of women being stoned. I'd love to hear these 'various' and plentiful stories. Moreover, it's ironic that he includes a picture depicting the stoning of St. Stephen, who died for expressing his faith.