About Me

Just a person in recovery from years of spiritual abuse at the hands of good, upstanding Christian folks.

Monday, May 23, 2011

What the Amish Taught me about Technology

If there’s a support group for Facebook addicts, then I need to join up. I’ve had a love/hate relationship with the site for years. This morning, however, after receiving a notice from a “friend” that I was among the ones she would purge from her contacts list (“nothing personal, Bill”), I deactivated my account, hopefully for the last time.

Oh, and I still don’t own an IPod or IPad, though I do have a Kindle.

The question of technology’s effect on our humanity is a growing one in the minds of many people. It has been troubling me for some months now, as I noted the ease with which I and others casually “friend” and “defriend” persons with a mouse click, giving little consideration to the fact that they aren’t simply images on a computer screen. They are living, breathing human beings, with thoughts and needs and strengths and faults and feelings. Unlike us shallow types, they may actually be foolish enough to believe that the word “friend” still means something.

I’m reminded of a book I read almost twenty years ago, entitled How to Live Without Electricity. It was written by an Amish gentleman who lives in Pennsylvania. Obviously I didn’t accept everything he had to say, demonstrated by the fact that I’m typing these words into a PC while a light bulb burns overhead – though in my defense I must add that it’s a low wattage fluorescent.

However, his central thesis struck me to the core, and has remained with me ever since. In explaining why his spiritual community eschews many modern conveniences, he explained that it had nothing to do with legalistic notions about radio and TV and automobiles being inherently evil. The actual reasons are more nuanced and thoughtful.

The Amish people decided long ago that is was foolish to accept technological innovations uncritically, without considering how they would affect their primary goal of living in close relationships and mutual interdependence. Television may provide hours of entertainment, but it causes persons to withdraw into their own private worlds, forgetting about the living, breathing human beings around them. Power driven tools make work more efficient, but they make community projects, such as raising a barn together, seem trite and unnecessary.

Given my current disgust with online social media, I can’t help but reflect on these things and wonder if the Plain People are onto something the rest of us could learn from. Having ten thousand “friends” cheapens the meaning of the word almost to extinction. Rushing to the mall or a big box store to get the latest cell phone or video game console, without first asking why we’re doing so, is the sort of thing that leads to obscene levels of credit card debt, and economic depressions when we can’t make those monthly payments.

This isn’t to say that such products are evil, of course. To the contrary, technology has given us unprecedented opportunities for education, enrichment, and, yes, entertainment. In and of themselves these things are not wicked. The danger arises when we adopt a “latest is greatest” mindset and neglect to ask ourselves what our motives are for adding yet another technological gadget to our possessions.

Is it because of status? Do we fear being behind the curve or looking antiquated in front of our friends and neighbors? Is it due to a commercial being entertaining or a sales person being persuasive? Are we afraid the kids will nag us if we don’t pacify their incessant demands? All of these are great reasons NOT to make the purchase.

Material possessions, as well as the activities we engage in, should be means to an end, namely to live productive, healthy, meaning filled lives. Ones that help us to learn, to grow, to strengthen our bonds with other people, or to enhance our spiritual or intellectual lives, are wise and well made investments. On the other hand, those that make it easier for us to waste time, go further in debt, or dehumanize others should be avoided, no matter how attractive the Sirens of Capitalism make them seem.

That is what the Amish taught me about technology. I pray to God that I will take the lesson to heart, and apply it fully to my own life. Maybe you should do so too. Email me if you agree. Or just send me a tweet.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Why Jesus is a Muslim

Throughout American history there have been events that became frozen in our memories, so much so that we remember exactly where we were when we heard about them. Those who are old enough can tell you exactly where they were when President Kennedy was shot or when Neil Armstrong set foot on the moon. I recall hearing about the space shuttle Challenger disaster during college.

But all of us who lived through the last decade can recall the moment we heard about the World Trade Center towers being attacked. I remember switching on the television and looking at a skyscraper with smoke pouring out of it. I thought it was an odd sort of action movie at first. Then, I stopped and listened to what the newscasters were saying. I felt a wave of outrage, as I realized that, for the first time in six decades, my nation had been attacked on its own soil.

Like other Americans I soon heard the name Osama Bin Ladin for the first time. And I shared the satisfaction that others felt the night he met his Maker, and I feel nothing but pride now for the brave men who did justice upon him. They have nothing to apologize for.

9/11 changed the United States in deep and profound ways. A sense of patriotism was rekindled among our people. Suddenly the American flag was seen everywhere. And we resolved to defend our nation from its enemies.

But, regrettably, some of us betrayed the ideals on which our country was founded. Many Americans blamed all Muslims for the actions of a tiny minority. Others used the anger that we rightfully felt to advance their private agendas. Soon a wave of propaganda flooded the Internet, and spilled over into other media sources. Overnight, people who have never met a Muslim in their lives became "experts" on Sharia law, and were spreading hysterical nonsense with no basis in fact. Especially shameful is that many of them were doing so in the name of Christ.

Both the terms Muslim as well as Christian have very noble meanings. To be a Muslim literally means to be one who submits themselves to the will of God. A Christian, in the most basic sense of the word, is someone who follows the example and the teachings of Jesus Christ.

Islam and Christianity share a common heritage, drawing many of their beliefs about God from the sacred writings of the Jewish people. Both Jesus and Muhammad were men of great faith, and lovers of justice, mercy and charity. The New Testament, and the Koran, have inspired great works of art and architecture. They’ve nourished the study of the humanities and the sciences. And they’ve provided millions with moral direction, as well as comfort in times of sorrow.

I was discussing these issues online recently when a Muslim friend brought up an interesting point. He said that it was wrong to call Osama Bin Ladin
a Muslim. His point was that no one who slaughters innocent people is submitted to the will of God.

I immediately saw the truth in his words. And I was reminded of how the word Christian is tossed about so carelessly here in the United States.

Jesus was a man of peace, who commanded his disciples to love their neighbors. You can’t love your neighbor and at the same time twist, and distort, what he believes. You can’t share the love of Christ with him in one moment, and, in the next, tell him he’s not welcome in your community. Unfortunately, that's the reception many Muslim Americans have received since the tragic events of 9/11.

Much of the propaganda about Islam has a great deal to say about Sharia law. Now it is true that in some Middle Eastern nations people use, or rather misuse, aspects of this teaching to justify cruelty and discrimination. But this is in no way unique to Muslims. The history of Christianity is rife with examples of the Bible being used to justify such things as slavery, witch hunts, and massacres of helpless persons. In the days before the Civil War, some clergymen defended slavery on scriptural grounds, saying that the relationship between slave and master was like the relationship between Christ and his church.

These perversions of Jesus’ message aren’t simply relics of a distant past. They go on till this day, as those who have heard of the Westboro Baptist Church can attest to. Any good thing can be used for evil, when it falls into the hands of evil men.

Muslims will tell you that there is a wide ranging difference of opinion as to what Sharia law means, and how it should be practiced. In this way they are like Christians, who have no trouble debating about the tenets of their own faith.

The struggle against anti-Islamic prejudice has been cast as a contest between those who love America, and those who would leave it defenseless against terrorism. That’s nonsense. There is no patriotism, in trying to deny to any group of Americans, the rights for which so many, including Muslim Americans, have fought and died. Those who engage in anti-Islamic bigotry, are guilty of the ideological equivalent, of spitting on the American flag. Many of them persist in this behavior, even when the errors in their thinking are pointed out. When they do so, they show they have no respect for the Bill of Rights, the Declaration of Independence, or the other great documents that form the basis of our society. They may wrap themselves in the Stars and Stripes, but the symbol they truly align themselves with is the one Germany marched under, during the second world war.

The current debate over Islam isn’t between Christians and Muslims. It’s not about patriotism vs. political correctness. The actual struggle is much older. It’s the ancient battle between those who love peace, and the ones who crave hatred and bloodshed.

The peacemaker seeks to build bridges between cultures and nations. The hatemonger wants to tear them down. The peacemaker heals, the hatemonger spreads the disease of prejudice. The peacemaker seeks the good of humanity. The hatemonger wants death and destruction. The peacemaker’s tools are education and understanding. The hatemonger’s weapons are ignorance and fear. The hatemonger’s goal is to incite violence. The peacemaker’s goal, is to be a child of God. The two are endlessly opposed. Which side ultimately wins, is up to you and to me.

The peacemaker is doing the will of God. In that sense, all men and women of peace ARE Muslims, even those of us who call ourselves Christians. In the same way, everyone who works for peace walks in the ways of Jesus, and in that sense they are all Christians, even those who are Muslims.

Working for peace doesn’t mean that we lower our national defenses or forego dispensing justice. Nor does it mean that we abandon the distinctive teachings of our respective faith. But it does mean that we take the Apostle Paul seriously when he writes, “Insofar as it is possible with you, live at peace with all people” (Romans 12:18). It means that we remember the words of Saint Francis, when he said “Lord, make me an instrument of your peace. Where there is hatred, let me sow love.”

It means that we take every opportunity to find common ground with others. And it means that if we have a question or concern about their beliefs, we go to them about it, and not some questionable source on the Internet.

In saying these things I’m correcting myself more than anyone else. God knows that I have failed to live up to these ideals more times than I can count. But we need not be perfect in doing what is right, to agree that we can, and should, strive towards it. So, in closing, I ask you to accept my prayer that the God of Abraham, of Jesus, and of Muhammad, and of every man and woman of goodwill, shall guide us all in the ways of peace, now, and forever. God bless you, God bless America, and God bless every person and every nation, on the face of the earth.