November 20th, 2018
I called a good friend on Sunday night. I have known the man for a long time ago. We met when Karin and I were part of a German-language Bible study group. We have remained friends ever since then. The man is just recently retired. He was an ER doctor for many years, and he is trying figure out what he is now. This rather confusing process of transformation is typical for retirees. I went through, or rather I am still going through, this phase of uncertainty and existential angst. In a way, retirement is like a more mature version of adolescence. Anyway, I called him because I respect his opinion, and I wanted his perspective on my father’s death.
We talked about my dad for a while, and then the conversation drifted toward religion, as it always does. My friend is a peculiar blend of Bible-based, Baptist thought and pre-Vatican II Catholicism. His views are always interesting, and occasionally infuriating.
At one point in our conversation, he remarked that we live in a “fallen world”. I hate that phrase, like really hate it. It’s a classic, born-again kind of comment. It’s short hand for saying, “The world sucks, it’s all our fault, and we can’t fix it.” Nice.
I mentioned that to my friend. To his credit, he responded by saying,
“I hate it too when people use the term “fallen world” as an excuse to do nothing. Clearly, there is sin and evil in the world. That fact doesn’t make it okay to just give up. If a person doesn’t attempt to do good, then he just makes the world that much worse.”
My friend tends to look at the negative aspects of the world, even more than I do.
He said, “The world is full of evil, and Satan is in charge.”
That seemed a little harsh.
He went to say, “Everyone born into this world is destined for hell.”
That comment reflects more than the usual amount of traditional Catholic guilt. It sounded more to me like something that came from Calvin or Luther. The overwhelming emphasis on human sinfulness makes no sense to me. Why would God even create us if we’re that vile?
It is obvious that people are capable of horrific deeds. Most of history is simply a compilation of criminal acts. However, sometimes, maybe often, people rise to the occasion. We can be noble and selfless. That happens too.
I have been impressed at how the Jewish tradition views human nature. There is an admission that people are frail and disobedient, but there is also an acknowledgement that every person has an inherent dignity and value. If God loves us, then there has to be something inside of us that is worth loving. God wants a relationship with us.
I notice the difference in attitude when I compare how Catholics pray as opposed to how Jews pray. Catholics, and other Christians, often pray on their knees. They speak to God from a position of absolute submission. Jews pray while standing. That tells me something.
God is often presented in the Bible as being like a loving father. What loving father would demand that his children come to him on their knees?