Breaking (bad) religion

Dropped at 8:22 PM on Friday, May 22, 2015

On Monday, a Sikh man in New Zealand removed his Siropao (turban) and used it to stem bleeding from the wound a 5 year-old boy sustained when he was hit by a car outside the man's home.  It was a beautiful act. The incident was reported worldwide.

Why though?  What spin made this heartwarming "put it on at the end of the news" story into a global story?

According to almost every media source, this man went against his religion in order to to the right thing.

Headline after headline, even article contents and quotes told the story:
Sikh man breaks religious rules, removes his turban to help an injured boy (AOL and Huffington Post)
"A 22-year-old Sikh man in New Zealand has been hailed as a hero after putting his religious beliefs aside..." (The Telegraph)
Hero Sikh man breaks strict religious rules (The Daily Mail)
Religion put aside to help boy (New Zealand Herald)

Harman Singh was garnering worldwide praise for going against his faith.  Or so the story was being told.

Only, he didn't go against his faith.  In fact, he acted it out.

Sikh religion, and in particular the wearing of its identifiable clothing, is a sign of a commitment to "serve ALL even those who want to cheat you, or hurt you". (link)  That's what the turban symbolises, according to Sikh teachings.

The narrative being preached is offensive to Sikhs everywhere.  It implies that Harman had had to go against his religion in order to act with compassion. One comment that was quoted in a mainstream article sums up the zeitgeist: "Humanity before religion. Nice one buddy."(link)

Now, that would be understandable if Sikh leaders all over the world had condemned Mr Singh's actions.  If they had issued statements saying that according to Sikh ethics he should have "let the boy bleed".  Did they?  Um, not quite.
"Sikh leaders praise the actions of Harman Singh, 22..." (link)
An appropriate headline might be something more like, "Hero Sikh man lives out Sikh faith by..."

Common wisdom seems to now be that religions have no room within them for different ethics appropriate to different contexts.  All they have are inflexible rules.  It's only us, modern secular society that has the enlightened capability of a reasonable ethical system.  That's why we're so right to reject religion, particularly in our public policy and ethical decision making.  And so the only possible explanation for Harman Singh's actions are that he must have gone against his religion.

If the reporting of this incident is anything to go by, this kind of foolish ignorance is not a rare aberration.  It's the media's presupposition.

The three things that make us do evil

Dropped at 4:24 PM on Monday, March 24, 2014

Some conclusions on evil from Philip Zimbardo, leader of the notorious 1971 Stanford Prison Experiment.

"... the Lucifer effect involves understanding human character transformations with three factors. And it's a dynamic interplay. 
What do the people bring into the situation? What does the situation bring out of them? And what is the system that creates and maintains that situation?
So if you want to change a person, you've got to change the situation.   
If you want to change the situation, you've got to know where the power is, in the system."
I reckon Zimbardo is right, if there's no way of changing human hearts.  Because if there's no hope to change a person's heart, then all we can do is mitigate the evil that people can commit by managing the circumstances into which we place them.

Sadly, though, I think that if this is true, we're in a hopeless situation.  We end up in a recursive loop we can't resolve.

  1. We stop people from doing evil things by avoiding placing them in 'evil producing/tempting' situations.
  2. We stop people from being placed in 'evil producing' situations by changing the system that creates the various situations.
  3. We change the system by convincing people to change their behaviour so that they change the system.

But the system exists as the product of people acting in ways that benefit them but hurt others.  How do we change the actions of those people?  We have to start from step 1 all over again.

And so the loop continues.

If only there was a way to allow the human heart to choose the good even in a tempting situation.
"For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Saviour Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works."  Titus 2:11-14

Random crumbs falling from a TED talk

Dropped at 3:00 PM on Friday, March 21, 2014

An interesting TED talk here on the psychology of evil, by Philip Zimbardo, leader of the notorious 1971 Stanford Prison Experiment.

His basic premise is that there are three contributive factors to the production of evil in people.

  1. Disposition of the individual - are they a bad apple?
  2. The situation - are the apples in a bad barrel?
  3. The system - the legal, political, economic and cultural background that creates the situation.

It is, I think, excellent analysis.  The individuals WILL bring good and bad to a situation, the situation WILL provide a varying degree of temptation to act out negatively and the milieu of law, politics, economic and cultural factors WILL systemically produce certain types of those situations.

It also, it seems to me, is a perfect match for the biblical account of sin.

  1. According to Scripture, sin is an individual, responsibility bearing choice.
  2. The Bible also says that different situations bring about certain temptations to sin that other situations do not.  (Though, fascinatingly, God seems to use these for good!)
  3. Sin gives rise to systemic sin within a population, often until it results in a tragedy of such great magnitude that in God's common grace some of the errors of the age are realised.  Then new ones are formed...

Some fascinating quotes:

Starting with the idea that God created Lucifer, who then rebelled against God and 'became' the devil:
"Paradoxically, it was God who created hell as a place to store evil. He didn't do a good job of keeping it there though."

Some interesting angles there on the nature of the world into which God placed the garden and Adam and Eve.  Biblically, it sure wasn't a perfect world.  Adam and Eve, but particularly Adam, were charged with protecting that garden from evil and chaos, and even to extend the goodness of orderliness of the garden out into the world.

In regards to Abu Ghraib:

"So another report, an investigative report by General Fay, says the system is guilty."
But the question for me is, why do we blame the system?  That people act in certain ways in certain situations doesn't absolve a person of responsibility for actions.  That there is a rich complex of influences going on is worth recognising, but doesn't make the reality of individual responsibility a non-issue.

And this very interesting set of experimental conclusions: (I've added some bible verses in brackets afterwards, because I think there are some striking resemblances)
"So what are the seven social processes that grease the slippery slope of evil? 
Mindlessly taking the first small step (Psalm 1:1)
Dehumanization of others. (Disregard for Gen 9:6, or from another angle, Romans 2:1) 
De-individuation of Self. (Colossians 3:1 - be who you are!)  
Diffusion of personal responsibility.(Genesis 3) 
Blind obedience to authority. (Matthew 15:14 and Ephesians 4:14)  
Uncritical conformity to group norms. (Galatians 2:11-12)  
Passive tolerance to evil through inaction or indifference. (Genesis 3 - Adam, I'm looking at you.)"

Just a crumb - There's something about God

Dropped at 10:02 AM on Friday, December 13, 2013

An amazing thing about self-giving love is that because of God, it's indestructible.

Our God is so great that even as he hung on a cross, being destroyed and shamed, in so doing he destroyed the power of that destruction and nullified it.  He poured out his self-giving love with the ultimate result that He himself was made whole.  Our God is so great that His martyrdom is not self-destructive of His Self, nor is His Self-giving able to lessen Him.

As an awesome flow-on, the redeeming power of the Christ-event is so great that the self-giving of those who are in Christ is similarly not destructive to self, but in Him is indestructible.

Feeling the love

Dropped at 11:35 AM on Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Inspired by a fantastic conversation on a long car-trip with a loved brother yesterday, I've decided that I'm on a campaign to encourage a language change.

I reckon that instead of thinking about "self-esteem", maybe us Christians should instead be thinking about "God's-love-esteem".

Christians ought to get our sense of value from God's gracious love for us.  Right?  It's not that we're so worthwhile that God loves us (self-esteem thinking in drag). The truth is that we are bestowed incredible honour and value because of God's love for us.  The other way around.  His love being the giver of worth.

God's love brought him to create you, in His image, for relationship with Him.  A fact that should lead to wonder that he's done so, ala Psalm 8.  (Seriously, go read it.  Now!  ;)  )  On top of that, for those who're reading this who belong to Jesus, God loves you with an everlasting, unbreakable, infinite and personal love that he demonstrated at the cross.

But sometimes, as my dear brother shared, that just doesn't feel like it's enough.  It doesn't "do anything for me".  I'd probably get a bigger boost from a 'like' on my latest selfie.

So I reckon what we really need is more "God's-love-esteem".  That is, how much esteem do you hold for the fact that God loves you?  How highly do you value it?  How much do you allow the fact that God loves you to affect your personal sense of worth?

In other words, are you feeling the love?  Are you letting the objective reality of God's love for you affect your subjective experience?  How's your "God's-love-esteem"?

So, what do you reckon?  Instead of abandoning self-esteem for nothing, can we replace it with "God's-love-esteem"?

Or come up with something that's better, catchier and easier to remember but means the same thing. And then email it to me so I can edit this post.  :D