January 22, 2005

I Know How Some of You Feel

. . . about Scrappleface, but I don't give a shit. Hop over to this post, and let me know what you think about the subtext.

Should it be permissible for Christian relief workers to "witness" to those they are ministering to, if it is not done in a heavy-handed way? Should they at least be allowed to answer questions about their own faith?


Posted by Attila at January 22, 2005 02:05 AM

Gee, I don't even know how I feel about ScrappleFace.

Posted by: Scott Ott at January 22, 2005 02:08 AM

You weren't supposed to hear that!

Suffice it to say that there are comedy snobs in the blogosphere. I have a lot to say about comedy snobbery, but I'll do it later.

Posted by: Attila Girl at January 22, 2005 09:44 AM

"Witness" sure sounds like proselytizing to me. Nasty thing, in my book. I really dislike people trying to push me into their religion. Whichever it is.

I'd hate to think that starving, homeless, traumatized, recently bereaved people might feel they need to pay for disaster relief by listening to and/or becoming part of any faith. I'd guess that's one reason proselytizing has been avoided, by the mutual agreement of many, on disaster relief missions for so long.

Even on Scrappleface's post, several folks mentioned that actions, deeds, should be louder than words. I go along with that.

If stricken people then express interest in Christianity, perhaps a more respectful solution would be to direct them to the nearest church. Even with all buildings down, disaster-stricken areas have a way of making makeshift places of worship for these people who are in such pain. Then they can make the choice of listening to religion, or not, of their own free will.

There were also references to the state of serenity as being exhibited, in whole or part, only by Christians. I beg to differ. I've seen a whole lot of people just like that who are Buddhist, B'hai, etc. Yes, Muslim too.

So I'd hope those places of worship would include more religions than just Christianity.

I'd also hope the Christians can tolerate the competition.


Posted by: k at January 22, 2005 10:30 AM

k, I think you may be a little confused about where this aid is being given. It is in one of the most conservative Muslim parts of the world. The idea that a building for Christian gatherings would last five minutes past it's discovery by the mullahs is laughable.

And anyway, the idea that one's Christian faith ought to be confined to some building somewhere is patently offensive. What would that be? Some kind of religious apartheid?

This is Christian "witness" of the same kind that Mother Theresa engaged in. You reach out. You help. You don't hide the fact of who you are and who called upon you to help. These are the deeds that speak louder than words.

As far as whether it should be "permissible" to witness, for many of us that is an irrelevant question. It is what we are called to do, regardless.

Somehow it strikes me as disingenuous, this crying about some American kid wearing a Jesus t-shirt while handing out food and water, while the Muslim method of prosyletization involves a sharp knife at the neck. Funny you should be worrying about Christian tolerance in that context, k.

Posted by: Desert Cat at January 22, 2005 12:46 PM

As far as I am concerned actions speak louder than words.

Should they at least be allowed to answer questions about their own faith?

No one should be asked to deny their faith, regardless of the situation.

Comedy snobs?

Posted by: Pile On® at January 22, 2005 03:33 PM

Yes. Being there is a form of "witnessing" regarding one's own faith. And no one should be asked to deny his/her faith.

But K's point is well-taken in the sense that this should be done in a sensitive, common-sense way: no one should feel, at any point, that they are being manipulated into exploring Christianity in order to get food or drinking water.

This matter of faith is very delicate: after all, the Sri Lanken government would not allow Israelis to come in with medical teams in the immediate aftermath of the tsunami. They didn't want Jews in their country, ministering to their people. The Israelis, to their credit, sent in the supplies they had collected even though their rescue teams were "disinvited."

And the Indonesians have asked us, the Americans, to please leave by March or so, lest we get our Judeo-Christian cuties all over them.

My measure of a "moderate" Muslim is whether he/she respects the alliance that should exist between him/her and other "people of the book." The three religions are cousins, and those who recognize that are more likely to be practicing the real "religion of peace" (as opposed to the religion of blowing people up).

Posted by: Attila Girl at January 22, 2005 05:09 PM

Desert Cat:

Confused? No doubt. I generally am.

The Scrappleface thread's discussing disaster relief by religious organizations in general. And snow. I can't speak to snow, it just confuses me. So I went after Miss Attila's question on Christian relief workers witnessing.

Some Christians tell me "witness" and "proselytize" are synonymous. As in, from Scrappleface: "I never responded well to pushy preachers and still think they have ulterior motives." [Beerme] That form of "proselytize" is conversion by coercion, and I don't like it one bit, from anyone, in any religion.

Others call witnessing discussing their personal experiences with their faith. Some refer to witnessing by deed alone. Like (same thread):

"The missionaries are there to help people...and the people see this. If you "help" people instead--i.e. if you give them the idea you are only helping them to convert them--you are a hypocrite...The reason I became a missionary was not to "convert" people (I am a doctor and rarely discussed religon with patients). You go because the Lord was good to you, and you are serving him with your talents gratefully and cheerfully, and you want to do a mitzvah, a good deed...ironically, my Jewish classmates understood this better than my Evangelical ones, who thought preaching (often sour faced with great effort) was the aim of being a missionary...Fast conversions are often shallow. First you till the soil...with the witness of deeds, and only tell people what is behind your deeds if asked; the seed will be planted and grow in the prepared hearts only thru local churches."

Often, Christian aid workers set aside little areas to practice their faith, even something as simple as a campfire. Makeshift places of worship. Spending scarce time and resources building or repairing a "church building" while people are still homeless wasn't what I meant. Inviting those interested to a "church place" was. Say, the aid workers' own church place. Why not?

So far, I've read no reports of violence against these Christians or their makeshift churches. Laughable it may sound, but from the limited information at hand they haven't been attacked yet. They've all outlasted your five minutes. That's a very good thing. So far, so far.

I absolutely don't advocate any religious apartheid. Gracious no. I hope you'll accept my apology for any offensiveness there. I'll try to clarify where I was really headed.

Here's some goals in tsunami-land: Help people. Feed them, heal them, house them, clothe them, comfort them. Keep them safe. Keep relief workers safe too. Treat everyone with respect, as you would anyone else anywhere else; shattered people need that. For many Christian aid workers, another goal is to spread their faith.

Aid workers are guests of a sort in a foreign land. I'll stop off in Sumatra, say Banda Aceh, since not all the tsunami locations are predominantly Muslim.

Northern Sumatrans don't get the same information we do. Those foreign people hear things about Christians that may be true, or not. Relief workers don't know what they've been taught. If they wish to achieve their goals, they should proceed accordingly.

If these shell-shocked people have been taught that "infidel" Christians think it's the Muslims who are infidels, and/or evil, can't go to Heaven, eat babies for breakfast, etc. etc., then getting proselytized could feel hurtful, disrespectful, and quite unsafe. Causing that, even unintentionally, isn't a good way to teach them the love of Christ. It doesn't comfort the sufferers. It's not safe for aid workers, either. So those goals would not be met.

Suggesting inviting people to what "church place" may be available never meant, Keep religion confined to some building. It seemed a respectful compromise under very unique circumstances of great destruction in a conservative Muslim area in someone else's country. If local people go to that church by choice, by free will, it's a great defense to the charge of proselytizing, too, which may well keep the relief workers from getting kicked out entirely.

It's also the only true way to accept any faith: free will.

I wouldn't dream of asking anyone to practice their faith covertly, to deny it, or to hide their light or their souls from others. I see nothing wrong with acknowledging one's faith, answering some questions about it, or wearing a nice Jesus t-shirt. Those things are a far cry from conversion by coercion, and not, I think, what people are concerned about.

I do hope that whatever places of worship those traumatized people want will be there for them. That's because I place their freedom of religion above the goal of Christian aid workers to convert them. They need and deserve spiritual comfort, and right now.

The intolerance of many proselytizing Christians is no secret. Neither is Christianity's history of conversion at knife point. But I should have added that religious freedom in northern Sumatra would certainly require Muslim tolerance, too. On that I stand corrected.


Posted by: k at January 22, 2005 07:28 PM

Sensitive and common sense I can certainly agree with. I'd be highly uncomfortable if I had somehow linked up with a fire-breathing bible-thumper on an outreach trip of this nature.

But then I didn't read that that was the kind of thing that was being complained about.

Posted by: Desert Cat at January 22, 2005 07:29 PM

If 'proselytize' means conversion by coercion, then I can see how we might end up talking past each other. By the definition in my dictionary, it means nothing more than to "recruit someone to one's cause". Nothing about coercion.

Are people seriously discussing actual facts on the ground that tsunami victims are being coerced to convert? Forced to confess faith before receiving a bottle of water? Really, truly? I'd be surprised, but interested in the specifics if they exist. Or is this more hyperventilated conjecture on the part of those who are just uncomfortable seeing the name of Jesus lifted up?

If you "help" people instead--i.e. if you give them the idea you are only helping them to convert them--you are a hypocrite.

I flat out reject that notion. Hypocrisy is "a feigning to be what one is not, or to believe what one does not". I'd say rather, that a Christian who is honest about the fact that his charity is born of his religious faith and duty toward his God, is far less the hypocrite than one who hides their motivations. Again, it's the deeds that speak louder than the words anyway.

If we were talking about reports of someone setting up a platform with loudspeakers in the midst of the devastation, preaching a message of fire and brimstone, yeah. I'd be with you 100%. That would be totally inappropriate in that particular situation. But is that what is happening over there? I haven't heard.

Sorry I'm sounding so harsh, and I was probably venting some frustration on you that is undeserved. Thanks for your clarification on a couple points. But it just bothers me, this notion that often circulates that Christians ought to go skulking around hiding who they are, for fear of offending someone's sensibilities. There is no point at all in being offensive unnecessarily, but some people will be offended no matter what. Jesus himself told us that would happen.

I've been to places like this and participated in things like this. When we set up our medical clinic in the Amazon jungle city of Iquitos, there was no mystery about who we were, particularly as we would set up in the places around the city that local missionary churches met. We served the needs of the people who showed up, no matter Christian or not. These were the poorest of the poor--people who would otherwise have no access to healthcare. After having their medical needs addressed, some of the youth from the local church asked the patients if they had any prayer needs before they left. Any that did, we prayed with. Those that didn't want prayer weren't pressed further. And those that wanted to pray for salvation, we prayed with. All were extended an invitation back to an evening church service. None were coerced.

Yet of those we saw, and those who returned in the evening, about five to ten percent prayed for salvation for the first time. And long after we're gone, the local church will still be there for them.

This same pattern is employed in my local church. Every Saturday morning there is a food giveaway at our church. No questions asked, no income verification, etc. There is also a short message given. Those who come for food are welcome to sit in on the message or skip it, as they choose. However many of those who come for food, stay for the message. And many have come to know Jesus as a result of this outreach.

Look at the pattern that Jesus himself employed when he ministered here on earth. Wasn't it twice that he found himself with a large hungry crowd in the middle of nowhere? He knew that he had to minister to their physical needs before they would be ready to hear about how he could meet their spiritual needs. But what would it have been like if he had merely fed them without preaching, hoping they'd somehow understand?

"Hey, there's that Jesus dude again! He puts on quite the fiesta in the desert! Let's go see if he'll do it again this week. Partyyyy!"

From what I gather, that's the pattern that the people who have gone over there to help in the relief effort are following. Meet their needs, but make it no secret that there is more we have to offer, for those who are interested.

If it's hypocrisy to follow that pattern, then I'm ready to stand guilty as charged.

Posted by: Desert Cat at January 22, 2005 08:52 PM

Ah. I see we're working off different definitions here. That explains a lot. My own understanding of "proselytize," mostly from Christian friends, is more in the arm-twisting camp. Maybe inaccurately, since I see more synonyms like "induce" than "coerce" as I dictionary about.

The Scrappleface thread started with references to historic policies, so from the beginning I was looking not at the tsunami situation but the question in general. One of the first posts includes:

"For decades, most U.S. faith-based relief agencies have followed a pact: access to government funds in exchange for promises not to seek converts or upset local customs. Even groups that don't take U.S. financial help are on board. Nearly all agree to a code of conduct that separates aid from religious outreach." [Fox News]

I think modern religious aid workers are much more sensitive that some of the old-time missionaries. Indonesia's current complaints may be based on fears from the past. However, I've read news clips describing some of that Bible-thumping behavior out there. What convinced me more was watching or reading interviews with a very few, who said they would never stop trying hard to convert people; they felt they had a right to because of the help they provided and their perceived responsibility to convert.

I've never once heard that aid was conditioned on conversion in tsunami areas, only that pressure was applied after the fact.

Were I better organized, I could probably dig up and email you copies of some of the print articles. I'm not that efficient just now. If I run across any new ones, I'd be glad to send them to you via your site or such.

I think that if these things were occurring out there, it probably wasn't on any significant scale. I'm also under the impression that the few standouts have already been sent home.

I can't answer for the good doctor re hypocrisy. I don't know the man. But I can see a "feigning to be what one is not" in this: One person gives a gift with no strings attached. The other attaches strings. The latter is hypocritical in that a true gift never has strings attached. They're feigning being "givers." Instead, they're conducting a trade, but without saying so up front.

Simply being motivated by faith and duty doesn't imply duplicity. One who says today, No payback required for this food I give you from the goodness of my heart, but tomorrow says, You better go to my church because I fed you yesterday, is a hypocrite and a liar.

Apology accepted and appreciated, and unnecessary too. I think most of us, on all sides, are tired of feeling like we're being dumped on for things we didn't do or say or mean the way someone took it. It can wear one's patience thin. Oh Lord, please don't let me be misunderstood.

It sounds to me like you've done true good work. It sounds wonderful. The big difference between what I think of as "proselytizing" and what you're describing is the word Ask. And, For those who are interested. Tolerance, too, serving Christian or not.

Tolerance. There's a word I'm almost afraid to use any more, myself. I get smacked around for it. But use it I will, because it's a good word, and I believe it's one of the ingredients of the word Love. Like Forgiveness is.

A friend of mine, a Brazilian single mother of two whom I greatly admire, struggles to raise her little boy and her 18-year-old son who has Asperger's. A few years ago she ran out of food for her kids. She went to the evangelical church she'd been attending and donating her precious small funds. Our local churches get loads of free food every day from bakeries and food stores, like "day-old" bread they aren't allowed to sell. But her minister refused to let her have any.

She's spunky. She loves her kids too. She cried, she dried her eyes, she went to a church she'd never been before. They gave her so much food she came by my house to see if she could re-gift any of it to me.

The first church sounds like hypocrisy to me. The second one sounds like yours. It sounds like a church ought to be.

I don't think you like those arm-twisters any more than I do. Hypocrites, either.


Posted by: k at January 22, 2005 11:46 PM

Hmmm...isn't that what freedom's all about? Being able to speak your mind. Should these good folks be denied the freedom to speak what they believe because they are doing a good deed? Seems to be standing the whole concept on its head to me.

As far as being sensitive about it, I don't think Jesus was particularly sensitive when confronting the money changers in the temple or dealing with the Sanhedrin. Most attractive thing about the religion is that its founder had so little room for sensitivity in dealing with hypocrites and liars. If it was okay to be insensitive to the pharisees, it's ok to be insensitive to a bunch of mullahs. (Of course, it also *ought* to be okay to be insensitive about the rampant hypocrisy in US churches, but that's a whole other subject....)

Posted by: Tom Hanna at January 23, 2005 02:26 AM

"Tact and sensitivity" would be required with ordinary people. Sometimes it would not be required in dealing with the powers that be: these things, again, should be determined on a common-sense basis.

Posted by: Attila Girl at January 23, 2005 02:50 AM

One person gives a gift with no strings attached. The other attaches strings. The latter is hypocritical in that a true gift never has strings attached. They're feigning being "givers." Instead, they're conducting a trade, but without saying so up front. Simply being motivated by faith and duty doesn't imply duplicity. One who says today, No payback required for this food I give you from the goodness of my heart, but tomorrow says, You better go to my church because I fed you yesterday, is a hypocrite and a liar.

Those are harsh words.

Let me tell you something about my heart. Perhaps in the process I will disabuse you of some notions of why some Christians do certain things, or at least why *this* particular Christian does certain things.

There is no "goodness" in my heart, as you put it. I'm a selfish, self-centered bastard. And left to my own devices, I really wouldn't care that much if 99.9% of the people on this planet disappeared overnight.


And if someone says they are giving to needy people out of the "goodness of their heart", I am ready to call bullshit on them. Hypocrites and liars! Everyone has an ulterior motive when they do anything for someone else, whether that motive is obvious or hidden. The worst are the preening, smug egotists who like to think of themselves as "good people" for their charity. Next to them are the guilt-givers, who feel bad about their prosperity and seek to mollify their feelings by giving some of it away.

As far as "converting" people goes, if they're convinced that religion is a bunch of bunk, and Christians are a bunch of filthy hypocrites anyway, who am I to change their bitter minds. I personally don't really give a rip. What I know is true isn't dependent on their opinions anyway.

But I am in love with a man who walked this earth 2000 years ago, who was crucified and rose again, and who is as real to me as you are on the other side of the internet--maybe more real. And he loves people. Incredibly so. More so than I can really fathom, and far more than I could express. I've seen my share of hurt from people who said they care, who said they loved me, but turned around and caused me untold pain.

But Jesus is not like that. He arranged the circumstances of my life so that I would finally turn to him, and when I did, the healing and joy I found, and continue to find, was like nothing on this earth can provide.

The crux of it is this: he loved me, but it was by arms of his servants that the love was given. He reached out to me, but it was by the hands of the members of his body that the touch was offered.

Now he doesn't ask me to give to others in need out of the goodness of my heart, because he knows there isn't much there. He doesn't ask me to love people like he loved me, because he knows I don't have a real great love for people. All he asks of me is to give him the opportunity to touch other people's lives through me, to love other people through me. Because he is a part of me now, all that I need to do--the little that I need to muster up--is the will to follow his direction as he leads me. And even with that little bit, he helps me.

Having done several such mission outreaches now, I can tell you that the rewards for this simple obedience are far more than I can express here. To see the same love that pursued and found me, reaching out and touching the lives of the people who come to our clinics for help--to see the hands of Jesus in the hands of my associates and the mission youth, and to realize that I too, am a part of the blessing that is being poured out...and that still, small voice that comes at the end of it all and says "well done"...

There's an ulterior motive for you.

See old Desert Cat doesn't give a rip, but Jesus does. And it gives me great joy when I do what pleases him. I don't mean that rhetorically or figuratively. I mean that quite literally. There is a great upwelling of grateful joy that floods me, when I think about these simple things that seem to please him so much. This in turn of course, motivates me to act again when I hear his direction. It's almost like a drug that way.

This is a poem by Mother Theresa on this topic:

People are unreasonable, illogical and self-centered,
Love them anyway.

If you do good, people will accuse you of selfish ulterior motives,
Do good anyay.

If you are successful, you win false friends and true enemies,
Succeed anyway.

The good you do today will be forgotten tomorrow,
Do good anyway.

Honesty and frankness make you vulnerable,
Be honest and frank anyway.

What you spend years building may be destroyed overnight,
Build anyway.

People really need help but may attack you if you help them,
Help people anyway.

Give the world the best you have and you'll get kicked in the teeth,
Give the world the best you've got anyway.

You see, in the final analysis, it is between you and God.
It was never between you and them, anyway.

Do I want to convert the world? Well I think it would be pretty great if everyone could find what I have found. Might make the world a safer and more beautiful place. But I certainly don't have a personal agenda to convert anyone. "Die in your sins, infidel, if it so pleases you to do so," would be my motto, if left to my own devices.

Plus, demanding that anyone join my particular church would be pretty pointless, since it would be located thousands of miles away. I really wouldn't care if they didn't join any particular church. I'd just like them to know Jesus like I do. Because once they do, I know they are going to want to find other Christians to fellowship with. So that part doesn't concern me, and never has.

Posted by: Desert Cat at January 23, 2005 03:05 PM

DC, that was a nice expression of faith. It summed up a lot. I wish I felt that strongly, but I'm afraid a lot of my Christianity is in my head, and doesn't always make it to my heart.

Posted by: Attila Girl at January 23, 2005 05:57 PM

Desert Cat, the first thing I want to thank you for is that beautiful poem. The second and even more important thing I thank you for is telling me something about your heart. You've given a gift to someone you know only through a few brief exchanges of words, someone who wants very much to understand the truth. And it's a true gift, Desert Cat, because there are no strings attached.

You see, motivations and attaching strings are two different concepts. One concerns thoughts and feelings; the other, a course of action.

Harsh words? Perhaps. I don't really think about words that way. To me they're tools, inanimate until we use them to communicate. Sometimes they describe harsh behavior, or are used as weapons. The internet is full of words being used to attack people rather than to communicate. Some use the internet as a forum where they feel they can vent with impunity, and those actions can be quite harsh.

I want to understand the truth as clearly as possible. To do that, I try to temporarily suspend my feelings in order to free my mind for thinking; or suspend my logic in order to feel things without inhibition. One very good reason to understand people clearly is, I think it's incumbent on us all to protect ourselves and others from those who would do us harm. I see no evil in trying to understand and discuss human behaviors, including those harsh ones.

I agree completely with Miss Attila's wise instructions to attack ideas, not people. And just to make extra sure this is clear, my "bad guy" example above didn't refer to you personally; it was never the goodness of your heart that I was questioning. It never even occurred to me to do so. I was referring to a person in the abstract, not any one individual .

Neither have I ever thought you'd engage in that "conversion by coercion" I dislike so much. You never gave me reason to think that, so why would I assume such a thing? I hope, too, that you understand it's not the "conversion" part I object to but the "coercion," and I object to coercive behavior whether it's used to convert people or, say, to commit fraud for monetary gain.

Here's what I meant by "attaching strings": Some of the commonest courses of legal disagreement between people are whether a monetary exchange was a gift, a loan, or a payment in exchange. Under the law, a gift carries no strings. It's unilateral and not a contract. A loan requires repayment on terms agreed upon in advance. A payment in exchange is made in consideration of something of value, like a pair of jeans or a home health care visit. That's trade. It's an exchange agreed upon in advance.

Unlike gifts, loans and payments involve contracts. Without a meeting of the minds - an agreement in advance - there is no contract. For someone to say "gift" one day, then the next demand a form of payment, such as a demand to come to a church, is an attempt to attach strings where no exchange was agreed upon. That's unfair, improper and unenforceable. It's also not very nice.

One may give a gift and hope for some specific reward. That's not attaching strings. It makes no demand or coercion for payment. It's simply a motivation.

Being motivated by faith and duty really doesn't imply duplicity. There's nothing at all wrong with it that I can see. Keeping one's motivations secret, in itself, isn't duplicitous either. We have a right to privacy in our thoughts and feelings.

Lying about one's motivations is a whole other story.

Is there no goodness in your heart, Desert Cat? Only you and God can know that. I don't believe it, myself. That's because I've read what you wrote. We're all selfish and self-centered to an extent, but that doesn't mean there can't be goodness in there too. Those things are not mutually exclusive.

Here's some harshness I've heard: In psychology, some people say that the only motivator is fear. That babies bond to parents out of fear of not surviving. In business school, it's called fear and greed; some narrow it to fear alone by defining greed as the fear of being without something, like greedily eating too much for fear of starving. Even altruism towards total strangers can be explained away by saying its motivation is to protect our DNA by protecting humans in general.

I disagree, because I believe love is the other prime motivator. Since I can't prove it, it's a matter of faith.

Back in real life, don't we all have a number of different things motivating anything we do? It's never only one thing that I can see. That doesn't mean goodness can't be one of many motivators, good and bad.

We should all be skeptical of people who say they give out of goodness; it's such a common way to deceive others or ourselves, just as you said. I've lived for years in the Deep South, where a common motivation for "being Christian" is to jockey for social position. Then we see social games like the ones I call "I'm a bigger Christian than you because...," "I go to Heaven and you don't," etc. That's not very nice, either. Still, it can motivate people to do good. And it sure is human.

Love, on the other hand, is holy. I believe in love, and if God is love, if Jesus is love, how could I not believe in God and Jesus? And in our mortal selves, isn't love the expression of the divine?

What you've described so eloquently, so beautifully, is being motivated to do good for the reward of that joy, of love freely given, freely received, and freely returned. What a wonderful motivator. Whether it's love of Jesus or love of humanity, how can you say there is no goodness in your heart? Without that goodness the love of Jesus could never have touched you.

One thing makes me a little sad for you: that scant 0.1% of humanity you'd want left standing - left to your own devices. We are all of value to that which created us, are we not? Some would expect me, not you, to be the one to say what you said, because I am so familiar with the darker side of human nature. But to see only the darker side as "the truth" is not reasonable at all. I see so much good in people, too. I'm lucky because I can see that dark side and call it "bad" without entirely rejecting the person housing it. People can still bring me joy simply going about the daily business of being alive.

I'm drawing a little picture in my mind here to soothe myself about that 0.1%. I see a desert cat smoothing his fur - wiping desert sand off his whiskers - not forgetting to scrub behind his ears with his paws, of course ... then settling down, sphinx-like, in front of a water garden. There he stretches out his front legs and squeezes his eyes almost shut and contemplates a beautiful flower.

This flower was known to his ancestors since time out of mind because it's a blue lotus, the fabled flower of the Nile and the pharaohs and the Sphinx. Now, those were some people who valued cats! He feels the warm desert sand under him, oh it feels just like the sands of Egypt his forbears knew, the shifting sands of the millennia that led to his being alive today. He contemplates the cat-appreciating people that came down their own lines and led to his being here in America today. He purrs and purrs, because - even left to his own devices - it's come to him that perhaps, just maybe, these people today are a little better than he thought after all. He purrs because this thought makes him happy.


Posted by: k at January 24, 2005 08:29 AM

Is there no goodness in your heart, Desert Cat? Only you and God can know that. I don't believe it, myself. That's because I've read what you wrote. We're all selfish and self-centered to an extent, but that doesn't mean there can't be goodness in there too. Those things are not mutually exclusive.

You've got both pieces of the puzzle in your post. If I may, I'd like to fit them together.

Love, on the other hand, is holy. I believe in love, and if God is love, if Jesus is love, how could I not believe in God and Jesus? And in our mortal selves, isn't love the expression of the divine?

Precisely. What it is not though, is an expression of my natural human tendencies, my "natural man", as it were. Through Jesus Christ living in me, and empowered by the Spirit, I am capable of doing good.

(I began to get into a discussion of the dual nature of Christians, then deleted it. I realized that was out of scope and off-topic. Suffice it to say that this is a foundational principle of Christianity and on the topic of "inherent goodness" we may have to agree to disagree for now.)

Regarding that 99.9%, you must know I'm not wishing that on the world? I'm just saying my "old nature" wouldn't be particularly dismayed if it happened. But the one I love isn't about to let that happen anytime soon, because there are too many he has set his heart on gathering to himself still. His attitude colors mine, of course.

I've lived for years in the Deep South, where a common motivation for "being Christian" is to jockey for social position. Then we see social games like the ones I call "I'm a bigger Christian than you because...," "I go to Heaven and you don't," etc. That's not very nice, either. Still, it can motivate people to do good. And it sure is human.


The sweet fragrance
of the Holy Spirit,
mingled with the
smell of old spice
and hypocrisy

Hey, I like that imagery you drew! If you add a marble pavilion with Roman columns all around, casting mid-afternoon shadows across me as I doze, you'd have it just right. :)

Posted by: Desert Cat at January 24, 2005 10:41 AM

I went back and re-read your post, and there's something else there that I wanted to draw out.
Here's some harshness I've heard: In psychology, some people say that the only motivator is fear. That babies bond to parents out of fear of not surviving. In business school, it's called fear and greed; some narrow it to fear alone by defining greed as the fear of being without something, like greedily eating too much for fear of starving. Even altruism towards total strangers can be explained away by saying its motivation is to protect our DNA by protecting humans in general.

I disagree, because I believe love is the other prime motivator. Since I can't prove it, it's a matter of faith.

To some degree, I think I would have to agree with the psychologists and business theorists. If you look at nature, raw nature, there is no compassion there. Momma Nature is a harsh mistress. Creatures in nature have one overriding imperative: survive to reproduce, and all instincts and behaviors can be traced back to that imperative. Now if man is merely an animal, then we are participants in that same imperative, and fear is the motivator that drives us to achieve it.

Now if you postulate that we have a spark of the divine, that there is something in us that sets us above nature, then there is room for your other prime motivator. My only difference with you might be that I don't believe it is active on its own, that it needs to be made alive, reconnected with that source of perfect love--'agape' love we call it-- that created it in the first place.

There is this too that relates: "There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear." (1 John 4:18). It's as much a new motivator-- a replacement motivator--as anything. But that process can last a lifetime and beyond.

Posted by: Desert Cat at January 24, 2005 12:19 PM

...rats! not being able to edit one's comments is a shortcoming of the blog medium. That last paragraph below the italicized portion should also be italicized, as it is part of your quote.

One more thing I thought of after I posted, regarding the kind of love I'm talking about, mentioned in Romans 5:7-8, and I paraphrase: "It is hard to conceive of someone giving up their own life for the life of a righteous man, though for an exceptionally good person it seems possible. But Jesus demonstrated the depths of his love for us in that, while we were still mired in our sins, he died to set us free."

That kind of love flies in the face of the biological imperative, and is indeed the essential demonstration of the perfect love that casts out fear.

Posted by: Desert Cat at January 24, 2005 12:40 PM

I like that "Church"ianty. That's another keeper, I copied and saved it. And please don't worry about any lost italicizing. I'm just glad you know how to spell, so I don't get confused. One of the freedoms of the medium is, we don't have Mr. Dogsbody around trying to correct our composition. A trade-off for the lack of editing ability. Me, I don't type in the Comment section; my old eyes can't see that little bitty type, so I write in my email program and copy it to Comments when I'm done. Even so, I tend to leave little dots and periods and commas dribbling about.

I was pretty sure your "left to my own devices" meant the "old nature" version. But I'm relieved to hear it verified, straight from the cat's mouth.

We'll have to agree to disagree on the "inherent goodness" question, yes, and on not one but at least two levels. Now you will see I'm no kind of proper Christian at all, and my theology incorrect. I know little scripture; I never make it past the simple edicts of "God is love," "love your neighbor," and so forth. Those mysteries are too big for me to contemplate. Instead I try to incorporate the basic principles into my daily life, with varying degrees of success. I keep trying. It suffices.

I'm more at home with nature than people. I love to explore our cypress swamps and wade around by the alligators and snakes and wild orchids. I respect nature and act accordingly for safety, but I don't fear it. I'm often able to do things like pet my back yard lizards. When I spend some time out there I can get them to come running when I call.

Why? I feed them bugs. There's nothing happier looking than a lizard squishing a nice juicy bug in its mouth. So I nurture them, and that biological imperative of survival brings them back to me.

A harsh mistress, nature red in tooth and claw. But speaking as someone who walks freely in nature, I disagree with the notion that there's no compassion and no love involved in animal life. This puts me on the wrong side of people of science and religion, both.

There's a documentary about chimps called, I think, "People of the Forest." Towards the end, the alpha female dies. Her son, around adolescent age or so and quite the momma's boy, stays with her dead body, cleaning off leaves and twigs that blow on her, protecting her from all who approach. He can't seem to leave. After a few weeks he dies of grief.

There's no reason he shouldn't have survived. He was old enough and of high status in the group. He died because he loved his mother too much to take the loss and live without her.

In another show about chimps, this time in a primate zoo, we see interaction between the keepers and a female chimp who's learned ASL, American Sign Language for the deaf. One of the keepers was pregnant and the ASL chimp knew about it. Chimps are very regular in certain social dealings, and she expected this keeper to visit at the same time each day. One day the keeper missed work, and the chimp was angry with her when she returned.

The keeper missed work because she'd had a miscarriage. She explained this to the chimp, signing, My baby died.

The chimp looked at her, motionless, for a long time. Then she made the sign for "cry."

Love and compassion from animals.

I could cite more examples till the cows come home, but in the end these things are not really provable. I take love on faith. I include animal love in that, too.

Meeting that biological imperative, that survival instinct, is said to be done only out of fear. We all know that fear sometimes, so intuitively this feels correct. It's said to be the fear of not passing on our DNA. But why can't it be motivated by the love of our progeny also, or instead? Why can't "fear of not reproducing" be "love of reproducing"? I see no real proof, and never have, that it's fear and fear alone that motivates survival and reproduction. I regard it as an unproven assumption, as "received wisdom" rather than testable fact.

In other words, I think people take "fear as the only motivator" on faith.

Could it be that "agape," once activated, is the perfect love that can cast out fear and take us beyond this life; and it's an imperfect love that exists between us mortal animals here on earth? We are animals, and there's nothing wrong with that. It makes some people very angry to hear animals equated with humans. To say that animals are precious to God, too, doesn't have to mean we are somehow less precious as a result. Think of all the examples of lambs used to describe love in the Bible.

So here are my heresies: I believe love is a prime motivator, an additional one rather than a replacement one. I think that spark of the divine extends to animals, too. I think humans are a part of nature rather than above it.

My church is my back yard. Out there, I feel the love of the creator for the created, and I mean all of the created. I feel it in the lizards and birds, the opossums and the trees and wind and sky and flowers and rocks. I feel fellowship not just with other humans but with all of life itself.

Now, back on topic, back to the beginning, I wonder about something. It seems many of us agree that high-pressure tactics to convert aren't appropriate in the disaster relief setting at a minimum, but there's also no reason to hide one's Christianity from the people we help out there. We argue those points here and on Scrappleface and the MSM and everywhere, at great length, with very many words. Many Christians get really angry at the notion that their expressions of Christianity in the tsunami areas would be curtailed in any way at all.

Unlike the great majority of those folks, you have significant personal experience at working in devastated settings. You think about the anguish of those people out there, you understand it firsthand, you have witnessed out there in every sense of the word. You also understand the great but quiet grace of aid workers like the body retrievers you noted on your website.

So It's you, of all people, who may be able to answer me this: Why is it that so very many people, most sitting safe and warm and fed here at home, seem far more concerned about being able to express their Christianity in the exact ways they want, than learning about the best ways to help the victims? Isn't the most important thing to take care of these people who have suffered so terribly? Shouldn't they come first?

Now I'll leave you to your busy week, Desert Cat, and attend to mine. But before I go, I'll pencil in your marble pavilion and Roman columns casting their shadows across your furry face. Perhaps a pair of sunglasses is folded by your side. And to soothe myself a second time, I'll hope that as you contentedly doze off in the sunshine and shadows, you'll decide to forgive me my heresies enough to talk some more when we meet again.


Posted by: k at January 25, 2005 11:26 AM

I think I'd be branded a heretic by some if they knew the full scope of my musings and wonderings, so I wouldn't worry to much about me burning you at the stake anytime soon. ;)

I'll take some time to read this over again later in the week. (Truthfully though, I say I'm too busy to blog, but somehow this dratted hobby is such and addiction that I manage to squeeze it in anyway.)

Posted by: Desert Cat at January 25, 2005 01:11 PM

Oh yes! I just found that out myself.

Seriously -- thanks.


Posted by: k at January 25, 2005 01:58 PM

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