Thursday, June 24, 2010

Choice and the Natural {choice is not the natural}

There is something about choice and nature that I have been struggling to figure out. We have all met people that are naturally good- they naturally look like great ‘christians’. (That is, assuming you think 'christians' should be super helpful and chirpy and reeeaaallly nice.)

So we meet these types of people, and if we meet them in a church or find them to ascribe to a certain religion, we consider them to be a great example of it.

And then we know people that are naturally kind of pissy or moody or flat out pathological liars- christianity certainly doesn’t hide these.

And I seem to have this line of thinking- and maybe you do as well- that we are shaped more by innate biological or psychological preferences rather than the choosing of what is better. For example, a coworker of mine mentioned how {person} is an incredible 'christian' because he has such a marked discipline in finances and how he structures his life/ tasks so well. I thought about it- and yes, those are good things. But those are not exactly a choice for him. He very naturally structures his life- it would be structured whether he called himself a ‘christian’ or an atheist or an elephant.

We all have natural actions that happen to look like good religion.

While those actions are good- I don’t know if it is something to be praised. Can someone say that not drinking is a result of religious faith when they have never really been tempted, or thought of it?

Sidenote: I've been talking to a friend at work about the differences/similarities between his faith- Islam and my own: {sideofthesidenote: the word 'christian' has so many varying definitions that I am leaning towards wanting to respond with 'Liberation Theology' but I haven't figured out how to do so without sounding like a total pompous asshole}.

Islam absolutely forbids alcohol. And he explained why- it's destructive, makes us violent, etc. I couldn't help but think and ask him about the importance of choice. It seems more beautiful for someone to have one glass for the sake of their beliefs than to abstain because of community judgement.


With my task-oriented christian coworkee, I think a virtuous choice would be him extending a kind greeting. Saying hello is hardly something to be praised in our culture. But the way his mind works, the way he processes- that would be a choice, that would be him going against the grain of his natural self- and choosing what is better. Him smiling and asking someone how they are, to me, seems more virtuous than his structure, or finances, or anything.

Can I take praise in enjoying to cook dinner for my room mates when truly, it’s something I find more pleasure in than they do? (I can say this pretty honestly, I’m a terrible cook. Perhaps them eating the food is more praise worthy than me making it.)

Aristotles book, Nicomachean Ethics, is a practical book on how to be a good person. It is not what it ‘means’ or what is ‘good’ or what is ‘person’ or the time-consuming thought of ‘what is IS?’(These are important definitions, but I see where they easily make people want to gouge their eyes out {the last one is a joke…kinda}).

In our culture ‘good’ looks really black and white. You are good if you do this, this and this. Everyone. All. And the modern Christian corporation capitalizes on this extensively.

Here are a few favorite passages from Aristotle that I return to constantly:

:We ought to consider what we are carried away toward since people of a different nature are inclined toward different things:

:Warped lumber is straightened by being pushed to the opposite:

:In everything, one must guard against the pleasant thing and against pleasure, for we do not judge it without bribes:

So if you are naturally good with money- then that is a good thing certainly, but there is little choice in that good. You enjoy being good with money. It gives you pleasure. Others think it’s a sign of hard work and character. So what are we good at with little choice or temptation toward the other? And do we explain away some of our negative traits by hiding behind the good?

I am terrible with money. TERRIBLE. And as I am trying, sometimes half heartedly, sometimes with choice, to get better at it- I find myself justifying my bad habits with the good.

I think Christ saw the natural inclinations of the individual pretty clearly. He did not respond to everyone the exact same way.

Some were told to sell everything and follow him, some were told to return to their life.

And I wonder: were some told to go back to their families because they saw in Christ a reason to adventure and not be responsible? Were some told to sell everything and follow him because they erred toward worshipping stability and money?

Christ knew all of us- intimately (I believe) and so we can never really have another person tell us ‘what God wants for you’. Only you, and if not you than certainly those closest to you, know the way your natural inclinations bend.

Do you tend to be more forgiving? Kind? Gentle? Have you always rather been so? I’d wonder if maybe these terms could be interchanged with doormat/coward; insecure; people pleasing.

The word have pretty much the same end result- but the motivations are completely different.

But if a person who is naturally harsh, business-minded, impatient, etc- if this person chooses to not hide behind good traits in the name of Christ {task-oriented, on time, efficient, etc} and chooses and sweats and tries to be kind and gentle and forgiving-

now that’s a damn choice.

What is a choice for you?

It is hard for me to confront people when they have hurt me. It is hard for me to follow through. It is hard for me to be responsible with time and money. But I justify these things by being ‘generous’. Generosity happens when people give from what they have, with choice and deliberation- I’m just plain rash and uncaring of money.

But it can look like generosity, can’t it?

This is natural: it is not a choice for Christ. To repeat the idea: If it’s easy for you to forgive, because you don’t like confrontation or you get over things easier, then Christianity is a great way for you to hide your cowardice in telling people the truth, or a great way to spruce up for your wound of worthlessness. To you, I’d say that Christ has more to say- Christ forgave everyone, it was his last words- but pay attention to the fact that he was no door mat. He spoke the truth- calling the religious elite a brood of vipers, because….they were. Yes, he forgave the disciples for their stupidity, but not before calling them out on it.

If you lead more towards unforgiveness, toward anger. Than perhaps you use the verses of Christs anger as justification, perhaps forgiveness is a word to you that really means little.

In fact, forgiveness means as little to one who strays naturally more toward anger as it does to one who strays naturally more toward apathy and calls it forgiveness.

I love the story of Mary and Martha-
38-40As they continued their travel, Jesus entered a village. A woman by the name of Martha welcomed him and made him feel quite at home. She had a sister, Mary, who sat before the Master, hanging on every word he said. But Martha was pulled away by all she had to do in the kitchen. Later, she stepped in, interrupting them. "Master, don't you care that my sister has abandoned the kitchen to me? Tell her to lend me a hand."
41-42The Master said, "Martha, dear Martha, you're fussing far too much and getting yourself worked up over nothing. One thing only is essential, and Mary has chosen it—it's the main course, and won't be taken from her."

NIV translates it, more typically heard, as: 41"Martha, Martha," the Lord answered, "you are worried and upset about many things, 42but only one thing is needed.[f] Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her."

It is not that Mary was better. He didn't tell her to be more like her sister. Christ said the name of Martha twice- a sign of deep respect and affection- and then said that her sister had 'chosen what was better.'

I would say it must have been hard for a woman, a second class citizen, to sit in the place of a disciple. But she did, and it was a choice Christ commended.

So what's a choice for you?

Also- for the love of God will someone get me the hell out of blogspot? I need to choose to get my own website and then never let myself design it.


  1. Anything skillful that makes me uncomfortable.

  2. Let's plan on an all-day stardust date to get a website up. :)

    Oh, and I really enjoyed this and needed to hear it today.

  3. I love to read what you write.

  4. this is fantastic.
    f-ing right more. <----- that last one is me being a good Christian.