Tag Archives: moral standards

What Makes You Think You Have a Right to say that Something is Wrong?

When was the last time you heard anyone use the word chastened? This word is obviously related to chaste, which is a most unpopular word in today’s daily vocabulary. If you take the time to research all the related words, you will learn some interesting facts. The word chaste means “pure, virtuous,” and most particularly, “never taking part in immoral sexual intercourse.” Thus a young girl, a virgin, would be chaste if she had never engaged in sexual intercourse, while a married woman would be chaste if she only engaged in sexual intercourse with her husband. When that word was in common use, it had a meaning, and the meaning was based on teachings that some sexual behavior was good and some was not.

It is the factors of self-discipline and purity that lead to the related word chastened which opened this conversation. Someone needs to be chastened if that person is unable to discipline self and protect personal purity without assistance. To chasten a person is to apply the pressure, verbally or physically, that will restrain the individual from doing something wrong. When someone does something terribly wrong, or does a wrong thing over and over, it might be appropriate to castigate that person, which is severe scolding or harsh criticism. When someone is castigated his feelings might be hurt, but no physical pain is inflicted. However, if someone is chastised, there might well be a spanking, whipping, lashing or beating involved, and the process is likely repeated often. Verbal chastisement is a little less severe in the heat index for punishments than castigation, but the word chastise is not actually limited to verbal punishment. The use of these words, and their commonly understood meanings grew out of the existence of a cultural acceptance of some standards for behavior that is good and behavior that is evil. At the base, there was broad general agreement that sex outside marriage, lies, murder and theft were all morally wrong.

In every form of the word, there is an element that attempts to restrain bad behavior, and it is that element that shaped the word castrate, a procedure designed to restrain, or actually to prevent, a wayward male from fathering children. This extreme procedure was intended to protect women from behavior that the whole culture of the day believed to be morally unacceptable. Some deeds were good and some were evil.

All these words derive from a single root, castus, meaning “pure,” and some combine with the verb agere meaning “to do.” All these words are about a communal moral concept of purity and the disciplinary words and actions required to sustain the purity or punish the loss of it. Purity and discipline are not popular topics in cultural conversations. In fact, many voices in the culture reprimand parents and churches who express moral standards for children and teens. Those voices declare that it is unreasonable and unfair to expect children and teens to have moral standards, and it is unacceptable for children to be punished when they do wrong.

When biblical teaching is thrown into the mix, the frenzy heightens. The Bible is denigrated, along with everyone who believes it is truth. This is the secular answer to the problem of sin. Secular articles of faith deny that there is such a thing as sin, and because sin does not exist, then children and teens have no obligation to frowzy parents who still live in the Stone Age and chastise children who breach the moral standards of that bygone era. Secular thinkers are busily working toward an era in which the secular state will have ultimate authority over children. Parents will be held back, prevented from teaching and enforcing teachings from the “wrong side of history.”

What becomes of a culture that has no moral standards? When the Supreme Court issued the decision popularly known as Obergfell, the moral standards for sexual behavior were undercut so severely that no further decisions will be required in order to legitimize sodomy, incest, pedophilia or bestiality. In that mix, polygamy pales to insignificance by comparison. As long as the standard is that nobody should feel lonely or hurt, and that any sexual union which ameliorates the loneliness is and ought to be legally recognized as a marriage, what can possibly be considered to be immoral?. In fact, since Obergfell is based on no moral standard whatsoever, murder, theft, vandalism, embezzlement, and business fraud should all be legitimized as well. No standard can be shown to apply when the standard interferes with people and hurts their feelings.

When was the last time you felt chastened? When was the last time you chastened a child or a student. If you can remember that moment, hang on to it. There might never be another one.

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The State of the Bible Reveals the State of the People

Recently Barna Group reported on a survey called “The State of the Bible.” Barna Group is a reliable source of information about the culture and changing cultural attitudes toward religion. This report included a statement that should motivate every Christian to personal prayer and meditation. The results of the survey show that “while the Bible’s place in America as a cultural icon endures, it’s not always perceived as a transformational text.” The phrase “transformational text” is key. If the Bible is not a “transformational text,” then it is no more significant than the myths of Krishna or the sayings of Buddha. It is less significant than “The Sayings of Chairman Mao,” because the people who studied that famous little red book believed that Mao’s sayings were powerfully transformational.

The study also indicates that respect for the Bible in the US is declining, although a significant number of people still express respect. In 2011, 86% of respondents considered the Bible to be sacred, a level that declined to 79% in 2014. That number looks significant, but it does not in any way declare reverence for the Bible or any sense of obligation to follow its teachings. If anybody took a day to survey everyone he met, he might discover that everybody he met considered the Bible sacred. Yet he might also discover that not one of those people had opened the Bible even once in the past week. Many people consider the Bible sacred and keep it around for the same reason they might preserve a wedding dress. They no more intend to read the Bible than they intend to wear the dress. Both are special and memorable, and the special memories are best sustained by keeping the objects untouchable, stored in a safe place.

This is the attitude explains another comment on the Barna survey: “Even as Bible ownership remains strong, readership and engagement are weak.” Owning a Bible rarely leads to reading a Bible. Reading a Bible rarely leads to internalizing its teachings.

This survey appears to show clearly that many people who regard the Bible as sacred do not regard it as God’s revelation of himself. It is obvious that people can regard the Bible as sacred without regarding it as relevant to their daily lives.

Christians who ask why the culture is trying to suppress and diminish the influence of Christianity need to read these surveys. They need to recognize that “respecting” the Bible as a “sacred” book is a very different thing from considering the Bible to be God’s revealed guidance for faith and life. The survey makes it clear that even though 79% of the people consider the Bible sacred, only 19% of the people read it regularly with a view to living by its teachings. It might shock some Christians to discover that even though 79% of the people consider the Bible sacred, only 26% of the people who think morality in the US is declining believe that inattention to the Bible has anything to do with that decline. Apparently, in most people’s minds, the Bible is not the ultimate moral authority. In fact, most people appear to believe that the Bible has little or nothing to say to the everyday problems of human beings.

A look at the culture confirms the study. The 19% who attempt to shape their lives by the Bible see the Bible as the revelation of absolute truth, part of which is an absolute moral code. The number of people with this view of life is declining. Secular thinkers teach that there is no absolute truth, and secular thinkers teach people to look within themselves for guidance. The number of secular thinkers is increasing. It should not be surprising that the survey shows that people who are already sceptical about the Bible do not believe that morality is declining. Rather, they see positive progress in the fact that the culture now accepts as normal many behaviors considered immoral in the past. Careful reading of the statistics, especially the data for Millenials, indicates that there is a widening disconnect between those who follow a morality based on the Bible and those who shape their moral code on some other basis.

Christians who read the survey may well ask if there is anything to be done about it. They may mourn the loss of Christian influence in the culture. They may want to look back to a Norman Rockwell reality, forgetting that reality does not reside on a canvas. Christians who read the survey and conclude that things are getting worse and may never get better are guilty of not putting their faith in the God who revealed himself in the Bible. If the survey makes Christians despair, they are mistaking the real meaning of the survey. Nothing about the survey changes any truth about God or the Bible.

The information in this survey is, however, beyond the capability of any Christian to “fix.” Christians cannot take the survey and use it to plan a better strategy for teaching people to read their Bibles. The survey itself reports that people like to read the Bible on screens rather than paper, but they really don’t make time to read it, and when they do, they don’t take it to heart. Designing a more attractive Bible reading plan will not fix the statistics.

The only thing that will change the statistics is an increase in the trend for people to encounter the God revealed in the Bible and be changed by that encounter. Like Paul. Like Cornelius. Like the Philippian jailer. Christians must first be transformed by the Christ revealed in the Bible, and they must share that transformational Christ with others. The Bible is transformative, but God’s transformation is not a passive experience. People must read the Bible with hearts open to hear God speaking in the words of the Bible. If people read the Bible as ancient sacred literature, a relic of primitive thought, they will not be transformed. Only a faith conversation with God triggered by the words of the Bible will produce transformation.

This survey may be a prod for Christians to engage with the Bible in a transformative way. Christians who claim they are “too busy” to read the Bible will not experience it as transformational. They will experience respect for the Bible the way they feel nostalgia when viewing a perfectly preserved wedding dress. It is an attitude that does not permit, let alone invite, transformation. It sounds like a truism, but people are busy if they decide that they are busy. The always have time for the things they value. Christians who so not have time for the Bible, do not read it. People who do not read it will not be transformed by the God revealed in the Bible. They will always be part of the statistic that says 79% of people consider the Bible sacred, but 60% don’t consider it relevant to their daily lives.

Each Christian must examine himself or herself and ask, “Am I among the 19% who know the God revealed in the Bible and follow the Bible as my guide for faith and life?” Jesus told his followers from the very beginning that very few would find the narrow gate and hard path on which he walked. In order to walk that path they first need to dump self. Self says, “I need to do a lot of things in order to fulfill myself and look good.” When the fulfillment of Self is more important than the God revealed in the Bible, the Bible will take a distant last place in priorities. If anybody wants the statistics to look better next time, he must submit to the transformation that will make him part of the few, the 19%, the engaged. Programs will not change the statistics; only transformed people will change the statistics.

Christianity is All About YES!

The culture of the USA in general believes that Christians love the word NO. People believe that being a Christian is about thinking you are perfect and everyone else is a bad person in God’s eyes.

This misconception about Christians and Christianity is one example of the disinformation that has come to be accepted as the truth about us. We do, of course, believe that some behaviors are good and some are not, and we are all guilty of behaving badly, even by our own standards, so none of us appears to be a good example of being Christian. As a result, the culture often concludes that we are complete frauds. The fact that some people pose as Christians and perpetrate real fraud on people does not help our image.

Complicating our issues with image and reputation are cultural changes that have nothing to do with us. The mix of ideas and religions in the culture of the USA has undergone massive change in the past fifty years. As a consequence, the number of people who accept Christian ideas as normal and desirable has declined dramatically. In 2012 many more people doubt the existence of any god whatsoever than would have claimed that viewpoint in 1962. In 2012 the proportion of people who claim to be Christian is much reduced since 1962, alongside an increased proportion of people who claim to be Muslim, Hindu or humanist. Many who claim to be Christians because of their upbringing no longer practice their faith in any public way and even claim to believe that it ought not to be expressed publicly because of the possibility of offending people who believe something different. This sort of generic dismissal is coupled with widespread disinformation about Christianity.

A Christian who speaks and acts on Christian faith principles is likely to encounter real opposition to Christianity because of a public notion that Christians are hate-filled bigots. They further believe that we think all non-Christians are wicked.

And they are right! What they do not understand is that we know Christians are wicked, also. As a bumper sticker once reminded me, “Christians aren’t perfect–just forgiven.”

We have a real challenge when we try to tell people the good news that as Paul wrote, “In Christ, all of God’s promises are YES!” We don’t live in mournful gloom and doom. Living redeemed, living in relationship with Christ, is a resounding YES to life and love and fulfillment.

One way to demonstrate that truth is to rescue the Ten Commandments from the King James translation of the Bible. The culture hears “Thou shalt not” as a big NO, and interprets it as a harsh judgment intended to suppress and devalue human beings. That misconception thrives on any focus on “Thou shalt not.” It is biblically true that our God expects us to put boundaries on our behavior, but the best way to establish a boundary that shuts out unwanted behavior is to understand the mandate for desirable behavior.

Take for example, the first commandment Jesus said it in a very positive way: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.” (Matthew 22:39) Jesus put the focus on God’s expectations, but even the word “expectations” must be understood in the context of the fact that it is Jesus speaking. Who is Jesus? Jesus is God in the flesh, come down to earth, accepting the limitations of a human body in order to suffer and die a humiliating death because of his love for humankind. He stands there in the flesh, the living evidence of the depth and strength of God’s love for us, and he asks us to love him back with the same fervent commitment. That makes the first commandment a loving invitation to a relationship in which we will absolutely receive more than we can possibly give. Will that relationship be exclusive? Yes, but who cares? How is it negative for a person to love and serve this God exclusively? Why would you want to make any room for some fake god, some second-best option?

Try another. Jesus spoke the commandment often stated as “Thou shalt not bear false witness,” in a positive way, too. He said, “Let your word be ‘Yes, Yes’ or ‘No, No.’” (Matthew 5:37)  He gave this statement to refute a Pharisaic legal view that taught people it was bad to swear to a lie. Jesus said people ought not to swear at all, because swearing proved nothing. His point is that when we speak, we should speak truth. Our words must be truth. We expect God’s words to be truth, and we should expect nothing less of ourselves. When people live by the standard “Speak the truth,” then swearing or not swearing means nothing. After all, we all know that people can swear to lies. If they are going to lie, why would they fear to swear to a lie? You know without my saying it that our world would be a very different place if everybody spoke only truth.

People accuse Christians of being bigots and hate-mongers because they look at the behaviors we reject and think that we are defined by what we reject. If we live by Christ’s positive restatement of the commandments, we can refute that misconception without saying a word. I paraphrase the two great commandments Christ gave us this way: Love God more than anything else, and love your neighbor as yourself. If we live this way, people will see a lot more of Christ’s YES to life than they will ever see of the ancient “Thou shalt not” that sounds so negative to them.

Have you ever tried restating each of the Ten Commandments as positive directives?