Monday, January 31, 2011

God or Money?

I was listening to Dr. Jimmy Jackson, senior pastor of Whitesburg Baptist Church in Huntsville, Alabama, on TV this past Sunday morning. The topic of his sermon was finding financial freedom. He discussed what people normally consider to be financial freedom, which is being totally free of debt and having enough money to live on for the rest of our lives without having to work. He said that this goal was fine, but the financial freedom he was going to talk about was the only true financial freedom, and that was depending upon God for our needs rather than ourselves, other people, or our finances. He quoted from Matthew 6 where Jesus says, "Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are healthy, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eyes are unhealthy, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness! No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money."

At one point in Dr. Jackson's sermon he said that if we put our trust in money, it will disappoint us, as it did in the recent financial crisis. However, if we put our trust in God, he will not disappoint. I understood the point he was trying to make, but I had to take exception with it. Just think a bit about it. Many people place their trust in God for many things. Sometimes it works out, other times it doesn't. For instance, a person places his trust in God to protect his children during those times when the parent cannot. Yet, the child ends up severely injured or dead. A farmer trusts God to protect his crops by not bringing severe weather, but the freeze comes and the farmer's crops are decimated. There are many, many ways in which people trust God, only to be disappointed. Some of these people become disillusioned, while others take the attitude that God knows what he is doing, and the bad things that have occurred happened for a reason. Now think with me further. If people took the latter attitude with money, they would find that they could trust in money just as much as God. For example, if a person trusts that his money will see him through his old age, but suddenly all is lost due to a severe economic downturn, the person could just say that it all happened for the best. His money has not let him down after all. So, the success or failure of the object of our trust is more in the eye of the beholder than in the object itself. If we take the attitude that things should always work out as we want if we trust in something or someone, then we can become bitter with that object should things so sour. However, if we take the attitude that the object of our faith can do no wrong, then regardless of what happens, we will consider the object blameless. This can apply to Yahweh, Buddha, Zoroaster, Zeus, money, or a totem pole.

Some of you might say that God cannot be compared with money since God is eternal while money is temporal. That is true, and that is exactly the point that Jesus makes in Matthew 6. Many people trust in God for eternal things, but I know of no one that trusts in money for eternal things. So, if we are to make a valid comparison between God and money, we must talk about temporal matters only. Who or what can be trusted the most with temporal matters: God or money. Well, there have been many people who have placed their trust in God for their temporal lives here on Earth only to be severely disappointed. Other have been extremely satified with God's provision. On the other hand, many people have placed their trust in money and finances for their temporal well-being and have been greatly disallusioned. There really are things that money cannot buy. However, others have been very satisfied, being able to live into old age with all their needs, and many wants, met, while perhaps being able to leave much of their wealth to children and charities.

So, it appears that there really is no person, thing, or deity that we can place our temporal trust in 100% and never be disappointed. Unless of course, you are one lucky dude.

I have spoken of money in this post as if it is some sort of conscious entity that can decide whether to benefit our lives or destroy them. Of course, it is no such thing. Money is simply a tool that we use to make it easy to exchange our labor for the labor of others. So, when money blesses us, that typically means that we have managed our money well and no one has been able to take it from us. When money fails us, it typically means that we have mismanaged our money or others have either stolen it or set in play the financial conditions that led to its devaluing. In the end, it is normally conscious entities, such as ourselves and others, that ultimately determine how well money works for us. However, there are also those chance circumstances, whether fortunate or unfortunate, that can make or break us.

Whenever I think about money and it's nature, I think of Francisco d'Anconia's speech about money in Ayn Rand's novel "Atlas Shrugged". It lays out how money arises and what its purpose is. If you would like to read this speech for yourself, it is available online at . While reading it, please keep in mind that Ms. Rand uses the common misquote of 1 Timothy 6:10A. She uses the phrase "money is the root of all evil" rather than the correct "love of money is a root of all kinds of evil". I am not sure if Ms. Rand was mistaken in her knowledge of what the Bible says or if she used the misquote because so many people have a misconception about what the Bible actually says.


Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Instant Gratification

On Sunday morning I went to hear a former coworker, Bill Parkhurst, speak (or preach?) at the UU church. (For the UUnchurched, that's Unitarian Universalist.) He spoke about faith and science. During his talk, he highly recommended a book by Bill Bryson entitled, "A Short History of Nearly Everything". Several times I have looked at this book and thought about buying it, but just never did.

Well, at 2:45 this morning, I was awakened by some Stephano's buffalo wings I had for lunch yesterday. (BTW, Stephano's buffalo wings are the best EV-ER!) While ruling my kingdom of one from my throne, I began thinking about Bill's book recommendation. I decided I wanted to read it. But it was nearly three in the morning. Books-A-Million was closed, and I didn't want to get out in the middle of the night to purchase a book anyway. Perhaps I could order it online. Yes, Books-A-Million, as well as many other booksellers, are open 24/7 online. But I would have to wait a few days for it to arrive. I wanted the book NOW!!! Well, being a king and all, I have the best technology money can buy. Actually, many lesser people in my land have the same technology. In this case, the technology of which I speak is a Motorola Droid with Verizon Wireless phone and 3G service.

The Droid is NOT a phone, it's a SMART phone. Actually, it's as dumb as a doornail. After all, it's just a small plastic container containing electronics. However, the people who designed it are VERY SMART! The phone itself would best be called a Multifunctional Phone. Facebook, Twitter, Email, texting, photos, videos, weather, news, the Internet, GPS navigation, and more are all available through this little handheld device. Heck, with the proper app, you can even use it as a flashlight. WooHoo! Another app that is available, and that I have installed, for the Droid is Kindle. It allows you to read any electronic books you have purchased from I also have a Nook app (from Barnes & Noble), the BAM reader (from Books-A-Million), and other book readers on my Droid.

So, here I was on my throne in the middle of the night wanting to read a book that I did not currently own. What to do? Fortunately I had grabbed my Droid off its charging cradle before entering my royal chambers. So, I just loaded up the Kindle app, went to the online store, searched for Bill Bryson, found the book I wanted, pressed the 1-Click purchase option, waited a few seconds, and Voila: instant gratification. I read the first few pages of the book as the buffalo wings settled down to just a slight flutter. Then I went back to bed to finish out my night's sleep.

Man, how things have changed.

Another example. At one time, if you wanted to find a particular restaurant in an unfamiliar place, you either had to stop and ask someone, or you had to stop at a pay phone booth and look it up in the telephone book yellow pages (assuming the relevant page had not been torn out by another hungry person). (For you youngsters, a pay phone booth is a small glass building with a phone that would only work if you fed it money. To see one, watch an old Superman show.) Well, one day my family and I were driving through Nashville, Tennessee, and decided we wanted to eat at an Olive Garden. My son, being the first one in the family to own a smart, uh multifunctional, phone, pulled out his Droid and searched for Olive Garden. The search worked in conjunction with our location and displayed an Olive Garden that was nearby, but still in front of us. My son then instructed the phone to navigate to the restaurant. The computerized voice started telling us which exit to take and what turns to make. We were soon at the Olive Garden enjoying their fantastic Fettuccine Alfredo.

Ah, yes, INSTANT GRATIFICATION. Don't you just LOVE IT???

Saturday, January 1, 2011

The New Year, Resolutions, and Spirituality

Well, it's New Year's Day, 1/1/11. It is my understanding that this day rolls around about once every year. And it's a time when many people attempt to turn over a new leaf. Assuming, of course, that the old leaf was rotten. If not, I prefer to just turn that old leaf over one more time.

At this time of new beginnings, resolutions spew forth from so many people, you'd think we were in the halls of Congress. And these resolutions are generally kept with about the same frequency as are the Congressmen's promises.

Many of these New Year's resolutions concern doing healthier things like not setting on fire things stuck in your mouth, not super-sizing anything other than the occasional salad, walking more and talking less, etc. But some people look more towards the spiritual side of life, wanting to become more spiritual and more acceptable to God. But what does it mean to be more spiritual?

For people who share a common belief, the things that are necessary to become more spiritual can sometimes go unspoken. For instance, Christians generally consider a more spiritual life to consist of more time studying the Bible, praying, and seeking the will of God. For Hindus, it might consist of following more fully the four objectives of human life and practicing the four yogas to a greater extent. For Muslims it might entail following the dietary laws more faithfully, being sure to pray five times a day, and finally making that pilgrimage to Mecca.

What is interesting is how people in each religion see the spiritual actions of people in other religions as being unfruitful, perhaps even silly. For instance, a Christian may laugh at the idea of repeating a mantra, saying that repeating syllables do not carry any special powers and is not of interest to God. For a person steeped in a particular faith, the criticisms of other faiths by his fellow brethren seems so sensible. After all, he has perhaps been immersed in his beliefs for many years. All seems so clear from his perspective.

However, to a person standing outside any faith system, the whole notion of a person being able to speak definitively for God is nonsensical. Why? Because once God is thrown into the equation, anything goes. One person may criticize another person's belief in reincarnation, claiming it to be a ridiculous belief. But when you really think deeply about it, why is reincarnation any more ridiculous than resurrection? Both involve a dead person coming back to life in a different form. And why is repeating seemingly nonsensical syllables over and over any more crazy than speaking to God in prayer? Both involve speaking to a being that we cannot observe.

The bottom line is that if God (or a group of gods) exists, and if God (or a group of gods) is sovereign, then his actions can be capricious. After all, if God just exists, and there is no higher being to define good and evil for him, then God can act in any way he so chooses and no condemnation would be forthcoming. That means that God can choose spiritual things to be anything that meets his fancy. If he wants people to speak mantras, then so be it. If prayers, then so be it. If chants, then so be it. If God wants to reincarnate people, let him do so. If resurrect people at the end of this age, let him do that. Nothing can be proclaimed silly or ridiculous.

It is only when men look at these "spiritual" actions and practices and weigh them against the benefits that proceed from them, that we can say that some are useful while others are a waste of time. And when we look at the world, we find that some people are greatly benefited by practicing Christianity while others are greatly benefited by practicing Islam. Some people are much more fulfilled and happy by not practicing any religion. It seems that there is a belief or a non-belief for just about any type of person out there in the world. So, while it can be healthy to have serious discussions about the truthfulness of various beliefs when done in a civil manner, we need to guard against excessive bickering and all come together, cherish, and proclaim that which most of us have in common.


Be it resolved.