Tuesday, April 1, 2014

We Are Cowards of Conviction

The past few weeks have provided many opportunities to ponder the contrast between conviction and action.  Between the World Vision debacle, the death of Fred Phelps, an episode of How I Met Your Mother, and the memories of past events, maybe more than ever I’ve become aware of the times when people truly BELIEVE what they say, and when they don’t.  Please bare with a few stories:

When I was a kid, my best friend's dad repeatedly went to jail for blocking the doors to abortion clinics.  Motivated by the conviction that every day, innocent lives were being taken, he acted on that conviction, even to the detriment of his own family.  To him, a conviction that strong required action, otherwise what good was the conviction?  His conclusion may have been wrong, but he acted on it.

Also when I was a kid, my parents were not gun owners.  My dad used to say, "If someone threatened my life, and I had the chance to shoot them, I wouldn't.  I know where I'm going when I die, but I don't know where they're going, and it's not my place to end their chances at accepting Christ."  Twenty years later, things have changed quite a bit.  2 Christmases ago, following the Newtown massacre, dad opined, "It's the idiots running around yelling "stop the NRA" that should be taken out and shot."  I tell myself he had no idea he was advocating the killing of at least one of his kids.  In any event, despite changing his mind, at the time he made both statements, he still hadn't gone out and bought a gun.  The conviction did not necessitate action.

The Westboro Baptist Church is possibly the most shocking hate group in the country.  And yet, there's a logical consistency to what they're doing.  If one truly believes, as they do, that God's judgment is being brought down upon the Earth, and the only way to save one's self is to repent and join their church, it makes sense to be as loud and visible with that message as possible.  From my vantage point, a belief in hell at all almost necessitates this response.  One of my ongoing disappointments is that for almost 2 years now I've been practically begging people to evangelize to me, with almost zero response (seriously, how many atheists do you know who are actively trying to believe in God?).  The closest anyone has come was a 75 year old man I'd just met on a claim at work.

I recently posted an article discussing the quandary of how the inhabitants of heaven could possibly be happy knowing that most of the people they know are suffering in hell forever?  One of my friends responded with this:
  " if someone truly believes in heaven and hell...this logic doesn't start applying in heaven, it starts now. it's actually more sociopathic and messed up now to be ok with someone going to hell, because now you actually have a chance to talk to them about it...so if you're not and are just "ok" with it...how messed up are you?"

The great irony in his response is that for months, we had lunch together once a week, and not once was there an attempt at evangelism.  Allow me to share one of my very favorite quotes:

“I’ve always said that I don’t respect people who don’t proselytize. I don’t respect that at all. If you believe that there’s a heaven and a hell, and people could be going to hell or not getting eternal life, and you think that it’s not really worth telling them this because it would make it socially awkward—and atheists who think people shouldn’t proselytize and who say just leave me along and keep your religion to yourself—how much do you have to hate somebody to not proselytize? How much do you have to hate somebody to believe everlasting life is possible and not tell them that?
“I mean, if I believed, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that a truck was coming at you, and you didn’t believe that truck was bearing down on you, there is a certain point where I tackle you. And this is more important than that.”  - Penn Jillette

Now, I don't mean to suggest that all convictions should be followed (in fact, for some of you, I hope you WON'T follow your convictions).  Strength of conviction is not an isolated virtue.  But I think it's worth considering, do we really believe the things we say we believe?  And if so, what are we DOING about them?  Some of our convictions are difficult to implement beyond the voting booth.  But some are easier.
The thing that probably gives me the biggest rush is unexpected giving.  I prefer it to be anonymous, but it doesn't have to be.  Quakers use the word "leading" to describe the overwhelming urge to say or do something.  I have this experience all the time in regards to wanting to help someone, but I usually chicken out, intimidated by the difficulty of what I want to do.
Today, in honor of Fred Phelps and the sociopaths who intimidated World Vision into cowardice, I'm going to start working on something I've wanted to do for a long time.  I won't bring it up again, because that's besides the point.  But I encourage you to think about what your convictions are, and whether you believe in them enough to overcome the hesitation to act on them.