Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Baby I Was Born This Way

Lady Gaga - Born This WayImage by Captivated (MIM) via Flickr
I was discussing a couple of biblical passages with a friend of mine on Facebook.  In particular, we were talking about the passage in Exodus where G-d hardens Pharoah's heart and the passage in Romans where Paul talks about G-d binding everyone over to sin.

New International Version (©1984)
For God has bound all men over to disobedience so that he may have mercy on them all.

This friend is a Universalist (like myself). But, we have very different opinions on what it means to be "bound over to disobedience". I was raised to hate the way I was made. I was made a sinful, rebellious creature worthy of loathing and eternal torment. Because of the "sin" of Adam, I was born in a state where I had no choice but to sin. This idea of original sin permeated my thoughts about myself for the first four decades of my life. Then, I began to look at sin differently. The Greek word for sin, hamarto, is an archery term. It's not an "evil" thing, it simply means to "miss the mark". Judaism has a few words for sin. But, basically Judaism teaches we have two natures, one inclined to do good (yetzer hatov) and one more animalistic (yetzer hara). We have to learn to develop the good nature while containing the animalistic nature.

While it's important to me what the Bible teaches, my understanding of how G-d works and how the universe works is no longer limited to the Bible.  While I'm glad to know that that Bible doesn't teach eternal torment and, in fact, teaches Universalism, I think at this point I'd be a Universalist even if the Bible didn't teach it.  Even though the Bible teaches we are "bound to disobedience" so that G-d can have mercy on us all, I don't really see it that way.  That sounds like G-d gave us a terrible, terminal disease just so that we'd be grateful when He cured it.  I think it's more like we are creatures that were made imperfect so that we could learn and grow and develop. That's part of the adventure of life.  Missing the mark or sinning, is something we do along the way, the way a toddler stumbles and falls when he takes his first steps.  It's not evil.  It's not rebellious.  It's a normal part of the development process.  It's certainly not worthy of retribution.  Yes, sometimes a child will throw a temper tantrum. Sometimes a child will knowingly and willingly rebel and there is a place for punishment. But, that punishment is corrective, not given to "pay back".
I stole the title of this post from Lady Gaga.  One of the things I like about her is she teaches people to embrace who they are.  Embracing who you are doesn't mean you never try to do better.  It means stop trying to be something you're not and appreciating the uniqueness that makes you you.  In a sense, I agree that we were all born "bound to disobedience".  We were all born in a state where we stumble and fall.  And, then we get up and try again.  But, the traditional Christian way of looking at this is extremely unhealthy in my experience.  Christianity projects this image of G-d as being somewhat shocked and extremely pissed off about the way we toddlers stumble around.  I just can't see it that way anymore.

My mama told me when I was young
We are all born superstars
She rolled my hair and put my lipstick on
In the glass of her boudoir

"There's nothing wrong with loving who you are"
She said, "'Cause he made you perfect, babe"

"So hold your head up girl and you'll go far,
Listen to me when I say"

I'm beautiful in my way
'Cause God makes no mistakes
I'm on the right track, baby
I was born this way

Don't hide yourself in regret
Just love yourself and you're set
I'm on the right track, baby
I was born this way
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Mike aka MonolithTMA said...

Must...resist...urge...to...respect...Gaga. ;-)

Seriously though, I love the message of her song.

Brian said...

My respect for Lady Gaga has grown over the last year or so based on interviews I've seen her do. She has a great positive message for her fans (her little monsters).

Mike aka MonolithTMA said...

Good to know.

kc bob said...

"That's part of the adventure of life."

Good stuff Brian. I liked the way that you frame sin as missing the mark and not as something evil. I do wonder though when the hamarto becomes parakoe, parabasis, anomia or paranomia - the willful transgression and not just a simple missing of the mark?

Brian said...

Yes, Bob. There are willful transgressions. But, they are also variations of missing the mark, IMO. There are sins that need correction. And, I believe the Bible addresses that. IMO Christians focus too much on trying to be perfect and miss out on the fact that we were intended to miss the mark. It's part of the design and I don't think that G-d did that simply so He could save us from the state He created us in.

kc bob said...

No questions at all about how we were created imperfectly Brian. But you have to agree that a lot of the bad things that happen are not just missing the mark. When I think of missing the mark I think of someone is trying to do the best they can but make mistakes. But heinous things that are done by some (i.e. rape, sadistic torture, premeditated murder) are not simply missing the mark. They are willful acts that often fit the definition of evil.

Again I agree with your basic premise just think that all the bad stuff cannot be explained by hamarto.

Anonymous said...

Another good one. I was watching Gaga one night as I passing through channels and thought, "Yeah, you are right, we are born this way".

That is something I always believed for the most part and I had to agree with her even though I am not necessarily a 'fan' that we are "Born This Way".

God Bless!

Brian said...

Bob, you bring up an interesting point. I used to debate with a guy who made the statement "No one ever knowingly does evil." On the surface, we would reject that statement out of hand because it's obvious people sometimes do things they know are against the moral code. But, we rarely do anything we don't rationalize or justify in our minds that we don't think is right for us in the moment. Let's look at two of the most evil men of the last 100 years. Adolf Hitler and Osama Bin Laden. Each was responsible for the deaths of thousand or millions of innocents. Yet, each was justified in his actions in his own mind. Each thought he was serving his people and doing G-d a service. I think that what Oprah says is true "When you know better, you do better."

The point I was trying to make with the article though wasn't an absolute that sin is never willful. It's that the Christian tendency to focus on original sin and our "evil nature" is unhealthy and unproductive. I prefer the Buddhist perspective that the "seed of purity" is within each of us. Each of us is born a potential Buddha/Christ and we each have to focus on manifesting that possibility that is inherent in us.

@Alicia- I'm not a huge fan of Gaga's music. But, there are some things I really like about her. I like the way she is so genuine about who she is- flaws and all. And I like the message she gives to young people to be comfortable in their own skins.

kc bob said...

"When you know better, you do better."

Sometimes that is true but sometimes, as in the case of an addict, it is not.

I would probably throw Stalin into the mix of despots - no evidence that he committed atrocities in the name of God.

All said, I like what you have written Brian and agree with the main point.

Brian said...

Not to belabor the point, Bob. But, I think in the case of most addicts, while they may know what is better for their body in the long run, they choose what they are compelled to do in the moment. Most would quit, if they could. They don't have the skill to quit.

I argued this (from your side) with my friend for weeks/months. While I disagree with the absolute "No one ever knowingly does evil.". I do think that most of the time evil is a lack of skill rather than a conscious attempt to do evil. People don't set out to do evil. They do evil things because they are hurt people or because it's somehow justified in their minds.

kc bob said...

"They do evil things because they are hurt people or because it's somehow justified in their minds."

I mostly agree Brian. I know that you and I do not agree on the presence of demonic spirits but I think that this aspect should also be factored in.

Brian said...

Bob- on the subject of demonic spirits, you may or may not know I'm pretty fascinated by near death experiences. Several psychics/mediums report that people who are lost after leaving this plane can attach themselves to people here and cause all kinds of problems. I think that may be what people in Bible times called "demonic" spirits.

Mike aka MonolithTMA said...

Well, if there's one thing I believe in less than God...

Ok, more than one.

Yeah, demons, ghosts, etc. Psychics and mediums too.


Of course, many of us, myself included, sometimes see what we want or expect to see. Maybe they exist and I just don't want or expect to see them, and maybe they don't, but others do want or expect to see them.

If a spirit world exists, I would definitely like to know.

Don said...

Nice post, Brian. I am still researching and studying "evil". I have reached no firm conclusions.

Brian said...


I've read probably a dozen books on NDEs and what happens to people after they die. There's too much evidence for me to simply ignore all of it. I've read serious scientists who have done research into some of these phenomena and I've read first person anecdotal experiences. I also have a friend on Facebook who has written a book about his experience with spirits.

I'm not here to try to convince anyone. But, I do believe the human spirit survives the end of the body. I don't believe in demons as in fallen angels or servants of Satan. But, I do believe that a person's spirit may become confused or resentful after death and cause mischief.

Mike aka MonolithTMA said...

Do you mean Louis Charles? He's an interesting guy and I like a lot of what he has to say.

I've read a little on the subject, seen lots of evidence, but I just haven't seen anything to convince me yet.

The truth is out there.

High School Sermons said...

It seems to me that the philosophy of "be your special self" is the pop-culture mantra of the day. That's why everyone wants to be a rockstar instead of a janitor.