Friday, December 3, 2010

Thoughts on mammon

My wife says that it is difficult to serve two masters, that I will eventually have to decide one way or the other; to either get back into the church or remove myself entirely from it. Of course, I cannot ever truly remove myself entirely from it if I want to stay married to a woman who is active in the church, but I digress. I think this philosophy only creates a line in the sand mentality and causes divide among people in the world who are just trying to get along and do what they think is right. This thought has caused me to think upon the scripture the thought is based on, man cannot serve two masters, man eventually has to decide between God and mammon. I am not 100% sure about my definition of mammon, but I think the word has been generally used to describe "the world". Especially since there is a teaching about being in "the world" but not of "the world".

It seems like nobody really questions this teaching or its underlying assumption that "the world" is evil. So who is this "the world" anyway? If I ask people who cite this teaching or prescribe to it, it is always defined as a nebulous place "out there" or "all the bad stuff". So, if I press for some specific examples of the influence of "the world" what do I get? Is your neighbor of "the world"? Are your co-workers of "the world"? Some might say yes, but if I ask which one's, what do I get? Lots of hemming and hawing and excuses about how "the world" can't be described as any individual but a nebulous group of people "somewhere", "out there" who are influenced by the devil to promote his works. So which people belong to this group? Oh, you know, the murderers, rapists, etc. bad people. You mean the one's in prison? Yes, those people. So are we supposed to go and hang out in prisons, then, to be "in" "the world" but not "of" "the world"? It only gets more ridiculous until the point where the believer begins bearing their testimony to me about the existence of "the world" and that they believe the scripture is true telling them to be "in" "the world" but not "of" "the world". Essentially the believers put their fingers in their ears and begin yelling "la la la la" really loud and saying they can't hear me anymore.

I have a TBM friend who recently invited me to read his blog. Other than a nice layout the content was pretty boring. In one entry he talked about going to Best Buy early in the morning on black Friday and that there was a youth group there from a local church that was handing out hot chocolate. He observed that some people in line (to get into the store, before they opened) gave the youth a hard time because they wondered aloud why the youth were not in Africa with other missionaries trying to do what they were doing. Basically my friend felt bad because he didn't do a better job of standing up for the youth and he wondered why our world seems to be so anti-religion. Of course, his reaction was to silently criticize those apparent anti-religionists and wonder why the world had to be so evil.

I had a glimmer of hope that he might begin to touch on what I see is the larger issue at hand. And that is, why is it that people who go about doing good things must advertise the fact that they belong to a certain church/religion? I was curious as I passed the local baptist church on my way to work the other day where their sign outside said (I'm paraphrasing), "Our mission is to seek Jesus and teach others to do so" (it was put somewhat more elegantly on the sign and my paraphrase doesn't do it justice). In my opinion, it is the constant proselytizing and attempts to convert others that may actually be the crux of the problem. I wonder if those youth that belonged to that church could have done the same service without announcing to everyone which church they belonged to and announcing who or what they were serving on behalf of? I wonder how the result may have been different had they done that?

It seems to me that Jesus would be more inclined to have people go about doing good works without anyone knowing what church or religion you belong to, but rather I think Jesus' idea was to just go about doing good for the sake of making the world a better place. Instead, attempts to serve are darkened by the advertisement of the church that is doing the serving. It reminds me of those trailers that are setup at freeway rest stops during holiday travel days that have signs that say "Free Coffee and cookies", but when you get up there to have some, they push a donation cup in your face and have signs all over advertising who is offering this "free" stuff. I understand that this is the way the world works, but it doesn't seem very Christ-like to me. If only Christians understood what Jesus was trying to tell them, don't hide your good works, but you don't need to go about doing them with the intent of converting those that you serve.

I guess this is how advocates of religion define being "in" "the world" but not "of" "the world". They place themselves in situations they call service to others, but they attach strings of advertising what group they represent and almost make the acceptance of the service a conditional acceptance of their invitation to come to their church some day.

If only they were sincere in their pronouncements that you can come and receive spiritual nourishment at their church and didn't want to tell you how important it is to buy into the concept of tithing (paid to their church only) if you want to adequately demonstrate your faithfulness to their brand of God.

So do you take the hot chocolate or not? Right now I am inclined to not do so because of the strings attached, but maybe if I was hungry enough or cold enough I would consider it. This conclusion causes me to think about the question of guilt. Since I was proud of myself for recognizing that guilt had no power over me when I began my journey out of belief in the church, I told my wife that at one point. I said, I don't really feel any guilt anymore. Of course, she freaked out at this because then she wondered what terrible thing I would do because I had no guilt anymore. So, why do I feel guilt about taking hot chocolate from a church youth but I don't feel guilt about not going to church or believing in Mormonism anymore? I will have to ponder on this some more and see what my subconscious helps me come up with. I probably need to do some more field work by being "of" "the world" and see what I come up with. I really don't think "the world" is such a bad place after all.

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