When you were a kid, I’m sure you wished for a superpower. Aside from the obvious ones, like the ability to fly, the superpower I wanted most frequently was to be able to extend my reach across a room without getting up. This was in the days before remote controls for TV, if you can believe there ever was such a time!
During the current presidential election cycle, I’ve added another superpower to my wish list: the ability to convince people of my political opinions. That leads to the question that is the subject of this post.
Which of these superpowers is best?
- The ability to control other people’s thoughts so they agree with us.
- The ability to make the most sound argument possible for our views, even if our audience won’t necessarily be persuaded.
To philosophize is to prepare to die. Or, to truly take your life with the seriousness that philosophy demands, you can’t take your life all that seriously. (Plato at the Googleplex, page 303)
What is that about? If I’m so serious-minded that I’m preparing to die, aren’t I taking life pretty darn seriously?
I’m a few days late to the party, but today I found myself rereading Frederick Douglass’s magnificent oration, What to the Slave is the Fourth of July? As with all great texts, you come away with something different each time you read it. Last time, its applicability to LGBT rights struck me. This time, I noticed his closing thoughts on the positive ways the world is changing.
Writing 164 years ago, he noticed trends which have happily extended to this day. They are some of the same themes Stephen Pinker sounded in one of my favorite books, The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined.
For your encouragement, and without further comment, I turn this post over to Frederick Douglass:
Why do we think something is beautiful?
Imagine looking at a canvas painted solely in your favorite color. For me, that would be orange. I might think, “That is a really beautiful orange. There’s something complex in it — some depth.”
But even though the painting was 100% my favorite color, I’d probably like some other colors nearby as well, right? I once saw this installation, titled 24 Colors — for Blinky at the Dia:Beacon museum.
What do all of these would-be utopias have in common?
- The workers’ paradise of the Soviet Union.
- Ancient Hebrew society as ruled directly by God, before they insisted on having a king.
- The Puritan community in the Massachusetts Bay Colony.
- Plato’s Republic.
I can think of two correct answers:
Sometimes I’m tempted to upgrade to YouTube Red so I don’t have to watch all the ads, but then an ad comes along that changes my life. Well, almost.
Yesterday, a video that I can’t even remember was preceded by an ad I’ll never forget. Maybe you’ve seen it, too. It opened with a scruffy-looking man in his back yard saying, “Yeah, so this is my back yard…” except this wasn’t just any back yard. It was mostly a gigantic swimming pool, sited behind a luxurious home in Beverly Hills. The next five and a half minutes consisted of the scruffy man, Tai Lopez, nonchalantly taking me on a tour of his uber-house while promising to reveal the Three Secrets of Success.
He was disarmingly casual, not even sure how many bedrooms the house had (18, or was that the number of bathrooms?), nor which of his many cars were in this particular property’s garage at the moment (they turned out to be the Ferrari and the “Lambo”).
I admit that I watched the whole thing. Even after all these years of knowing that wealth can’t buy happiness, I still wish I were rich. Call me irrational.
Last time, I promised this post would consider the purpose of hell. It has been so long since that promise that some of my readers may think that I have actually gone there, but fear not: I have not and neither will you.
Alive and well so far, let’s turn to the cheerful subject of why hell is so important to evangelical Christianity.
1) Without hell, Jesus’ death on the cross is meaningless.
Several years ago, one of my daughters, who was a Christian, said she was worried about going to hell. At the time, I was still a Christian too, but, in the midst of my four-year period of deep questioning, there were some things I had figured out. I assured her, “Don’t worry. The doctrine of hell is ridiculous. A just God would not punish anyone for an infinite amount of time for sins committed in this lifetime’s comparative blink of an eye. Infinite punishment for finite sins makes no sense.”
She immediately saw the truth of my argument and stopped worrying about hell.