Memes and Anti-Memes

Two Face

One of the claims of the New Atheists is that church-goers get disillusioned by a type of mirage called a “meme.”

According to merriam-webster.com, a meme is:

“ an idea, behavior, style, or usage that spreads from person to person within a culture”

Let’s take, for instance, an image where God is a father.  In this meme, we might have an image where God looks like a smiling father with a child sitting comfortably in His lap.  This image becomes a meme when we freeze the bounds, where God can be nothing other than this picture.  Yes, God is certainly like an earthly father, but he is not constrained to those characteristics.  So when we find God to be something other than that meme, we have a set of choices to make.  The options I can see are four-fold.

  1. Unwaveringly hold on to the meme. God is a charming earthly father and nothing more.
  2. Study to find what else God might be. What might a Heavenly Father look like?
  3. Replace the meme with another meme. God is not a charming earthly father, but rather an impatient, abusive father.
  4. Study to find out whether God is a product of fiction. Perhaps we cannot find a rational description of God.

Notice the other meme in option 3.  This is done by sloppy study of the God of the Bible.  By cherry-picking verses out of the Bible rather than doing serious study, we can make God out to be a very angry father.  I call this other meme an anti-meme.  Rather than taking a hard, honest look at what a Heavenly Father entails, we take a quick glance and end up with another false image.  Now we have a “raging father” meme rather than a “charming father” meme.  And if we make a false assumption that we have honestly and diligently studied Biblical history, we could skip to step 4 and state, “Perhaps we cannot find a rational description of God.”  So a false set of options would look like this:

  1. Unwaveringly hold on to the meme. God is a charming earthly father and nothing more.
  2. Study to find out whether God is a product of fiction. God is not a charming earthly father, but rather an impatient, abusive father. Perhaps we cannot find a rational description of God.

Coincidentally works out for the atheist, doesn’t it?  And yet the other options are subtly out of view.

So what happens if we explore option 2 out of the 4 options?  I’ve been reading a book by Paul Copan, “Is God a Moral Monster?”  If we read books like this in light of the new atheists’ claims, we’ll at least have a balanced view.  Taking this in addition to my own study of the Bible, I can consider what a Heavenly Father might look like.  For starters, He’s got billions of children over the course of thousands of years in various cultures of various ages.  Consider that some of His children are tyrants, while others cry out for deliverance.  A Heavenly Father’s patience may last for hundreds of years, and yet cries for help cannot be ignored.  And how did ancient Biblical people view things?  From my own research, ancient Middle-Easterners would look at modern Westerners as a bunch of softies.  But don’t take my word for it; do your own research and find for out yourself.  You’ll find their situation is no easy picture, no quickly-forming meme.

The word ‘antimeme’ or ‘anti-meme’ does not have a definition according to the latest Merriam-Webster results.  By ‘anti-meme’ I refer to:

“a fresh meme that is invented to replace another diametrically-opposed meme”

This meme will probably not behave like the original meme, since it is new or falsely presented as new.  Therefore, it will not appear mindless or viral, rather as fresh and original.  Like a meme, an anti-meme will have some reasoning behind it, reasoning that supports the opposing viewpoint.  However, like the meme, the anti-meme will depend on assumptions and caricatures.

A popular anti-meme says that Jesus’ crucifixion was a form of cosmic child abuse.  What images come to your mind when you think of ‘child abuse?’  The first image I get is a child in elementary school that wears long sleeves in summer to cover her bruises.  I confirm the moral injustice, the unethical treatment within the situation.  Abusing a child is certainly wrong.  So does the crucifixion fit this profile?  Let’s read from Jesus’ own words to His Father before the crucifixion:

John 17:1 Jesus spoke these words, lifted up His eyes to heaven, and said: “Father, the hour has come. Glorify Your Son, that Your Son also may glorify You, as You have given Him authority over all flesh, that He should give eternal life to as many as You have given Him. And this is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent. I have glorified You on the earth. I have finished the work which You have given Me to do. And now, O Father, glorify Me together with Yourself, with the glory which I had with You before the world was…”

From an eternal perspective, the focus shifts from the word ‘child’ to the word ‘cosmic.’  Jesus is a child to God only in the sense that He is a Son; not in the sense of being younger or less mature.  Often the Biblical reference to the word ‘child’ is misinterpreted due to the strength of family tradition.  You could be 70 years old and be the ‘child’ of a 100-year-old, because your father would always be your father.  On top of this, we have an infinite son of an infinite father.  How meme-shattering the ‘cosmic child’ proves to be!

So should we hastily throw away all our memes?  No.  Memes are a good starting point, like intuition to a child.  Think of memes like icons on your computer.  What If instead of small pictures that represented the entire programs on your computer desktop, you had the entire programs all running simultaneously on your screen?  Actually, this would waste a ton of memory and keep the other icons out of sight.  I suggest that instead of totally blowing all our memes away, we should investigate them one by one.  We might just enrich each one.  God is a very loving Heavenly Father, one that has an eternal plan in mind for each one of us.  Yes, it is more complicated and sometimes quite bewildering.  It ties in a multi-dimensional love woven through times and cultures.  It defies a simple explanation, and yet ultimately becomes a reality in a future world.  Let’s be careful not to hastily adopt memes or anti-memes.  For the serious Bible student, this means to “be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.”

Copyright 2014

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The City of Crosses

city crossesA man living in a third-world country got the opportunity to move to America. Before becoming a citizen, he had certain stipulations. Upon arrival, he talked to the mayor of the town he wished to live in. “I don’t mind enjoying the freedom and opportunity America has to offer. Just don’t push your religious ideas on me.”

The mayor assured him. “America is a melting pot of ideas and religions. You will have opportunities to learn of different ideas, but we will not push anything on you.”

One week later, the foreigner stormed into the mayor’s office. “When will your town stop pushing your religious symbols on me?” The mayor sat down and tried to understand what the foreigner meant by this; however, things got lost in translation. Feeling ignored and patronized, the foreigner stormed out, promising to write the president a letter.

A week later, the president opened the letter from the foreigner. The spelling and grammar had been done by a secretary for the president to clearly understand.

Dear Mr. President,

I appreciate the welcoming arms and great opportunities your country has to offer. Unfortunately, I must complain about a certain town. This town has erected a large wooden cross, a symbol of religious belief. I thought I could avoid this symbol to embrace my own beliefs. Instead, I found another wooden cross in front of a library, another at the theatre, and more crosses at every turn. When speaking to the mayor, he said this cross was a symbol of great power. Horrified, I demanded these intolerant symbols be taken down, or replaced with a universal symbol. The mayor told me it would be dangerous and costly to take the symbols down. That it would leave many in the dark.

How, Mr. President, could you allow such an atrocity? I will consider leaving this country if something is not done immediately!

Sincerely,

Mr. Foreigner.

The president did not hesitate to call the mayor. Without letting the mayor speak, the president strictly ordered the mayor to cut down the offensive wooden crosses immediately. One month later, the president got another letter, this time from the Mayor.

Dear Mr. President,

I respect the fact that you are the head of this country. We have followed your orders completely. I hope you will at least send emergency aid. Since we have cut down every last telephone pole in our town, every last citizen is without power. Businesses suffer, traffic has halted, food is scarce, and people are literally in the dark.

Sincerely,

Mr. Mayor

Immediately the president flew in to the town to see the wreckage himself. The mayor met him at the airport. The president froze. “Isn’t that a telephone pole in the distance?”

The mayor grinned. “I did think about carrying out your orders, Mister President. But then, I thought about the one pole that carried electricity to the fire house where we keep the voting machine. I thought you might want that one standing.”

The president seemed more relieved, but still ghostly pale.

“Oh, and we thought about last year, when you came and visited the plant to offer more jobs. We thought you might like that to be running as well. Honestly, we wondered if every potential voter in this town would think better of a president that offered electricity. I lied when I said we took down every last telephone pole. We did not take down any. I hope you don’t mind my foresight in this matter.”

“Mister Mayor, of course I would never hurt anyone in this great country. You must know that I feared a great offense of another kind, imposing its values on innocent bystanders. But, this foreigner, how is he taking this?”

“After the whole town pitched in to get him a refrigerator, television, and juicer, we haven’t seen or heard of him.  I guess you could say he’s seen the light.”

The news cameras had gathered by this time, aiming their sights on the president.  He tried in vain to form a diplomatic response.  Involuntarily he choked up the word “Thanks.”

“Oh, don’t thank me. It looks like you’ve been saved by a large wooden cross, one that carries more power than your or I.”

 

Tolerance in Syria

bigstock-syria-3770337

Beneath the surface of the political struggle, Syria is engaged with persecution. In a part of the world where Christianity is a minority, religious persecution gets a back-row seat to world powers.  But religious persecution is nothing new to the area.  On the way to Damascus, nearly 2000 years ago, a religious man with political ties determined to obey the laws of his God.  The man named Saul determined that these laws ordered him to wipe out a rising sect of Jews.  Later on, this sect would be known as ‘Christians’ – followers of Jesus Christ (A name still cursed internationally.)  On the way to Damascus, a power stopped Saul in his tracks.  The power was not political, chemical, or legal.  The power was a person, a person of divine nature.  Jesus himself revealed his glory and presence, blinding Saul.  Saul became physically blind but spiritually aware of a greater battle waging behind the scenes. The battle, as it has always been, is over the souls of men.  After his conversion, Saul took on the name Paul, not a follower of a new religion, but a follower of a living person.  His new vision of the powers we struggle against would inspire him to write:

Ephesians 6:12 King James Version (KJV) For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.

And from prison, Paul wrestled in a kneeling position, utilizing the great weapon of prayer.

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How different is the Western viewpoint, where ‘persecution’ is simply speaking one’s belief in front of an offended listener.  I see the TOLERATE bumper sticker, and I wonder if it’s in the wrong place.  Maybe these cars should be cruising through the Middle East.  Car-bombings, imprisonment, destruction of homes and churches are far from tolerance.  Start in the areas of the world where persecution is the harshest.  Then come back to America and take in the refreshing air of religious freedom.

http://www.worldmag.com/2013/09/persecution_in_syria_no_comment