Babies R Us

Someone must have made a mistake because Chris woke up amongst a sea of adults and children. Bright lights. Voices. ‘Welcome to Babies R Us.’ A gentle murmur, barely noticeable but present throughout, like a radio on a long drive. ‘Oh my goodness, she’s beautiful’. ‘Mom I really don’t want a sister.’ ‘What’s the prognosis for her lifespan?’ ‘Excellent mam, time of death is projected in 80-100 years, so about 2129.’ These voices seemed closer. Chris turned his head to the right and saw a mom and her son talking with the store clerk. She held his hand, the muscle tone on her arm giving away the strain of preventing his escape. Every now and then, the child would looking around, fixing his gaze on whatever drew his attention the most. Next to them stood a tub shaped container with a clear hard plastic cover, its sheen reflecting the store light. It was small, probably with the capacity to hold no more than 5kg. A chart was propped up on a stand next to the box, which the mom was now eyeing. Chris tried to cry but it was as though someone had placed him on mute. Every sound echoed back in his box. To an outsider, it simply looked like he was making funny gestures with his mouth.

Chris’ mom sat propped up reading on the couch as his dad strolled in. ‘Good morning hunny.’ He slid his arms around her back, imparting a quick kiss before sitting down himself. ‘Good morning’. She put the book down and eyed him. ‘What?’ he said. ‘I was just thinking about the idea of us. And kids.’ ‘Oh,’ he replied. She smiled. ‘Not now, silly,’. ‘Of course,’ he replied. ‘It’s much too soon.’ She nodded. ‘Too soon. We’re only 28 after all. Still plenty of time.’ Chris’ dad grabbed the remote and flicked to the news, grinning as he did so. ‘It doesn’t stop us from trying though.’

‘I understand you have a child between you two.’ The judge spoke stiffly. The courtroom was quiet beneath the glare of the LED lighting. The only sound that could be heard was the click clack of the court stenographer’s typing. Somewhere in the back, a guard sniffled. ‘Yes, your honor,’ said Chris’ dad. ‘But we had him put in cryo 10 years ago and he’s remained there since.’ He stared into the floor, avoiding the gaze of anyone who might be looking at him. ‘And have you considered parental rights or whom would receive custody of him?’ Chris’ mom chimed in, ‘we originally planned to have children later on. We were so busy with our careers at that point. It doesn’t matter now. We were considering keeping him an embryo and giving him up for surrogacy. Unless one of our future partners may want to conceive him.’ ‘So busy,’ echoed Chris’ dad softly. ‘Very well, I believe it’ll be best to review the case when that time comes then. In the mean time he will remain frozen by court order and you both will enjoy joint custody of the embryo. Once you’ve decided what you want to do with him, we will re-open this case to discuss your parental rights and anything you may be applying for.’ The judge tapped his gavel. ‘Session adjourned.’

‘Thanks mam, we’ll have her ready for you by the end of the week.’ The lady and her son were now walking out of Babies R Us. Behind her the entrance of the store glowed green and purple with a sign that said ‘Babies R Us.’ Underneath in smaller letters was ‘Every child deserves a great life.’ The mom clutched the clipboard close to her chest, smiling with the contented look of a well fed baby. The store remained busy and people continued to mill about. By the end of the day, most every container had been visited and inquired about. As the store closed a few stragglers remained, those whom either had limited resources to obtain a baby yet or hadn’t found the right one. Near the back of the store, an older man with a mustache continued to inspect the containers. He wore a hat, reminiscent of times past and an overcoat, long enough to just pass his knees. Something caught his attention and he glided up to Chris’ chart. Devoid of attention the whole day, Chris’ eyes widened when he saw the man. His mouth opened. ’Well, well, well. What’s the story behind this one?’ he called out. ‘Down’s syndrome sir,’ replied the clerk from across the floor. ‘Prior to the new legislation of course. Otherwise it’d be illegal to have him here. Tonight’s actually his last night though.’ ‘Why’s that?’ ‘Well Chris has been here forever – some 20 odd years before he was conceived by one of our staff. She wasn’t able to keep him of course, what with the rising health care costs and the quality of life he would have had. But silly girl, she couldn’t go through with the extraction. Even with the procedure pain free and subsidized nowadays.’ The old man chuckled. ‘She must’ve been young.’ ‘She was. Everybody in the store knows him by name. But with the new family healthcare policy, no one’s going to want him.’ The clerk was now standing beside the man. ‘That’s a shame,’ said the old man. ‘I don’t suppose that you would consider taking him home…sir?’ The old man paused. He gazed calmly at Chris then smiled and looked back at the clerk. Chris gurgled. ‘Can’t say I would. I wouldn’t be able to provide him the life he’d deserve.’ The clerk nodded. ‘That’s too bad.’ ‘What’s going to happen to him?’ ‘Oh don’t you worry about him! It’ll be the usual, nothing too much. He won’t know or feel a thing.’ ‘Good. I wouldn’t want him to suffer too much.’ The old man strolled back towards the entrance of the store. ‘Well have a good night. Maybe I’ll find the lucky one next time.’ ‘Thanks for your time sir, have a good night!’ yelled the clerk from where Chris was. The old man exited. The clerk proceeded to clean up the store, picking up bits and pieces of kids’ who knows what.

Finally, the time came. Before the store closed he had to dispose of all expired babies. He whistled as he walked up to Chris’ box. Chris watched from afar with wide eyes, following him closely. ‘Well old friend it looks like this is it.’ The clerk gently lifted the box unto two hands, supporting it with his shoulders. He strode towards the back of the store where two pristine automatic steel doors, reminiscent of sterilized hospitals stood. It opened its doors wide, barring its secrets to the outside world now. Darkness enveloped Chris and the store clerk, with only the green lights from the neon exit sign and the walk way showing him where to go. The hallway was long with multiple doors on either side. Their appearance was the same except for silver plaques that hung in the middle, each with a different title, like the ones you see in doctors offices. Passing the doors with nary a glance, the clerk arrived at the end of the corridor where a chute stood on the right hand side. The chute was open and square shaped, roughly the same as the box. It had a metallic surface and instead of facing down like a garage disposal, this one faced up. On the right hand side laid a control panel with various buttons. A yellow biohazard sign hung above the chute. As the clerk placed Chris into the chute he tapped quickly on the control panel. It was a procedure he’d done many times before. The faster you did it the better. Too much thinking would just delay things. Thankfully there weren’t too many stains left over from last time. After keying in the right sequences, he stepped back from the chute and watched. Nothing happened. Then slowly a methodical humming commenced. Chris looked up from his box into the darkness of the chute. He didn’t know what he saw at first. His mouth opened. At first, it looked like he was going to smile but at the last second, his eyes betrayed him. Just as it was about to develop into a whimper he was gone. That was the last thing anyone saw of Chris, as a seal slid down over the box and the humming stopped. Suddenly there was sh-sh-sh sound, like someone was sucking a gigantic straw in the chute, and you just knew that Chris was no longer lying there on the floor. The sounds slowly shifted and now it was the crushing and grinding of a blender making a smoothie with too much ice. Slow and methodical, the tone did not change throughout the process. After a few minutes, there was a wet thud, and the whirring of the chute ground to a halt and all was still. The clerk nodded then strode back through the dark hallway into the main foyer, his hands now empty, his day over and his work completed. It was time to go home.

It was 5.30 AM and it the morning after Chris’ last day. A truck was backing up against the side of Babies R Us. The garbage collectors had arrived like clockwork at the back of the building. Like most dumpsters there was a metal chute that ended above the giant disposal, funneling all trash into its catcher’s mitt. Unlike most dumpsters this one was highly sterilized and insulated to maintain temperatures below 0 degrees for hours at a time even without electricity. The dumpster was painted yellow, and in the middle was a bright black biohazard logo. In the early morning sun, it looked like a giant spider had climbed onto the dumpster. ‘Medical waste’ it said underneath. Once the two collectors decided the truck was in the right location, a button was pressed and the fork attached to the truck slid down and lifted the dumpster up. It hung in mid air and then slowly flipped to empty its contents. Being the last piece of trash disposed, the bag containing Chris’ remains slid out first into the back of the truck, and then he was no more, covered up by the landslide of the other bags of babies, each one piling onto the other with a thud.

The two men drove steadily with a purpose. They made their rounds from a couple more Babies R Us centers and then it was time to go home. ‘Wasn’t the first facility we went to today the place where you got your first child from?’ One of them asked the other. ‘Yeah, yeah I think it was. How time flies though it seems like it was just yesterday.’ As the two reminisced, the one who asked the question interrupted the silence again. ‘How’s she doing?’ ‘Oh she’s doing great, I think Babies R Us did a great job with her, no allergies, no medical conditions so far, perfect health.’ ‘I’m glad to hear that, it’s sad that even with technology these days there are still all these glitches.’ ‘Hey, it keeps us in business.’ They both nodded. As one of the men lived on the way back to the company, he was dropped off first. He smiled and waved his colleague off before heading back into the house. The truck drove off, gliding through the neighborhood street with scarcely a sound. Standing from one’s porch you could just make out the emblazoned slogan on the back of the truck before it vanished past the horizon, the light of dawn breaking into the full rays of the sun. ‘Every child deserves a great life.’

Being A Good Person Cannot Make Up For The Wrong We Do: Why I love that God needed to become a man

The weird habit all humans have

We just can’t help ourselves. Like impulsive children, we just can’t help feeling bad whenever we do something wrong. And we can’t stop trying to make up for it. And if we find that we can’t? Well despair sets in like quick cement, our guilty conscience eating away at us like termites underneath timbers. We have a deeply personal knowledge of wrongs, more than just an intellectual assent. When we see wrongs committed against us or others, our hearts cry out for reparation. That’s part of what makes us human. And the reason why it’s a part of being human is because God created humans to be his image, including his justice.

Our weird habit is evidence of a damaged product

Just as every object was created with a purpose, as humans, we were made in the image of God, designed to honor God by obeying and enjoying him forever. But our conscience assures us we have fallen way short of that. We are prone to do what’s wrong, especially when we’re told we can’t do something. The very thought of being prohibited from something itches away at us. Our moral compasses are broken and we’re scrambling around like ants trying to fix it. So when we act selfishly, if we recognize it, we’ll apologize and promise to do better next time, hoping that’ll resolve our guilt. Unfortunately our consciences don’t seem to work that way. Like a bank account, each wrong committed is a withdrawal on our balance, gradually accumulating more and more debt in our account as we age. It is no wonder that old men are some of the most regretful people in the world.

Being good is overrated

But God is a person of infinite beauty and value. Therefore obeying and enjoying him is the highest good. That means every transgression is a cosmic crime of eternal and infinite proportion. It is like choosing to eat your own feces over lobster. If God says not to eat something, we ought not to eat it even at the cost of all the universe and multiple universes more. The penalty for such a crime then is something greater than the whole amount of our obligations. The penalty requires a payment of infinite value because it has been committed against an infinite being. How then can being good absolve our guilt when it is merely being what we were made to be? It seems that the history of ethics has vastly overrated its credit value.

The solution: a bail out by God

Religions are implicitly aware of this, which is why the story of the world’s religions is one in which the debt is attempted to be remedied since they all know the accounts will have to be settled one day. The problem is that with the exception of Christianity, religions rituals, superstitions and self-help practices have worked only to temporarily suppress our guilt. Let’s not kid ourselves. Our selfishness is an enormous crime and if not for God’s restraints, would be hell on earth. No, the only thing that would make reparation for a life lived in defiance of its infinitely valuable giver, is an eternal and infinitely more valuable life than any human being could offer.

If our hope is in ourselves, our will to power, or our ability to create our own meaning with our choices, then we are of all people the most to be pitied. Living the good life by ourselves is the feeble attempt of a toddler to beat his dad in basketball. The dam of our disappointments and guilt will eventually break its banks and crush us with the weight of its condemnation when we realize we cannot live the life we so desperately want to. The end of living for one’s self is despair not freedom. And the end of despair is death, not life.

Only God can give himself something that is more valuable than the whole universe. And there is nothing that is more valuable than all existence but himself. But it is man who owes the debt. So God the author of life, entered life himself as a character – the man Jesus, so that he might pay man’s debt with his own life. It was life that had existed from eternity. And it was life that was infinitely more valuable than anything else. It was a life through whom, to whom and for whom, all things were made. Only the life and death of Jesus could remedy our guilt because only as a human could he represent us, and only as God could his life be of infinite worth. And because he was of infinite worth, his payment is sufficient for every person who desires to have their guilt washed, their conscience cleansed and their life restored – as his eternal image. This is why I love that God had to become man.

Why Hell Must Exist

You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire. Matt 5:21-23

When was the last time you thought about hell? If you’re like me it’s probably been awhile. That’s not a surprise because sometime around the latter half of the 20th century, hell dropped out of our culture’s vocabulary. I’m not sure how it happened or exactly when, but I do remember hell being a common phrase as a kid and then it suddenly just vanished. It wasn’t that it was there one day and then gone the next; it was as if adults had ever heard of such a concept. Instead of a common belief around which morality and life was oriented, it became a dirty word associated with fringe groups. Like those Westboro Baptist guys. It wasn’t a teaching you or your church wanted to be known for. Sure people nowadays may believe in a hell, but this concept is vague and it isn’t quite sure who makes it or who doesn’t. What is certain is that you don’t and no one you’re related to don’t. Not to mention most people. Really, the only people who would deserve hell would probably be Hitler…and that’s about it.

The Christian View of Hell

This places modern Christians in an awkward position since they have always believed in a literal heaven and hell from the time of the apostles. More than that, Christians believe that anyone who doesn’t repent and turn to a man named Jesus will go to hell, separated from any good relationship with God and in the full presence of his wrath. In tolerant times like ours, the Christian belief of heaven and hell is like jumping into a frozen pool, a shock to our system of values. This makes it almost incomprehensible and because of that it’s easy for such views to be socially rejected because of its perceived ‘unfairness’.

Can God really condemn people for a lack of belief? What about the ‘good atheist’? What about Gandhi? More importantly what about the everyday people we know and love like grandma who isn’t a Christian but is one of the most kind hearted people you’ll ever meet? If it’s an outrage when a good man gets the same sentence as a wicked one, how much more when God does so with humans. But if you pause to reflect on the nature of justice, you realize that for a perfect God to be just, hell must necessarily exist. More than that, hell must include people just like you and me.

Evil Isn’t Out There, It’s In Here

While technology like social media has readily opened up the world to us in the 21st century, being more connected to other human beings also means being more open to seeing the injustice and evil that exists in this world. When we see a news report of a school shooting, or a woman who had acid thrown on her face for leaving Islam, or that Syria has attacked its own citizens with chlorine gas, our heart cries out for justice.

But if we want the world to be a better place, wanting injustice to be remedied is only the first step. The second one is to realize that all of the evil we see in others is the same that’s present in ourselves. The scariest thing about the Holocaust, were that its soldiers, its prison guards, and its secret services were just everyday German citizens. They weren’t born monsters, they were human and this was demonstrated in the shock of one Jewish man who attended his perpetrator’s trial. As he looked into his eyes, he saw his humanity and he realized that the two were the same.

We are each capable of infinite evil. Like cancerous cells, they lie dormant within us, awaiting their opportunity to entice our souls. So if we want God to eliminate evil and rectify injustice, we must accept that a perfect God cannot tolerate the least bit of evil in the universe. He must deal with all of it and not just some out there in others. And that includes even the judgment of people like you and me who probably may not ever commit a major crime in our lives, but nonetheless harbor the very same dark desires that when fed, lead to widespread suffering.

Why Only Those Who Believe In Jesus Escape Hell

The Christian doesn’t believe that people go to hell because of their lack of belief in Jesus anymore than we believe that lifelines cause the death of people who drown. No, people drown because they asphyxiate underwater but the lifeline was the only thing that could’ve saved them. So too with Jesus. In any court case, justice demands payment. But in the courts of God, the cost of a crime against an eternally perfect being is more than any man can bear. Unless a perfect substitute exists to bear the guilt of the evil that lies within us, all we’re left with is despair – despair that despite our best efforts to scrub off the evil around us, we can never touch the evil within us and despair because we ultimately know that it will never measure up under the eyes of God. But this is the beauty of Jesus:

“But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed.” Is. 53:5

Why Does It Seem Like No One Can Be Sure About Anything?

Certainty is a lack of doubt about something. This exists on a spectrum from relative to absolute. Although philosophers often attempt to differentiate psychological certainty (which is the strength of one’s belief) and epistemic certainty, I believe that reality shows the two to be mutually dependent. What one knows with absolute certainty entails that one believes it wholeheartedly as well. We must have psychological confidence that the certainty we know is accurately represented. For example if I know for certain that my car is parked outside then it I’m able to believe with full confidence.

But can we know anything with absolute certainty? The postmodern zeitgeist (the spirit of the age) would say no. You can see that whenever anything claims to be certain or universal, a general skepticism tends to follow along. Things like grand historical narratives or universal principles are looked at with suspicion by society. This is because we refuse to allow any authority to interpret our lives and give it meaning outside of our self. As humans we like to think we generate our own meaning. It’s not just postmodern or deconstructionist philosophy though, that articulate such ideas. While the philosopher Jean Paul Sartre said as humans, we are ‘radically free’, Disney says ‘it’s time to see what I can do, to test the limits and break through, no right, no wrong, no rules for me, I’m free.’ But if we ourselves are uncertain people, then so too will our knowledge be. And if doubt has become the default attitude of society then it has also become its virtue. And certainty in the modern world is now the bad guy, the sign of arrogance.

Besides everyday life, this issue can also be applied to a religious context: can we know God with certainty? For Christians, the answer is yes because the Christian belief is that God’s special revelation is certain and therefore we should be certain about it too. While there are things we ‘figure out’ such as science, there are deeper, more fundamental truths (which are articulated in Scripture) that are revealed to us from birth, truths that are unchanging and certain, regardless of who we are. They govern the world and are revealed to us rather than worked out. In such a context, doubt then is more vice than virtue because it is wrong to doubt what God has clearly revealed to us. So the reason the postmodern mind thinks that there is nothing that can be absolutely known is because there is no knowledge that exists outside of the self. Here is why I think this doesn’t work (and certainty is possible):

It is impossible to exclude certainty in all cases

The inescapable fact of life is that even denying certainty requires certainty about it – ‘that nothing is certain.’ But of course, how can we know that? So the argument against certainty itself must be uncertain. Further, any argument against certainty must assume that argument can be a means of finding truth. Someone using an argument to test the certainty of propositions claims certainty at least for that argument. In this case, he claims that he can test whether we can legimiately know things with certainty. But a test of certainty must be certain itself because it would become the criterion of certainty. As the theologian Frame says, an argument that would test absolute certainty must itself be absolutely certain.

Certainty is supernatural

At the same time, we know that we do not have certain knowledge of everything, which is proven to us everyday. We’re frequently contradicted by our own words and actions. Each day little discoveries are made, showing us that the world we knew before wasn’t quite what we had thought. Before space, time and relativity, there was simply an apple falling to the ground. And there is a humility that comes with acknowledging what we do and what we don’t know. After all, no one likes a smart ass. Certainty cannot come from an uncertain source and therefore cannot come from us.

For Christians, God’s word (special revelation) is the ultimate criterion of certainty. What God says must necessarily be true because it is impossible for God to lie. Therefore we have a moral responsibility to regard God’s word with absolute certainty and make it our test for all other knowledge. However, our psychological certainty about the truth of God doesn’t ultimately come from our logical reasoning or empirical or even historical evidence (which is useful) but from God’s own authority. As humans we are made with the capability to understand truth and it is to this aspect God’s word is self-authenticating, speaking on its own authority. At the same time, God is a person and therefore he can choose whom to reveal himself to. Certainty is an act of God by his Spirit, often accompanying human reasoning to give us certainty. Yet Christian Scripture never turns away those whom honestly seek to find the answer to such questions.

Conclusion

Secularism ultimately rejects certainty because absolute certainty is supernatural and the secularist is unwilling to accept a supernatural foundation for knowledge. For the Christian, God’s revelation is a wonderful treasure and one that “saves the soul from sin and the mind from skepticism”1. Questioning whether anything is certain is a sign that one hasn’t yet found any sturdy ground to stand on outside of themselves. It is like a blind man, who isn’t sure of the road he is walking on. He feels it in terms of a series of physical sensations, separated by the rhythm of time. A bump here followed by a bump seconds later indicates an uneven road. But it isn’t until that his eyes are opened that he can know that with certainty that it was a road he was walking on all along. So too with God.

  1. Frame, A History of Western Philosophy and Theology, 582-587

Easter Would Shake Us If We Knew What It Really Meant

A Strange Holiday

It seems to me that if a man who had lived in a remote jungle his whole life were to enter Western society at this time of the year, he would find Easter quite puzzling and needless to say, absurd. “What a strange people” he’d remark, “they appear to worship a rabbit as their God and make strange replicas of him using only chocolate. And when they have bought these replicas they encourage their children to devour him!” Yet if one really thinks about how Easter is celebrated in this day and age, it really is quite strange to behold. On Saturday, I had the opportunity to have ‘yum cha’ with Sophia’s grandmother and her family at Mt Pritchard RSL. It was a nice catch up but it was busy, as busy as Mt Pritchard RSL can get on a Friday. As we were leaving, I walked past the cafe section of the club which was now suddenly flooded with children and their parents. The children sat or stood, their eyes transfixed towards the front where a projector screen and a well dressed lady with a mic stood. Scores of Easter eggs and prizes surrounded the front. Instead of older folk, it was like bingo for children, and it seemed a winner was about to be announced. At any other time of the year, things like chocolate eggs, bunnies, hot cross buns, prizes and shows would be everyday items, unfit to be objects of such hype. The commotion for such small things, interrupted by usual thoughts and made me reflect. Why did Easter bring such significance to them? What did the eggs mean and where did the bunny come from?

The True Meaning of Easter

There is a tendency for symbols of cultural significance to be taken out of its context and commercialized in a pluralistic society. Easter is no exception. I believe one reason is to allow everyone to ‘participate’ in a cultural safety zone without being confronted by the deeper meaning behind its rituals. After all who doesn’t love night markets and kebabs after Ramadan? The second is because it’s going to be a pretty good money maker. There is a clearly defined target market and regular, predictable demand because of how deeply entrenched these rituals are in their cultures.

Beyond the food and festivities, celebrations like Christmas and Easter come from an entirely Christian context where the birth, death and resurrection of a man who claimed to be the one true God is celebrated. To the Muslim, I am sure festivals like Ramadan are more than mere fasting and feasting. Think Divali is only about lights? There is much more significance behind these festivals than nutritional choices.

Yet if one is to truly appreciate the meaning of Easter and enjoy it fully, one has to place it back into its context. In its origin, Easter was not a holiday. It was a dark hour, the darkest hour for humanity. A stretch of events led to the death of one man who claimed to be God. But unlike every other death, hope rose from the ashes 3 days later. This man’s death was followed by a resurrection, something unique that had never happened in human history. Even 2000 years later, it continues to confound the most astute scholars because no one knows what to make of it. When someone dies and then comes back to life there are obviously going to be a lot of questions. What did it ultimately mean? If we look at the words given to us by the men who spent the most time with this man, then the answer is this –

”The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.” Acts 17:30-31

Before the resurrection, death was the norm. No man had ever died and then come back to life, and for good reason. Sin is treason against God and the wages of sin is death. So every man died because he was guilty, having sought to define his life apart from God. Yet death could not hold this man. Though he was condemned because he bore the sin of humanity as a man, he was resurrected because he was God. More than that, his resurrection was vindication of his complete innocence, and that his death was enough to meet the penalty of sin for ever human who ever lived.

Because of his death, the symbol of Easter is an egg to represent new life in him. But the resurrection only brings new life for those who seek it in him. So Easter also comes with a warning. It is a warning that every human heart knows, from the moment a child first feels the pangs of guilt to the old man’s last regrets – that there is a day in which God will judge the world by the very same man that death could not hold.

Easter Is A Bad Holiday To Gamble On

Remember those game shows you watched growing up like Deal or No Deal or Jeopardy? It was always a good laugh watching people take risks and gamble. Losing was never a big deal and most of the time, people could smile knowing they went home winning at least something. But how would the show be if the contestants found out they were actually playing for their lives? If you’re celebrating Easter you’re doing the same thing – gambling a fun family holiday without any significant meaning in exchange for the risk of ignoring the biggest event in history. The consequences of winning – a more comfortable 4 day vacation, the consequences of losing – eternal life. Knowing the true meaning of Easter should make us consider carefully how we see this holiday. It can be the event that drives us to this man, Jesus to take refuge under his wings or drives us to stand apart from his death and be judged for the very lives we’ve lived. Would you choose to have a morally perfect one or yours? I know which one I’d rather have.

Conclusion

Easter is not so much a holiday about eggs and bunnies but a celebration of new life and a remembrance of the cost it took. Easter is confronting because it forces us to think about life and death in a way we’re not used to. Unlike the Victorians who were obsessed with death, we have shoved death to the fringes of society, reserved only for undertakers, cemeteries and medical services. Death is an unwelcome visitor and when one is confronted by him, he is like an unexpected guest at a wedding, and he leaves us utterly unprepared. In a culture avoidant of death, the meaning of Easter is needed more than ever.

Be Careful What You Pick

Old habits die hard. Unless of course, they kill you first. S, was a logistics machine. She worked 3 jobs while studying at the tender age of 25. At any day of the week her roles ranged from entrepreneur to manager and consultant. She woke up on the 1st of March like any other day, full of life and hope. Her phone flashed 7:30 AM. Perfect. Boring. Boring was good. It was just like any other morning. And she needed that routine. After all, what were humans if not creatures of routine, secured amidst the storms of life?

As she stumbled to the bathroom, she was greeted by a pristine white glow. This was a rare occurrence. Just 2 years ago she had married one of those rare creatures capable of withstanding any living conditions either out of necessity or a blatant lack of self awareness. She thought it was probably the latter. But the glow this morning made up for it all including the hour she spent cleaning the toilet bowl, attacking it with every household tool imaginable, just to erase the brown skids from her memory. She shuddered just remembering it now. No, she had to put it out of her mind. Quickly brushing her teeth, if you could call it brushing (it had more similarities to nail filing), she downed an ironed polo shirt, jumped into her pressed tracksuit pants, grabbed a boiled egg (done just right at 80 degrees from the steamer) and in one fluid motion just like she rehearsed it countless times, she was out the door. Pure efficiency. S was a logistics machine.

At the nursing home, S caught up with her colleagues, ate lunch, organized assessments for the residents and caught up with some much needed paper work. It was a day just like any other. But she was itching to get home. The desire had been bothering her all day long and she needed some relief. She just couldn’t do it in front of all her colleagues. S after all, was a cold, rational, logistics machine, an example of no-nonsense leadership.

It was late when S got home. She threw her handbag onto the couch and proceeded to make dinner on the kitchen bench top. It was a marble top, with a silver sink next to it. Everything had a smooth sheen on it like the type of kitchens you only see in the movies. As she cut the cucumbers on the rustic chopping board, she would reach her finger towards her face. Dig, dig, dig. The finger penetrated the nostril, plowing through a thicket of nose hairs and then latching onto a soft, round ball of mucus. She picked it and then flicked it into the kitchen sink. Relief at last. This was the highlight of her day. She smiled to herself. If only her husband and colleagues could see her now. It would be her dirty little secret and no one would ever know. She continued to chop the cucumbers, each chop accompanied by picking and then a flick. By the end of the night, S had accumulated a warm, soft mound of mucus laying dormant and still in the middle of the kitchen sink. An unknowing bystander might mistake it to be a baseball as they had all melded into one. She ate a cucumber salad with grilled chicken, placed side by side on the plate and perfectly garnished. Finishing her meal, she proceeded to wash up but when she approached the sink, she discovered the mound of mucus had disappeared. Shrugging, she washed the dishes and thought no more about it. Things had a habit of cleaning up after themselves in her life. Except her husband. After he returned home, she greeted him and they both prepared for bed.

It was around 1 am when S felt a gentle nudging of her foot. It stopped and then started again a moment later. ’Not now,’ she whispered, thinking it was her husband’s attempt to either play a prank or be affectionate. But she wasn’t sure. Couldn’t he see that she was too tired to do anything? She rolled over. Her husband was fast asleep on his side, with his back facing her, amidst the occasional snore. Her foot was nudged again and she felt a sensation of warmth envelop her leg like shower water streaming down one’s leg. This time it felt soft yet there was something firm about it like play-dough. Unnerved, she shrugged her blankets off to see what was causing her foot to behave in such a strange way. A pale yellow and white mass lay at the foot of her bed, half of it on her ankle and the other half on the bed sheet. It pulsed with a steady rhythm and climbing steadily, snaked its way up her shin. S’s eyes widened and her pulse quickened. But she couldn’t speak. Perhaps she didn’t want to because it would mean what was happening really was happening. She knew she had to do something but she was frozen, in time and in fear.

The coagulated mass of white and yellow continued climb up her legs, leaving a dried sticky trail behind it. It was now on her hips. Now more than ever, was the time to act. She struggled to kick it off but her legs caught on the blankets, entangling them even further. She moaned in frustration. As she attempted to get up she realized the stickiness of the mucus around her legs had pinned her to the bed. She had one last resort. ‘Hel-‘. It was too late because at that point the pulsing mass, now resembling a melted baseball, had reached her face. Its tendrils enveloped her, muffling the last desperate gasp of a woman full of life. And then – silence.

The bedside clock read 1.00 AM. S laid at the head of her bed, her face blue. Her eyes were vacant. Her expression remained caught in the midst of surprise and fear. One of her legs stuck out of her blankets as it lay half draped over the bed and the floor. Her apartment lay as it did 30 minutes ago, before the last vestiges of life drained from her face, a silent observer to the life it had once housed. Silence filled the corridors. Beneath the blankets, her husband snored away and the white, yellow pulsating mass was nowhere to be found. It was just as it had always been. Perfect.

Religions Can Neither All Be Right or Wrong

When I first heard the phrase “all religions are the same”, even as a fairly nominal and agnostic Christian, I thought it was a ridiculous statement to make. The fact that even the most similar religions (such as Judaism, Christianity and Islam) had such contradictory claims made it a stupid question to consider. One day, I was shown this story by John Saxe (based on a traditional Indian tale) which made me hesitate:

“It was six men of Indostan,

To learning much inclined, 

Who went to see the Elephant

(Though all of them were blind), 

That each by observation

Might satisfy his mind. 


The First approach’d the Elephant,

And happening to fall

Against his broad and sturdy side, 

At once began to bawl:

“God bless me! but the Elephant

Is very like a wall!” 

The Second, feeling of the tusk, 

Cried, -“Ho! what have we here

So very round and smooth and sharp? 

To me ’tis mighty clear, 

This wonder of an Elephant

Is very like a spear!” 


The Third approach’d the animal,

And happening to take

The squirming trunk within his hands,

Thus boldly up and spake:

“I see,” -quoth he- “the Elephant

Is very like a snake!”

The Fourth reached out an eager hand, 

And felt about the knee: 

“What most this wondrous beast is like

Is mighty plain,” -quoth he,- 

“‘Tis clear enough the Elephant 

Is very like a tree!” 


The Fifth, who chanced to touch the ear,

Said- “E’en the blindest man

Can tell what this resembles most;

Deny the fact who can,

This marvel of an Elephant

Is very like a fan!”

The Sixth no sooner had begun

About the beast to grope, 

Then, seizing on the swinging tail

That fell within his scope, 

“I see,” -quoth he,- “the Elephant

Is very like a rope!” 

And so these men of Indostan

Disputed loud and long, 

Each in his own opinion

Exceeding stiff and strong, 

Though each was partly in the right, 

And all were in the wrong! 


MORAL,

So, oft in theologic wars 

The disputants, I ween, 

Rail on in utter ignorance 

Of what each other mean; 

And prate about an Elephant 

Not one of them has seen!

The story about the 6 blind men was written in the 19th century and has since been used as a poster boy for religious relativism. Granted, it consists of pretty powerful rhetoric but adds little to the actual argument. Similar to the analogy that religions are multiple journeys towards the same destination, the point of the poem are that religions are partial perspectives of the same object. The religious believer is like one of the blind men who see the truth only partially but insists that they have the totality of it. God is present but has left them to their own devices. Like them, we are blindly groping in the dark, attempting to break free of our chains to escape the cave and see the world for what it really is. It isn’t until the king who requested the elephant makes known to them what it really is, that they can truly know what an elephant is. The implication for modern religions is that believers claiming to have the truth are merely expressing their arrogance and ignorance.

Although the poem gave me pause, at the same time there was something intuitively puzzling about it. Upon further reflection and research, here are 2 biggest reasons why I think the argument doesn’t hold water:

1. The truly arrogant claim is the one that all religions are true

The only reason the blind men can know it’s an elephant is that the king reveals it to them. Without the king’s revelation, they will forever be stuck with their impression of the elephant, “its very like a rope!” But if one argues that all religions are partial perspectives of God, then they must assume the position of the king, the perceiver who has access to the complete picture of God. For such a person, he must have intimate knowledge of God and each religion, knowing the conditions that would make each claim true or false, in order to make such a universal statement. It is, as Newbiggen says, to claim knowledge superior to even those of religion. This applies also to the claim of God’s non-existence, which no one is able to know unless it’s revealed to them. The atheist finds himself in a quandary, because in order to deny the existence of God, he must have 1) sufficient knowledge of every religion to decide which religion’s God to deny and 2)transcendent knowledge of what does and doesn’t exist to deny all of them. If we’re honest, we know such kingly knowledge has not been given to us.

So epistemic humility forces us to choose to admit we either don’t know or we do. We cannot escape such a choice. What then do we do in the face of such a diverse range of beliefs? Either one religion is right or everyone is wrong (join the atheist club), in which they can never know that they are. But they cannot all be true (or be mere perspectives) because the very claims of religion are contradictory. It is not as though the elephant felt ropey and like a fan at the same time, whose qualities could belong to the same object, but an elephant who could fit into one man’s hand but not the other’s. Of course the two blind men would disagree because the claims were deductively incoherent!

One of the reasons Christians reject religions is not because they lack knowledge of other beliefs but because the defining elements of every other religion contradict one another, rendering them incoherent with reality. The other is that Christians have had such knowledge revealed to them. Rather than climbing up over one another on our ladders to reach God, he himself has lowered the rope into our pit of darkness, allowing us to reach him, if only we might grasp it. Which brings me to my next point.

“To say, I don’t know which religion is true is an act of humility.  To say, none of the religions have truth, no one can be sure there’s a god is actually to assume you have the kind of knowledge, you just said no other person, no other religion has.  How dare you?  See, it’s a kind of arrogant thing to say nobody can know the truth because it’s a universal truth claim.  To say, ‘Nobody can make universal truth claims.’  That is a universal truth claim.  ‘Nobody can see the whole truth.’  You couldn’t know that unless you think you see the whole truth.  And, therefore, you’re doing the very thing you say religious people shouldn’t do.” – Timothy Keller

2. It assumes that God has not revealed himself

The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything. And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us, for “‘In him we live and move and have our being’; as even some of your own poets have said, “‘For we are indeed his offspring.’ Acts 17:24-28

Imagine that the elephant opened his mouth. “I’m – !” he said. That would change everything. The blind men would no longer be dependent on their senses as the elephant would be able to give them information as to who he was. This is the unspoken assumption the poem makes. Yet the claim of Christianity isn’t that men are left to their own devices, groping in the dark for some fragment of the truth. Nor are we enslaved individuals capable of using reason to break our chains and escape the cave (like Plato) to grasp God. We are like the blind men, helpless until the elephant invades their world, speaking and revealing himself. This is what Christians believe – that God out of his kindness, reached down by becoming one of us, a man named Jesus, and spoke. And this speaking is what changed everything.

Conclusion

The poem does help us to understand something, namely that without God revealing himself, knowledge about him really is just the speculation of 6 blind men groping in the dark, waiting for the light of the king to enter their darkness. Reason, empirical data, intuition – none of these are capable of reaching up into the noumenal (transcendent) world no more than a baby’s hand can reach up and touch the sun. It is a great tragedy that like the baby, humans too believe they can when in comes to the knowledge of God. Christians can be thankful that the king who reveals what the elephant is like is Jesus, God himself become man.

Further Reading:

https://www.allaboutphilosophy.org/blind-men-and-the-elephant.htm

https://www.str.org/articles/the-trouble-with-the-elephant#.WqDazJNuaRs

https://larrycheng.com/2010/01/23/on-the-blind-men-and-an-elephant/