Finding Our Way to the Good

In my downtime this Spring, I’ve started watching a new series called NOS4RA2. The series – broadcast on AMC – is based upon a story told by Joe Hill. Joe Hill is the pen name used by the son of author Stephen King. The name of the series is based upon a 1922 film by the name of Nosferatu: a silent movie that told one of the earliest vampire stories on film.

As I’ve watched the series unfold, there is a theological element of the story that fascinates me. One of the series’ primary characters – Charlie Manx – is a creature that draws life energy by preying upon children.

“What’s theological about that?” you ask.

What fascinates me most is how Charlie Manx justifies his actions to others. In recruiting a helper in the series’ second episode, for instance, he convinces his recruit that he is merely reaching out to children who had nightmarish home lives due to neglect or abuse. In other words, he convinces the recruit that he is really doing good, when he is in fact doing something heinous.

That element of the story is a sobering reminder of how dangerous it can be to put our ultimate trust – or faith – in a person. For it is so easy to get caught up in the righteousness of our cause, that we begin to lose sight of the bigger picture.

One of the most fascinating things I learned in seminary was the story of Karl Barth. Barth is considered one of the most famous theologians of the 20th Century. He is the father of a movement known as neo-conservatism.

The most interesting piece of Barth’s story for me is that he actually started out as a liberal in Germany in the days before the rise of the Third Reich. As the movement began to gain ground in the tumultuous years following the First World War, some liberals in Germany tacitly supported the movement. Other liberals simply failed to oppose it. In the process, they helped open themselves – and their country – to the rise of the Nazis. That’s why Karl Barth made a shift in his thinking and grew to place his ultimate faith in God, not humanity.

I’ve thought a lot about Barth’s story over the years.

Every 4 years, when we ramp up to elect a President, I find it intriguing to see the language that is used to put forth candidates. If you weren’t paying attention, one might conclude we are in the process of electing a Savior, or a Messiah – not a President: a figure who can fix everything for us.

I suppose that’s why some get so furious when their preferred candidate takes a position on an issue with which they disagree. It’s a painful reminder the individual isn’t “perfect”. And rather than revisit their unrealistic expectations, it’s easier to violently lash out at the candidate.

I’ve long ago abandoned the belief that our greatest hope lies in trusting the absolute goodness of a single person, or of humanity itself. While we human beings certainly ARE capable of tremendous acts of goodness, if we are rigorously honest with ourselves, we must admit we human beings are also capable of tremendous acts of harm. That includes even the very best of us.  Yours truly would be at the front of that line.

So as we move forward and deal with the challenging issues of our day, my fervent hope and prayer is that we will keep a sense of the Big Picture that prevents us from falling for those who would make grandiose promises about solving all our problems. For if we lose our sense of perspective, we might fall for “solutions” that are nearly as bad as the problems they seek to fix.

Only if we keep our eyes – and our spirits – focused on the Source of good, can we move in directions that truly represent the best part of ourselves as human beings.

So how about you? What guides you in ways that keep the Bigger Picture in mind – and prevents you from falling for troublesome solutions that feel good in the moment?

About Pastor Craig

I'm a 54-year-old who lives in Los Angeles, CA with his black Labrador Retriever named Max. I'm an ordained clergy person in the United Church of Christ. My passions include spirituality, politics, and sports (Go Houston teams, go!). I use my blog to start conversations rather than merely spout my perspectives and opinions. I hope you'll post a question, comment, or observation for me to respond - so we can get the conversation started!
This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to Finding Our Way to the Good

  1. Beverly Marshall Saling says:

    Like you, I’m not okay with expecting any one human to be my guiding light. Unlike you, I don’t have faith in any divine being to fill that gap either. So for me, it’s all about exposing myself to a whole bunch of other humans and getting more perspectives that can help me triangulate my way to the Bigger Picture.

    One important thing I learned from the last presidential election is that it’s not enough to make sure I collect opinions from across the political spectrum; I also need to collect opinions from across multiple identities. And I need to trust that people who belong to a particular identity are better able than I to understand issues that relate to that identity. For example, I cannot consider myself informed about issues black people face because I’ve read a bunch of material written by white people—even if said white people are academics or researchers who have studied racial issues. If their abstract study conflicts with the majority of actual black writers’ lived experience, then it’s suspect.

    That’s been a very hard thing for someone with a lifelong attachment to learning via reading the work of recognized experts to accept. And it’s often been difficult for me to find a sufficient quantity of pieces by writers with identities that are frequently left out of mainstream media discussions. Such articles are not going to fall into my lap with the daily paper, even if I subscribe to several. I have to go looking to find things by writers who are indigenous or disabled or trans or homeless, and I especially have to go looking to find people who belong to intersectional identities and can speak to such issues as how the maternal mortality gap affects black lesbians, or how anti-abortion policies affect trans men who depend on Medicaid.

    The silver lining to doing the work to find all those neglected voices is that I am learning more things that surprise and challenge me than I did before, which is important for keeping me from falling into intellectual complacency. And I am also more able to share these new perspectives with people like me who would not otherwise be exposed to them, which is important for amplifying those voices.

  2. Andrea Frazer says:

    I’m less eloquent than you, Beverly. For me, I can only stay open to other opinions by bringing God in and sending my ego out. “The Ego is Not My Amigo.” I force myself, with God’s help, to remember I have two ears and one mouth for a reason. And when I find it troublesome, I just don’t say anything at all, eat, sleep and try to start over. I’m really trying to take a more spiritual approach to life and it helps me listen more.

    • Beverly Marshall Saling says:

      Hey, whatever works for you is good! I’m not the kind of atheist who thinks it’s wrong for people to live spiritually or use their faith for guidance. Anything that leads you toward being the sort of morally good person you want to be is the right thing for you.

  3. Pastor Craig says:

    Hi there. I’m loving the conversation. I so appreciate the perspectives you bring to the table. I think it’s so important to listen to those neglected voices and them bring them back into our communities. That whole process of staying in relationship – and staying at the table (even when our buttons get pushed) – can be transformative: for the other person, and most especially for me. Thank you both for taking the time to share from the heart!

  4. Pastor Craig says:

    One other thought popped up after I hit the submit button relating to what you (Beverly) said about finding answers in community. In 12 Step programs, they often talk about one’s Higher Power (for those without a spiritual grounding) or the God of one’s understanding (for those grounded in a spiritual approach). For both groups, they talk about how for some the group conscience (or wisdom of the gathered community) can be their High Power. I find that notion a good way of building bridges between theist and atheist communities. Thanks again for your insights!

  5. Andrea Frazer says:

    LOVE YOU!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! That is all.

  6. Pingback: When Life Happens For You, Everything Changes – Happily Ticked Off by Andrea Frazer

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s