That’s easy: because it’s fun, reassuring and fascinating. It’s remarkable the similarity in looks between Jo and her niece Christine, my cousin Patrick and me, Cornelius and his cousin Richard, or my sister Karen and my Mother Sheila, spooky in some ways. It illustrates how we inherit certain character traits, features, and mindsets from a shared genetic pool. So what does this teach us? Well popular culture will have you believe that this genetic programming is the reason why you can be a little lazy sometimes, that you too often drink more than is really good for you, that you carry a little more weight than is healthy, that you struggle to establish close, loving and intimate relationships with people. That you occasionally throw a punch, when it’s deserved, that you are a firm disciplinarian to the point of scaring your children, that you are physically and verbally overbearing with the woman or man in your life. Or you simply can’t help not being the loving, kind, generous, gracious, thoughtful, compassionate and protective person you’d like to be. Put simply, "you have someone to blame.”
Like all effective lies, this one includes an element of truth. You have indeed inherited these proclivities from your parents; it is in your very nature to behave in this way, it’s why we have policemen and locks on our doors. Without laws it is likely you will find your neighbour not just kicking the cat but burning your car and raping your daughter. Go outside today, say hi to your neighbour and look around - hard to believe isn’t it? Try Rwanda, Bosnia, New Orleans, France; just pick up a history book and see the naive fools we are if we think our neighbour isn’t inclined to take that which is most precious to you.
“Oh, but our Western society is so much more civilized, we have equality and diversity, sexual liberation and Britain’s Got Talent.” Okay, then let’s explain the UK’s serial abuse of women, in all economic classes and neighbourhoods, the consistent neglect of children to make an extra few quid to indulge selfish desires to lay in the sun for a week and the abandonment of the promises and responsibilities by spouses that is so lucrative for divorce lawyers. Let’s explain why in the Gloucester village of Churchdown, where poverty is rare and comfort abounds, the local newsagent has an extensive range of hard-core pornography. Clearly because it’s a lucrative trade and those quiet inoffensive men who buy his stuff are happy to invest in an industry worth billions of dollars that fuels a global sex trade in which young girls and boys and women are serially exploited and suffer appalling abuse. There is nothing I see in the culture, from where you take ideas and philosophies, to cause me to believe that your neighbour is not an ever-present threat. So is change required to make the world, our country, your community a better place?
Here’s the big idea, “you’ve changed”. You are not the person you were yesterday. Yesterday you got out of bed you had a certain set of values, you measured right from wrong, and had a sense of what is permissible and unacceptable. You more or less complied with that set of rules to govern how thoughtful a driver you were, the relationship with your work colleagues, your choice of newspaper, the channel on TV you decided to watch and the websites you decided to surf. Put simply you followed convention. All day long you were bombarded with subliminal messages, which you filtered through a particular worldview to decide if they were true or false.
Beware, these messages have shaped and continue to shape your character. Fifteen or fifty your character and personality are changing, either you are gaining wisdom or absorbing lies - it depends on your filter. If your worldview is one that you have accepted from family, academics, friends, popular media and an atheistic culture that says there are multiple truths and everyone has a right to an opinion then your filter is the same one that causes neighbour to turn on neighbour. It’s the filter that says blood is thicker than water; in evolutionary terms it’s the survival of the fittest through natural selection. Do you sincerely believe that attitude will not cause corruption, decay and lead to a fractured society? Evolutionary scientific theories have not created the stability in society we enjoy but they will cause its devolution. It’s an obstinate filter that says I am who I am, I have my own principles and morals thank you.
Can you make the connection with the illustration I am making and your life yet? Or is the world we live in so far removed from your daily existence that I am making no sense? Your friends think they help, they want to love you, but apart from the truth there are lies and friends who offer you lies are not loving. The trouble is deep down you feel alone. Alone in a cold, empty universe, spiraling towards an ignominious death. The self help books, magazine articles about realizing your true potential, enjoying your success, comparing your pathetic life to those less fortunate still doesn’t really address that grinding sense of abandonment. This is because you are living as a rebel, a free agent, an outlaw. You have cultivated a worldview, values, mindset and approach to life on infertile, rocky, barren soil and no matter how hard you work, no matter how healthy the seeds you sow, you will never produce healthy fruit. Stop being so complacent, it’s ugly.
Pause - My fear is that those who would benefit from thinking through these ideas will not have reached this far down the page; my hope is that those who have endured and reckon that this really is not their thing will at least agree that love, like justice, depends on truth. I know that those who have read thus far, who accept, appreciate, and empathise with my reasoning will take it, improve it, and share it. Let’s keep going:
If you have come this far there remains an important question, “in a world of competing truth claims where do I find this fertile soil?” Can I depend on my own reason, who can I trust? Do I turn to academics, people who have studied philosophy and science? Do I look to those who are popular on TV, healthy living gurus, astrologers, agony aunts, social scientists, doctors or teachers? Do I look to family, to see those who have made something of their lives, those who have struggled, and seek to replicate their approach? Perhaps I you take all of these, blend them together in a soup called experience and use my powers of discernment to navigate my ‘chosen’ path. The trouble with that approach is the recipe has been tried before and all that you end up with is a really bitter, unpleasant soup. You have no memory of what’s in it, you can’t share your recipe and your only hope is to keep adding ingredients to hide its true flavour. The trouble is that those additives have to be powerful to remove the original taste, so ever increasing amounts of alcohol, sugar, sex or comfort cannot remove doubts about the base ingredients. Eventually you will simply run out of the energy. Apathy, acceptance, and complacency will lead you to acquiring a taste for your soup, and its unhealthy properties will gradually overwhelm you. Its bitterness will show as looks fade, mind slows and arteries thicken. Eventually you become resigned to death, escape from nothing but nondescript meaningless soup!
I have still not answered the question about how to find fertile soil: CS Lewis had the right idea when he pointed out that if you want to get somewhere and you are on the wrong path the quickest way is usually to turn around and go back to where you started. Now if you have an atheistic belief that explains the intelligent evolved from the unintelligent, then you have a particularly powerful faith that is unlikely to be dented by reason. This is a popular faith, followed by millions around the globe, it’s attractive and provides all the answers (we took a vote and decided something came from nothing so it must be true!) John Lennon’s Imagine is one of it’s most popular ‘praise songs’. Tune in with some cosmic karma, be peaceful man imagine all the people living life as one.
However, I urge you to test your idea or philosophy, be it from Lennon, Buddha, Marx, Mohammed, Mum, Dad or a favourite uncle. Test your belief by looking for the scars of sacrifice. Examine feet and hands for evidence of nails, look on the back for evidence of lacerations where hooks made of metal or bone tore into flesh, note marks from deep tissue injuries around the head, and look for where a sword was thrust deep into the flesh just below the ribcage. When you don’t find the evidence turn back, go visit the tomb of the innocent man who has the marks of your punishment, and an excruciatingly painful death. And when you reach the tomb you’ll find no memorial or shrine because you don’t build monuments to the living but you go out and tell people incredible news.
Here’s the start of your new journey, with your creator God, who came into human history as a man, to take the punishment you deserve and demonstrate His power by conquering sin, death and hell. On this path you will learn your unique purpose, appreciate why there is suffering and love the people who are burdened with stress, frustration, exploitation, abuse, divorce and suicide. You will never be abandoned or never forsaken. It is a narrow path on which you will have doubts and questions. You’ll definitely be mocked, possibly bullied and likely ignored. You will realize how much easier it is to follow the herd, how embarrassing it can feel to step aside from popular culture and how friends, family and loved ones react when you tell them that without truth there is no love. The journey starts by simply believing and results in transformation. Not just same old gradual absorption of ideas that, despite your best efforts, drags you deeper into despair but radical change with a new heart, new thoughts, different mindset and worldview that transforms lives and relationships. Do you want to see how it looks? Of course you do, thanks for asking, your welcome:
The old self liked the old music, familiar radio channels and favourite authors; the new lives for praise music, new folk artists and lots of great books about life and living.
The old self treated the dusty Bible as a moral handrail to be opened at weddings, Christenings and funerals; the new loves to compare the NIV, King James and ESV with good Bible commentaries for receiving good teaching and learning about the character and nature of God.
The old self knew about multiple perspectives and believed everyone had a right to an opinion but now sees that this attitude was an excuse to be a bad husband and poor father.
The old self couldn’t even weep at his mother’s funeral, the new weeps at movies, the news, visions of a broken and corrupted world and when praying for his family, friends and enemies.
The old self wanted to earn more to get more; the new is grateful for what he has and tries to steward it better.
The old self used nihilism, wrapped in vague spirituality, while vaguely referencing a god to justify an immoral view of sexuality; the new understands that sex is a gift from God to be enjoyed in a monogamous marriage between a man and a woman.
The old self argued that pornography was a legitimate art form freely entered into which we should be at liberty to enjoy, the new self humbly asks for forgiveness for participating in this cruel lie.
The old wanted enough money to pay for someone to serve him, he now has a desire to serve.
The old self wanted to be in authority not under authority but the new finds obedience, humility, deference and service worthy pursuits.
The old self became a church warden, put on a blazer, led his family to church and falsely claimed the title of Christian; the new doesn’t have to go to church anymore. The new wants to go to church and loves his family, friends and community in a way he never thought possible.
The old self thought that science, philosophy and our along the evolutionary scale had surpassed the supernatural religion of his great grandparents but has repented of what CS Lewis called chronological snobbery.
The old self tuned in to current affairs and politics, he just couldn’t get enough Question Time, the Today Programme, the World at One, PM and the World Tonight, the new tunes in to community, neighbour and great Bible teaching from Ed Stetzer, Matt Chandler, Tim Keller, John Piper and Jonathan Perkins.
The old self wanted the company of people who liked the stuff he liked, people like him; the new loves the company of every culture, nation, class, and ethnicity.
The old self treated the existence of heaven, hell, the devil and a spiritual realm as nonsense but has now repented of the pride and arrogance that led him to believe that he could in any way know God apart from Jesus Christ.
The old self thought equality and diversity, tolerance and different paths through different religions could lead to one god of love the new understands there is only one God, there can be only be one truth amongst many lies and that Jesus Christ is who he said he was:
“I am the way, and the truth and the life, nobody comes to the Father except through me” (John 16.6).