Wednesday, April 02, 2008


Today in the coffee mayhem (and was it ever mayhem), the Milk Guy handed me his copy of Dostoevsky's Notes from the Underground, whether because I mentioned I love Dostoevsky, or because he can't bear to pollute my ostensibly pristine and faith-filled mind with the likes of Nietzsche, which is what I actually asked to borrow, I don't really know. I shall ask him about that presently.

Anyway, I'm still trying to gauge his openness to actual discourse about things of faith. It might be kind of "safer" and easier and nicer just to keep lobbing books back and forth at each other without actually talking. But I'm still thinking about the charge of arrogance, so, as promised, here are some of the thoughts.

First I would like to admit that I think there is often a fair amount of arrogance communicated (whether or not it's actually felt by the communicator) through proselytisation. There are a lot of angles from which the arrogance could come and I don't want to diminish that fact, but, since this is my blog and everything, I am going to ignore it for a minute and take another tack.

The tack is this: the Milk Guy said that the idea that there are consequences for not getting to know Jesus means that "most of humanity is condemned." Which isn't funny at all, obviously, except in an ironic sort of way, because I actually agree with him. Only I would say all of humanity is condemned.

And see, here's the thing I find even more interesting: to me that sounds about as un-arrogant as it can get. It's only arrogant if the person saying it (me, for example) is putting herself outside of the premise. But I'm not. So instead of arrogance being at the root of that premise, I see it as extremely equalising. We're all in the same boat, and we might be bailing water, but it would appear that the combined weight is driving us under. The only way we can be saved is if someone pulls us out. I believe that there is someone to do it, and that it's Jesus, but that He's the only one who can.

The thing I find arrogant, conversely, is the idea that some people are better or can make themselves better. I mean, the premise that we're not all in the same boat. Who decides? Who says what's better? Why do we have to compete or compare at all? It's Survival-of-the-Fittest, Level 3--the Spiritual Level. Or something like that. I happen to know I'm not the fittest.

And if the Milk Guy were to argue (which he might) that it isn't survival of the fittest, and that everyone's okay, well then, what's the point of living an exemplary life (which he has, at some point, cited as a value) at all? I mean really--who cares? Or maybe I mean someone like me on a lower level, who is more selfish (but why is that of lesser value, in this system of arbitrary inequality?), surely wouldn't care.

How could this system not be survival of the fittest, in the end? That's a basic premise of the natural world which is, according to some, all there is. I'm not trying to be stupid, and I'm not trying to be offensive or mocking--and certainly not arrogant. I just really truly genuinely feel and see and believe that when you take Jesus out of it, the entire system falls apart. It's futile, and plus it's exhausting. It wears me out just thinking about it. I don't want to have anything to prove. I don't want it to be just me, trying hard to do something I'm not quite clear about. I'm not a very relaxed person, but at bottom, I'd rather just rest and allow the Person I'm often so at odds with to lift me to safety anyway.


Annelise said...

I especially appreciated your comment about the arrogance of human beings actually thinking we can make ourselves better. Good point!

Jeff said...

It might not be thought out in this way, but I think the "arrogant" argument goes like this:
A) There are many people who are in circumstances that make it easy for them to know Jesus.
B) There are many people who are in circumstances that it literally (or atleast nearly) impossible to know Jesus.
C) Many of the determining factors of A. and B. above have nothing to do with the actions of the person.
This seems to leave open only the following conclusions:
1. Somebody who is in circumstance A. is more loved by God than somebody in circumstance B: If God loved them both the same he would have put everybody in circumstance A. This is where the claims of arrogance come in: it can be said that if you're in circumstance A, in some sense you're claiming to be better, or more loved than circumstance B.
2. The alternative is God is quite random and capricious about who is in A. or B.; if this is the case his love, fairness, and wisdom are all called into question.

I am quite agnostic about this whole affair: I know that God has reached out to me, and that it is within me abilities to reach back to him. He has enpowered me to bring people from circumstances B to circumstances A, by showing them God's love. I believe that God will hold me accountable for how effective I am at this task. As for people who are never reached... I don't know. And it's not really my business, anyway.

Notes from the Underground is good stuff. The idea of perverse freedom might be a good place to build a bridge toward the principle that true freedom is found with obedience to God. The protagonist is a great picture of the world's view of freedom: taken so far he has enslaved by his quest for freedom.

There are times and places that Nietzsche demonstrates a profound love for Christ, though his loathing of the church is easier to find in his work...
I think it's an awesome act of evangelism, to read these books. To really hear what he believes buys you the right to speak; so often it's so tempting to talk first and listen second, but we don't really accomplish much doing this.

Christianne said...

such good thoughts here, continually, jenn.

i can appreciate your perspective. (well, that's kind of obvious . . . ) what i mean by that is the tack you chose to take here, the one about us all being in the same boat and that leveling arrogance to the floor completely.

here's my thought on what someone like the milk man, who doesn't see the need for jesus, might say about living an exemplary life. i kinda think he might say the exact same thing about humanity: that we're all in the same boat. except instead of looking upward in the search and need for God, he might look horizontal and say that, therefore, we should all help each other along. kind of like this might be the root for humanitarian deeds and civil service and the need for laws and such.

thoughts? does that even make sense? not sure if i communicated very well what i am trying to say . . .

Jenn said...


Jeff--I was going to ATTEMPT to tackle that one in my next post. But thanks for delineating the arguments for me--it makes my job easier! I'm so glad you read this blog--and respond to it. I really appreciate your perspective. I wish you could sit down and talk to this guy . . . but convincing him to do that would probably be almost as hard as converting him! ;)

Christianne--that actually occurred to me, but I felt like I was going on long enough for this particular post, so I decided to avoid THAT tack for the moment, too. But I guess I still have to say that to me, the secularist, atheist desire to help others makes no logical sense to me, because there isn't really much in nature that recommends that, as far as I can see. So it just points me to the need of God (some kind of god at least) all over again. I agree that not all secularists see it this way, though.

bryancti said...

Here's a dirty little secret about proselytisation being arrogant - most people who make that claim usually do so in this manner: "It's arrogant for [usually] Christians to say that only they have the Truth. It's wrong to impose your beliefs on others. You shouldn't force other people to believe what you believe." Often the argument is made with other words and wrapped up with other arguments and shades of arguments. But this is usually what the argument boils down to. Here's the thing, though. In saying this, the person who makes the argument is himself guilty -- that person is imposing his belief on you that you shouldn't proselytise. Odd, no? Tim Keller goes into it in a little more detail (and a little more eloquently) in his new book, _The Reason for God_.

Jenn said...

Bryancti--welcome! Thanks for visiting/commenting. Are you from the CTI that I think you're from?

Anyway, also--good point. I completely agree . . . although in fairness to the milk guy, he didn't actually make his point in quite that way.

Jenn said...

Oh brother. Yeah, sorry Bryan. ;)

There was an error in this gadget