Tuesday, March 31, 2009

The Difference

Last Saturday was positively glorious, such that even though I have a distinctly lazy streak, I decided to get out for a walk. I didn’t even need a jacket. I walked down the usual route, because there is very little else to do but walk the usual route unless you want to go down it backwards, and presently I came upon the House on the Corner.

The House on the Corner has little stone fairies in the rocks along the side of the road and on Saturday an older couple was raking the leaves out of the rocks. By the time I got there, the wife had gone inside, and it was just the husband out there raking. I said hello. He said hello. We both remarked approvingly on the weather. I kept walking.

I had gone quite some way down the road when the nagging voice in my head that was telling me to go and offer to help him rake got the better of me, and so I turned around and walked back. I had a conversation in my head where the man gratefully accepted my help (even though he’s a New Englander--I should have thought that one out a little more) and then I said something trite but heartfelt and true about Jesus loving him.

At least I know enough by now to be fairly certain that the conversations I have in my head will not remotely resemble the ones that happen in real life. This one didn’t.

It started all right. I offered to help. He declined. I asked if he was sure. He was. Then he leaned on his rake and started talking. He began by talking about his grandkids, but what ended up happening was a full-on “evangelistic” promotion of paganism. He was lucky, he said, that he had had the upbringing he did. His mother was very sensitive, he said. He grew up with ghosts and learned not to be afraid of them. He had experiences, which he told me about. One of them involved going “back and back” past his Egyptian period and discovering he was holding a galaxy in his hands and singing a love-song lullaby to it.

The thing he had learned, he told me, was that everything is interconnected, and every moment is to be enjoyed and that we are pre-existently eternal, and more powerful than we can even know. “There are some Entities,” he said, confidentially, “who don’t want us to know how powerful we are.” I felt him looking at me pointedly. I was fairly certain he had figured out I was a Christian, even though I had said approximately nothing in the entire half hour he was talking to me. I thought he was implying that the Entity that Christians worship as God was one such being, set on keeping us down.

I wanted to argue, but I knew beyond the shadow of a doubt that it wouldn’t do any good. I wanted to say, “Yep. We are more powerful than we have any idea of. It wouldn’t surprise me if one day we were to hold galaxies in our hands [actually, that’s not true--the act itself might be surprising when it actually happens], but we don’t get that from ourselves. We get it because we are made in the image of the Lord God Almighty who doesn’t want to keep us down--He wants us to reign with Him. But there are entities who don’t want us to reach our potential, and those are the lying spirits you’re listening to, who fill your head with delusions of independence, spinning out the deception until the end, all the while keeping you away from the One who loves you and can enable you to be more than you ever thought.”

I thought if I tried to say something like that, first off he wouldn’t allow me to get that many words in edgewise, and secondly it would degenerate into a “my God is better than your god” (or whatever) argument, and, on the level of argument he would probably win. I daresay he has seen more supernatural or at least paranormal experiences than I have.

But I couldn’t stop wondering how one does engage in a real give-and-take about beliefs with someone who believes like this. There’s a man at Old Church who talks about Jesus and the difference He’s made in his life in just the same way this man, Pagan-Jerry, was talking about his special spirits. I knew from the bottom of my soul there was a difference, but I couldn’t find a way to helpfully articulate it.

The weird thing was that I had just been thinking that morning, for some unknown reason, about how CS Lewis and JRR Tolkein engaged paganism in their stories and made use of the similarities with the Christian story to show how Jesus fulfilled not only the prophecies of Judaism but the dreams of paganism. But right then, talking to Pagan-Jerry, the similarities seemed like the biggest stumbling-block of all. How could I refute anything he said when to do so would sound like I was just changing the labels around?

I kept asking Jesus to give me some words, but He didn't, that I could tell, so I just listened. And then Pagan-Jerry said, “It’s just such a shame we don’t realise all this about ourselves. We do such atrocious things to each other and to our world. Some that I’ve talked to [here he looked significantly at me, giving me to understand he meant some spirits, and not some other humans] keep asking, ‘What’s wrong with all of you? You destroy each other. You foul your nest. Why do you do it?’ And I just don’t know. That's just how it is.”

That was when I realised the difference. The pagan stories have no true place for sin. There’s no explanation of it--how it got here, why we do it, why the world is in the mess it is today. Ironically, the one story that calls sin “sin” and whose Hero definitively triumphed over it and eradicates it is the one story that also has a place for it. Only the long slow multi-millennial process of the story of Jesus can give us a reason for why we destroy each other and foul the world we live in. And only that story can give us an ultimate solution.

As if proving the point--that I sin--I took my own personal safety and composure in my hands at that point, and returned home.


jasdye said...

that's funny. i was reading some nt wright last night and he also talked about how christianity is the only worldview that has an explanation for evil and yet satisfies our need for justice (i guess that's a short way to say it) via the has-happened/still-yet-to-happen conquering over evil and death.

Annelise said...

Really an amazing story...whoever would have guessed that all those little "fairies" stood for something deeper to that man than shabby lawn art?!

Jeff said...

Yes! I think you are exactly right: Sin is one of the major differences. And it plays out in numerous ways:
Pantheists can't meaningfully explain how sin got here.
They can't explain why there is so much of it.
They can't explain what to do about it.

There are numerous mathematical problems with reincarcation (for example, there are more people alive now than there ever has been before. It's something close to half of the people that have ever been alive are currently walking the Earth. It is simply impossible that all of us have dozens or hundreds of lives behind us. Not enough people have lived to make this a possibility.) but the more damning one is the idea that evil is only human ignorance, and that evil might get fixed under our own power.

Cliff said...

Stuff like this is fascinating.

Jenn said...

Jasdye--these synchronicities seem to be happening a lot lately.

Mom--I kind of thought they did, actually, though I had no idea how deep it went. As far as I can see, at least in this part of the country, anyone who decorates with fairies has some pagan leanings or affiliations.

Jeff--I like when you comment on my blog because you often say more concisely what I was getting at to begin with, or else you draw out nuances I wasn't able to get to. Thanks!

chris e said...

The thing is that beliefs of that nature are not really subject to logic.

.. trying my best not to assume the voice of Stewie Griffin ..

Logic not presently being held in high regard it's not unusual to find people holding mutually incompatible/illogical beliefs in their head at once. You can probably even get them to admit the contradiction.

Otherwise Jerry would start to wonder about the epistemological implications of being dictated a world view by a bunch of higher beings who can see further.

Having said that, some pantheists do - sort of - have some kind of explanation for sin. Buddhists would finger desire, for instance.

Jenn said...

Chris--good point about Buddhists. I don't know why I hadn't thought of that. But, as jasdye (because of NT Wright) points out, the justice aspect isn't really a part of it. At least, as I understand it, it isn't.

Also, where did desire come from? How did this false material existence come about? And why?

(I am aware that there are people who are not Christians who ask the same questions about how, if Satan was a good angel, he became a bad angel if God didn't make him that way. I don't think it has to logically follow that God has evil inherent to His nature as well as good, but I know many people who will assert that it does.)