Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Is there a higher judge?

Everyday I encounter hatred, indifference and falseness. I suppose the perpetrators of such affronts to love and truth would see it differently. I see what I see. Recently my hometown’s conservative newspaper published an article debunking those who call senior San Diego federal Judge Gordon Thompson Jr. a liberal activist for ordering in 1991 the removal of a hilltop cross from city land, something some continue to resist. In fact Thompson is a no-nonsense, harsh sentencing, Nixon appointee to the federal bench, in no way liberal or activist. His 1991 decision never has been overturned despite numerous appeals. With the 15th anniversary of that decision approaching, he finally has imposed a deadline of August 1, failing which the essentially bankrupt city will face a $5000 a day fine. Some would still fight that. After all, it’s just liberal activism, right?

Inside the opinion section of that same day’s paper was a response to Justice Antonin Scalia recently writing that in recent American history there has been no clear instance of an innocent person having been executed. The head of the Legal Defense Fund presented 4 cases from the last 15 years he believes are clear. So what jury decides this? And how much will they study the details before they do?

The day before I was in a bookstore. Every book I picked up on social issues made questionable claims, by people picking out little factoids to argue their claim. Usually I doubt even the premise of such arguments is correct. Yet this is what people do with their words. Some of these books must sell, even though I didn’t buy any of them, especially not Ann Coulter’s book.

Is there a higher judge who looks at all this? In my most cynical youth I was sure there isn’t. Now I’m sure there is, but I’ve also become sure that while many people give lip service to there being a higher judge, few act that way. Why?

All these people attacking “liberal activist judges” supposedly do so for God’s benefit. Yet I don’t hear God speaking when they speak. I hear partisans, spinning their perception of things in ways that so transparently lean toward their cause. Any words to the contrary are just the enemy or immaterial. Where did this idea come from that God’s people never make a mistake? Or that they are in fact God’s people?

The current argument made by the Christian lawyers organization trying to keep the cross where it is centers on the contention that this particular cross is not a religious symbol, but a universal symbol of self-sacrifice, in keeping with the war memorial that the cross towers above. I try to think of how I could politely respond to this. I could say I don’t see it that way.

I definitely don’t. The cross is always a religious symbol to me, a symbol of my connection to God. Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe God doesn’t see it that way, and my faith is completely meaningless. Maybe there is no God and no need to fight over a 43-foot cross. I don’t see it that way, though. As with many issues, I ask myself and ask God if I’m delusional in seeing the cross as a religious symbol. The answers I get on this one reassure me. They do on some other issues, too, but not always. It’s not a meaningless exercise to ask God whether you know as much as you think you know. You have to be a little open to getting a surprising answer, though.

It’s hard for me to imagine that most people do that much. For one you would have to pin most conservatives to the floor through both shoulders and both hips before they’d admit they’ve been caught. I don’t suppose Justice Scalia is planning to revise his remarks yet, just because of the 4 cases that some think we’re surely executions of the innocent. He meant “clear”. Why give up the power of the point he was making for mere probability? Why indeed?

It is so often about power, not how powerless I am in fact without God.

On Monday, Justice Anthony Kennedy ordered a stay of the August 1 deadline for the cross. Otherwise the city of San Diego felt compelled to start planning its removal. So now there’s time for more litigation, though maybe not much time before a court again finds the cross is indeed a religious symbol and a violation of the California constitution if not the US Constitution as well. Naturally both sides proclaimed victory over this.

I found what Rev. Pat Mahoney of the Christian Defense Coalition said the most interesting of all this spin. Mahoney said, “Yes, we’re thankful to Justice Kennedy, but God did this. God the Sovereign intervened.” That’s fine with me, if true. I’m not sure why God thought it necessary to wait 17 years from the initial lawsuit to intervene, but maybe there’s a good reason. If God has indeed intervened, then it’s over, right? Surely God wouldn’t intervene and then allow the courts to overrule Him. Who is the highest judge here, anyway?

My guess is that when the cross is again ordered removed, Rev. Mahoney will spin it in yet another way. It’s one thing to claim a higher judge when things go your way. If things don’t, then where is that higher judge? Worse, has that judge ruled against you? I predict I will not find a single conservative Christian who accepts that God has ruled against them when the cross comes down. Yet what’s the alternative? What kind of Sovereign makes ineffective interventions? Apparently some believe that God only uses Anthony Kennedy some of the time. What kind of God is that?

In fact, God tells me Rev. Mahoney knows nothing of Him. Mahoney knows his own tradition. Beyond that he’s a loose cannon. Anyone who knows the first thing about God would be much more cautious about speaking for Him

Is it just that traditional Christians think God will forgive them any falseness? I doubt it. I don’t see how people can speak like some Christians do, saying that the hilltop cross is “clearly” Constitutional, without believing what they say. That’s the point. Here are so many people speaking as if their beliefs must be true. It makes sense that atheists speak as if there is no God to say they’re wrong. Yet many theists speak the same way, both liberals and conservatives.

Doesn’t anyone listen to God? Does everyone but me think it’s crazy to hear God? I know that’s not true. Lots of evangelicals quote God, in print and on TV. I think they get God wrong almost all the time, but at least they admit that God might have something to say. Of course, evangelicals rarely report God saying anything surprising. Their God never says they’re wrong about something and should give up. My God has said things like that to me. So I gave up.

If you give up, then you can start over. Would you rather have a life where you start over again and again and again or a life where you go forever in a single direction? What are the chances that a single direction is the right way? Starting over doesn’t mean starting over with nothing. It can just be a course correction. It seems to me life needs many course corrections, while those who are as sure of their way as Rev. Mahoney look like they’re going the wrong way, a way of hatred, indifference and falseness.

It’s not easy to listen to God. Both biological and cultural evolution are self-regulating systems that will proceed without that. I don’t know how important it is in general to know there is a higher judge, not just for rhetorical purposes, but as the God one consults regarding His will. It’s obvious that people who claim there is such a higher judge don’t act like there is, unless they just mean the Bible and/or the church is their God.

It is important to me that there is a higher judge, even one who doesn’t know a future that hasn’t happened yet, is intuitive instead of being a mass of databanks, doesn’t run the physical universe, doesn’t love everyone and is less than perfect, preferring just getting through all this once to all the repetition that would be needed to reach perfection. I know I’ve prayed to God for direction, strength, and hope and received good directions, a healthy strength and hope that has endured much better than anything the secular world offers. I don’t confuse Him with some Oriental despot by calling Him Sovereign. He is God, the one who is called, as the root word means in Indo-European.

People can call on Him more if they get tired of all the fighting.

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