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The Nice Factor

Since its inception, my blog has been specifically related to Christian topics as I come from a Christian worldview (see my blog post on the topic of worldviews titled, Worldviews,” at this link). A worldview is not something one can just turn off or turn on like a faucet. It permeates everything a person does and everything they believe, and everyone operates on the basis of what they believe regardless of whether or not it has a religious component.

That is not to say, from time to time, that I haven’t written a blog post where Christianity is not mentioned or isn’t the focal point. Take, for example, a blog post I published back on February 18, 2012 titled, A Heartfelt Thanks to Andy Rooney.” Andy Rooney died on Nov. 4, 2011 at the age of 92 just three weeks after retiring after his 1097th appearance on the TV show, 60 Minutes.” He was an American radio and television writer who was best known for his weekly broadcast A Few Minutes with Andy Rooney,” a part of the CBS News program 60 Minutes from 1978 to 2011.

Andy Rooney‘s religious beliefs (well, the lack thereof–he was agnostic) are expressed in this short article on the Freedom From Religion Foundation website titled, Emperor Has No Clothes Award”:

In his 1999 book,Sincerely, Andy Rooney,” he [Rooney] included a final section called “Faith in Reason.” In it he reprints a thorough letter about his agnosticism and free-thought views. Sample quotes:

“I don’t differentiate much, except in degree, between people who believe in religion from those who believe in astrology, magic or the supernatural.”

“We all ought to understand we’re on our own. Believing in Santa Claus doesn’t do kids any harm for a few years but it isn’t smart for them to continue waiting all their lives for him to come down the chimney with something wonderful. Santa Claus and God are cousins.”

“I just wish this social institution [religion] wasn’t based on what appears to me to be a monumental hoax built on an accumulation of customs and myths directed toward proving something that isn’t true.”

“Christians talk as though goodness was their idea but good behavior doesn’t have any religious origin. Our prisons are filled with the devout.”

“I’d be more willing to accept religion, even if I didn’t believe it, if I thought it made people nicer to each other but I don’t think it does.” (Quote source here.)

I liked Andy Rooney for his upfront honesty even if I disagreed with his set of beliefs and some of the things he said or wrote. And the fact that he was agnostic doesn’t change my feelings about him (although, obviously, I never knew him personally). Sometimes I think that if I had not believed in Jesus Christ since I was a very young child (and I never “outgrew” it as is often the case with childhood conversions), being an agnostic might be appealing to me if I had no other particular belief system as the church isn’t always a friendly place. It’s sort of like his last quote above where he stated, “I’d be more willing to accept religion, even if I didn’t believe it, if I thought it made people nicer to each other but I don’t think it does.”

Fortunately, believing in Jesus Christ doesn’t have a “nice” factor attached to believing in him. Kind? Yes, but being “nice” doesn’t prove anything, especially when it comes to religious beliefs. Yes, it’s nice to be nice to everyone, but a lot is hidden behind the facade of “being nice.” There is a socially acceptable type of “being nice” (as in being pleasant) and we all recognize it when it happens, but our “niceness” doesn’t prove anything and often covers a lot that we won’t say but actually feel. Passive/aggressive behavior is often hidden behind a facade of “niceness” (see article titled, 10 Things Passive-Aggressive People Say,” at this link.) Hidden agendas are also hiding behind nice, compliant words, actions and facial expressions.

It might have helped if Andy Rooney had described what he thought “being nicer to each other” really meant. I think we all know, but that kind of genuine “nice” is becoming rather scarce, and it seems as if kids aren’t even being raised today to know what being genuinely “nice” is all about. I’m not even sure their parents know what it is all about, either. On the surface, there is a whole lot of “niceness” going on that isn’t sincere, so if religious belief depended on niceness, it doesn’t have a leg to stand on.

Here’s a definition of what being genuinely “nice” should looks and act like. It comes from Paul in Philippians 2:3-4 (NLT): “Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves. Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too.” In today’s world we don’t experience that very often (at least that comes off as being genuine). We live in a “you scratch my back and I”ll scratch yours” world. We almost always expect something in return if we do someone a favor. Rare is the person who isn’t looking out for themselves first (even though most people won’t admit that openly), and this attitude permeates the religious world, too. Actions really do speak louder than words.

Religion as Andy Rooney describes it in his statement above, (e.g., “I’d be more willing to accept religion, even if I didn’t believe it, if I thought it made people nicer to each other but I don’t think it does”) reminds me of the religious folks Jesus was always running up against in his day (the Pharisees, et al). In an article titled, Jesus Challenges the Pharisees,” by Jerry Bridges (1929-2016), author, speaker, and former staff member at The Navigators, he stated:

The Pharisees were the ultimate religious people among the Jews during Christ’s life on earth. Determined not to break any of God’s laws, they had, over time, devised an intricate system of oral tradition to keep them from breaking the Mosaic law. One would think with such a desire to obey God that they would have recognized the perfect obedience of Jesus and affirmed and followed Him. And yet, as demonstrated by the events recorded in Matthew 12:1–37, they were His most bitter and implacable opponents. Why was this so?

The essential problem lay in their different understanding of the nature of God. For the Pharisees, God is primarily one who makes demands. For them, the Scriptures of the Old Testament were a set of rules that must be kept at all costs. For Jesus, as well as the Old Testament believers, God is primarily “gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love” (Ps. 145:8).

Also for the Pharisees, God looked only at their external compliance with the law of God. For Jesus, God looks at the heart (1 Sam. 16:7). That is why, for example, Jesus would equate the lustful look, which actually expresses the desire of the heart, with the actual committing of adultery (Matt. 5:27–28).

The most proximate cause of the Pharisees’ antagonism toward Jesus, however, lay in His ignoring of their hundreds of elaborate but petty rules that they had devised for interpreting the law of God. Not only did they devise these hundreds of man-made rules, but they had also elevated them to the level of Scripture, so that to break one of their rules was to violate the law of God itself. And yet these rules not only obscured the true intent of God’s law, but also, in some cases, actually violated it (see Mark 7:9–13).

What really got the Pharisees upset with Jesus was the way He ignored their trivial and burdensome rules for keeping the Sabbath. In Matthew 12 verses 1–8, the Pharisees objected to the disciples of Jesus plucking and eating heads of grain as they walked through the grain fields on a Sabbath. According to their oral tradition, plucking the heads of grain and eating them was work — a violation of the Sabbath.

Almost immediately afterward, on that same Sabbath day, Jesus entered their synagogue where there was a man with a withered hand. Now, eager to again accuse Jesus of breaking the Sabbath, they asked him, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?” (vv. 9–14). Before healing the man, Jesus answers their question by asking which of them, if his sheep falls into a pit on the Sabbath, would not lift it out. If, then, it is lawful to relieve the misery of a sheep on the Sabbath, how much more is it lawful to relieve the misery of a fellow human being who is more valuable than a sheep?

In both instances — that of the disciples eating the grain and of Jesus healing the man’s withered hand — the scriptural principle that Jesus applies is God’s Word that “I desire mercy and not sacrifice” (v. 7).

Apparently, not long after the Sabbath episodes, Jesus healed a demon-oppressed man who was blind and mute (Matt. 12:22). Not having a Sabbath violation charge to bring against Jesus, the Pharisees now resorted to the slanderous charge that Jesus cast out demons by Beelzebub, the prince of demons (that is, Satan himself). Since Jesus cast out demons by the power of the Holy Spirit (v. 28), their slanderous charge was actually blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, a sin that Jesus said would never be forgiven. Commentators differ on exactly what this sin of blasphemy against the Holy Spirit is. As a result, some people have become afraid that they have committed “the unpardonable sin.” However, it is safe to say that no one who is afraid that he or she has committed that sin has, in fact, committed it. The evidence from the text itself indicates that this blasphemy committed by the Pharisees can only come from a heart that is totally and implacably hardened against God. Obviously, a person with a sensitive heart could not commit that sin.

Since all Scripture is profitable for us, there is a present-day lesson for us to learn from Jesus’ clash with the Pharisees. We need to be careful that we do not add our own man-made rules to the Scriptures. Some convictions that we hold dearly may be derived more from our particular Christian culture than derived from Scripture, and we need to learn to discern the differences. It is okay to have cultural convictions, but we should be careful that we do not elevate them to the same authority as Scripture. So much judgmentalism among Christians today occurs because we do this. But that is basically what the Pharisees were doing. So, let’s be careful that we are not modern-day Pharisees. (Quote source here.)

Most people attending church on a regular basis probably don’t think of themselves as being in the same category as the Pharisees, but as Dr. Bridges stated above, we need to be careful that we do not add our own man-made rules to Scripture and expect others to follow them. Having spent years in church settings, it’s a fact that there are many “unwritten rules” that we expect others to follow to be considered “Christian” that aren’t biblical but are a part of Christian culture. Again, as Dr. Bridges stated above, it is okay to have cultural convictions, but we should be careful that we do not elevate them to the same authority as Scripture and judge others accordingly, as that is exactly what the Pharisees were doing. A genuine sign of being Christian is our love for others, not our judgment of others.

When I was in high school, the students who came from well-to-do families with intact homes and manicured lawns ran the show, and they determined who could or could not be a part of their clique. The rest of us who were not as fortunate as they were had no choice in the matter of being accepted by them or not. They looked down on the rest of us since we didn’t measure up to their set of standards. The church can too easily become just like those students who judged others according to their family background and economic and social status.

In another article titled, Why Did the Pharisees Hate Jesus So Much?” by R.C. Sproul, Jr., pastor, theologian, and son of R.C. Sproul, the founder of Ligonier’s Ministries, he states:

It may well be in the calculus of evil that the only character faring worse than a Nazi is the Pharisee. These were the original black hats. In each of the gospel accounts they are the no-accounts, the very foil of Jesus Himself. We, because we are sinners just like them, ascribe to the Pharisees every conceivable sin that we think ourselves not guilty of. We may have to confess to this sin or that, but at least, we tell ourselves, we aren’t like those guys. In our scapegoating narrative we think that when Jesus showed up the Pharisees hated Him for the simple reason that He was good and they evil. He walked down the street, and they hissed and sputtered. He healed a puppy and they kicked it.

The truth is that the Pharisees did hate Jesus, and He rightly isn’t known for showing them a great deal of grace. He called them out for their hypocrisy. He exposed their inner tombs. But the hatred they felt for Him wasn’t mere sour grapes at His approval rating, nor was it as principled as mere evil versus good. It was rather more craven. They hated Jesus not because He called them names, but because He threatened their security, prestige and income. He was going to ruin everything they had worked so hard for, and getting everybody killed. (Quote source and the rest of the article can be read at this link.)

Enough said . . . . I’ll end this post with the words from Micah 6:8He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you, but to do justice . . .

And to love kindness . . .

And to walk humbly . . .

With your God . . . .

YouTube Video: “Lose My Soul” by TobyMac, Kirk Franklin, and Mandisa:

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A Heartfelt Thanks to Andy Rooney

“There’s something wrong with anyone who’s never been fired from a job,” so states Andy Rooney in Andy Rooney: 60 Years of Wisdom and Wit(Public Affairs, 2009, p. 121). I found this gem of a book in hardcover yesterday at Books-A-Million for $5.97, and for an unemployed book lover like myself, it was a major find. Andy’s wit and wisdom always cheers me up and I smiled after I read that line because of the sting of being fired almost three years ago in Houston by my former boss who had a heart of stone (I’m still dealing with trust issues). And I was almost 57 at the time. And it hurt like hell. And I’m still unemployed.

Andy Rooney died on Nov. 4, 2011 at the age of 92 just three weeks after “retiring” after his 1097th appearance on “60 Minutes.” That’s the way I’d like to go if I ever find another job again, not that “60 Minutes” would ever hire me but that he kept busy making people think and challenging assumptions right up to the end. He was never afraid to state his mind and when he made mistakes he acknowledged them, even reading letters from some of his harshest critics on the air. And he apologized when he went over the line. That trait is quite rare. He was truly “one-of-a-kind.”

As quoted from a New York Times article written at the time of his death, “Mr. Rooney frequently said he considered himself ‘one of the least important producers on television’ because his specialty was light pieces. ‘I just wish insignificance had more stature,’ he once said.” There was no greater champion of “insignificance” than Andy Rooney, and we owe a debt of gratitude to the stature he gave to it. Life is lived out in the “insignificant” moments of our lives–insignificant to the world, maybe, but not to us. He wore our shoes and wasn’t afraid to tell others exactly how they felt. And, even though we knew how they felt, he championed our cause. There was absolutely nothing insignificant about Andy Rooney.

I really related to a section in his book titled “It’s A Writer Who Makes A Fool Of Himself” (pp. 108-110). I love to write although I’ve never been able to make a living at it. I’m a creative type in my own little world and in my younger years spent a lot of money trying to be an artist (my bachelor’s degree is in art and design). However, acrylics dried too fast and oils dried way too slow and watercolors, well–mine came off looking like mud. However, I always got high grades on the frames I had to build from scratch to frame them. Sometimes my analytic side takes my creative side hostage. Drawing, however, was my forte whether in pencil, ink, or charcoal. I could draw with the best of them.

Over the years, though, my favorite mode of creating has been with words. It doesn’t require a lot of money, like creating artwork does (just price art supplies if you don’t believe me). I’ve been known to scratch out notes on napkins in Denny’s for future reference. And, technology has been the greatest invention for writers. Who knew blogging could be so much fun? My laptop screen is like a blank canvas waiting to be filled with words (and pictures and YouTube videos of music to go along with those words). And all for the price of an inexpensive laptop and internet connection. Sweet.

But back to Andy Rooney . . . . He states, “Writing is difficult. That’s why there’s so little of it that’s any good. Writing isn’t like mathematics where what you’ve put down is either right or wrong. No writer ever puts down anything on paper that he knows for certain is good or bad” and a little further down on the page he asks, “When do I arrive as a writer?” (Ibid, p. 108). At the end of this short essay, he concluded “If writing is difficult, it’s also one of the most satisfactory jobs in the world…. I already knew what I wanted to be when I grew up. I wanted to be a writer. I wish I was a better one (‘were a better one,’ if you prefer, I don’t) but I enjoy being the one I am. If I was forced to choose between appearing on television and writing words to appear on paper, I wouldn’t hesitate for a second. I’d give up television” (Ibid, p. 110). However, as we all know well about him, he was great at both.

At the moment my greatest note of gratitude to Andy Rooney is an essay in this book in a section titled “Plain-Spoken Wisdom” on the topic of “Trust” (pp. 141-143). I’ve had some rather significant issues with “trust” over the past several years, and it had reached an all time low point just this past week (you can read about it in my last blog post titled Love Never Fails).

Most of my life I’ve trusted people, even people I didn’t know well. Mr. Rooney states, “It’s amazing that we ever trust each other to do the right thing, isn’t it? And we do, too. Trust is our first inclination. We have to make a deliberate decision to mistrust someone or to be suspicious or skeptical. Those attitudes don’t come naturally to us” (Ibid, p. 141)I felt better after I read those words and I realized that my basic instinct to trust had not been wrong as the attitude to mistrust doesn’t come naturally to us. Our first instinct is to trust. He goes on to state, “it’s a damn good thing, too, because the whole structure of our society depends on mutual trust, not distrust. This whole thing we have going for us would fall apart if we didn’t trust each other most of the time . . . . We do what we say we’ll do; we show up when we say we’ll show up; we deliver when we say we’ll deliver; and we pay when we say we’ll pay. We trust each other in these matters, and when we don’t do what we’ve promised, it’s a deviation from the normal.”

“A deviation from the normal” . . . that’s been the kicker for me for these past few years. It seems as if society as a whole has deviated from the normal when it comes to trust especially in the past decade or so. People say, “you can trust me,” with their fingers crossed behind their back. Trust, like truth, has entered “the Postmodern Zone.” People have become sincerely “insincere.” And it’s hard to trust insincere people, even when they smile brightly.

“It happens often that we don’t act in good faith and in a trustworthy manner, but we still consider it unusual, and we’re angry or disappointed with the person or organization that violates the trust we have in them. (I’m looking for something good to say about mankind today)” as Mr. Rooney continued in his essay. “I hate to see a story about a bank swindler who has jiggered the books to his own advantage, because I trust banks. I don’t like them, but I trust them. I don’t go in and demand that they show me my money all the time just to make sure they still have it.”

“. . . There isn’t time in life to distrust every person you meet or every company you do business with. . . . It’s interesting to look around and at people and compare their faith or lack of faith in other people with their success or lack of success in life. The patsies, the suckers, the people who always assume everyone else is as honest as they are make out better in the long run than the people who distrust everyone–and they’re a lot happier even if they get taken once in a while” (Ibid, pp. 142-143).

His words have given me food for thought today as I try to work my way back from the level of distrust I’ve been feeling. I’ve been hurt a lot in these past three years, and even when I’ve forgiven people who have hurt me and tried to trust in them again, some of them just turned around and hurt me again. And that, folks, gets really, really old. There are some people out there that I can forgive but cannot trust again because they have proved, on more than one occasion, that they can’t be trusted. However, the words of Andy Rooney have helped me to see that just because I know from experience that I cannot trust a few, I don’t want to turn my world into varying shades of gray on the whole trust issue with everyone I meet.

“If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone” (Romans 12:18). It’s hard to live at peace and get along with everybody holding a wary eye of distrust at the outset. As Andy Rooney stated in his essay, “There isn’t time in life to distrust every person you meet or every company you do business with” and that’s so very true.

I think I have my perspective back on this issue of trust, and for that, I owe Andy Rooney a debt of gratitude. And even when all else fails, we can always:

“Trust in the LORD with all your heart 
   and lean not on your own understanding; 
in all your ways acknowledge him, 
   and he will make your paths straight” (Prov. 3:5-6)

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