Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Faith case study: importance of intentions

Hi and especially to young people (!) I have you in mind most particularly and affectionately as I thought of this idea for a blog this morning. I'm going to concentrate on this case study with you because I think it is more important that you understand than my listening on radio, twitter, news to the verbal and mental diarrhea that spews unabated, it seems. *sigh* So I continue to listen but with only one ear (because listening to the crap helps me to understand how urgently I must explain sanitation over and over again, ha).

Here is the case study I want to present to you today. The purpose is to help you try out through faith and logic (reasoning) why two basic truths exist. One is that God knows the intention of a person's heart and soul in everything that person thinks, feels and does, and that intention makes a difference to God. For example, a person can present themselves as the most lovely and spiritual person on the outside, but if they are full of mean crap on the inside, all the "good deeds" and "popularity" and "spirituality" of the person on the outside is pointless because God knows that the person is insincere and even malevolent on the inside, and that person will be judged accordingly. Thus some really "sweet" and "popular" people on the outside do indeed end up in hell, since God knows the motivations of their heart and soul.

The second truth, then, is related to and indeed derivative from the first truth. As a result the Bible clearly states that having an evil heart is sinful (by evil I mean not only flat out evil but also a begrudging, mean, lying, hypocritical and bullying heart, say nothing of being idolatrous) but the Bible also states that all bad thoughts, including ones that are simply foolish, are sins. I blogged about this a while ago, citing the scripture, and commented on it, check and see if you can find those postings under the label "sins," in case you've not read it before, or need to take another look. I'm sticking to doing a logic case study so I'm not going to cite previously cited scripture in this particular post.

So here I am going to give you the case study: Why if, in theory, two people advocate the same action, does it matter if one person is evil (or has evil intention) while the other person is faithful to God and has good intentions? In other words, let's say these two opposite people each agree on some government policy decision... why does it "matter" in the health of their soul, where one will be favored and blessed by God, while the other will not?

As a corollary to this, remember this is a favorite argument of atheists who are "moral" "ethical" and "peaceful." They figure if they advocate the same good things as the believers that they are "the same" in intention and thus in worthiness. Let me tackle this one first as a prelude to the main case study.

Here's the problem with intentions in the atheist example. Bad intentions can hide the truth from you, which affects things in both a specific decision but also one's whole life. Here is the analogy to understand that. Suppose two people, one atheist and one a believer, each rent an apartment from the same landlord. These two people get together on their job (let's say they are peace activists) and they work together on some good project to promote peace. The atheist would argue that because he or she agrees (without the "need for religion") with the believer on a good sound project to promote peace that he or she is as worthy and ethical and moral as the believer work partner. OK, so after work they go back to their own apartments, and the rent bill is due. The believer goes to pay the rent, handing the landlord the cash. The atheist ignores the bill because he or she does not believe the landlord exists. When the atheist is, after repeated bills from the "imaginary" landlord is finally thrown out into the cold, the atheist says, "Hey, how come you aren't throwing out the believer?" The atheist thinks that "equivalent" ethical actions means they are in the same position as the believer, and that of course is not true because the atheist in our analogy thinks that the landlord does not exist and he or she can just ignore bills for their monthly rent. This is an example of how an alliance of actions (the peace project) does not yield equivalent results, because of the intention of each person differs, not only their conscious inner thoughts but of course the entire context of their life and faith philosophy. Interestingly the analogy implies that the atheist renter would continue to not believe in the reality of any landlord, so where would he or she turn to, in our analogy? I guess he or she would find shelter in houses of those who also do not believe in landlords. This is why a person can continue in their whole life without believing in the reality of God, while still doing "equivalent" "good deeds," and only find out there is a landlord indeed when it is too late and he or she had died and is judged unworthy of heaven, and thus ends up in hell. All the "good deeds" and "good intentions" mean naught because the atheist refuses to acknowledge existence of the landlord and pay what is due.

So that is the first part of the case study. Here is the secular part of the case study. I am thinking of this secular case study (as I write it here) so that everyone, regardless of the condition of your faith (or lack of it) or religion/spirituality can understand the practical "bread and butter" secular life reasons that intentions DO matter even in "equivalent" ethics and deeds. To keep this easy to understand I'm going to choose a commodity that is not controversial, such as alcohol, and instead use an imaginary candy, a sweet, a dessert, as the analogy.

Suppose there is a very successful candy, a wrapped single serving sweet, that is found to contain an incredibly high amount of sugar, fat, and thus a HUGE amount of calories with each bite. Let's say that one of these candies had 3000 calories in it, more than most people should have in all their food in a day. So a whole bunch of people with various intentions get together and advocate that this candy be banned. On the surface it seems that everyone is in agreement with a "good cause" to "protect the public" from an "unhealthy" food. They pass a law banning this candy in whatever country or state that they have this influence. Now, let's think about why differing intentions can lead to vastly different results (and worthiness, both in practical life and in spiritual matters) by making a list of people and their intention frameworks and their implications. I'm just going to do a few here to show you how it is done, and you can think of some of your own! :-)

1. A woman is a nutritionist and really, really, really believes that this candy would destroy the health of many people, so she favors the ban.

Here intention is good, but one sided. If it tasted so wonderful and was such a popular sweet, could she not have used her nutrition expertise to help the manufacturer develop a sweet that tastes the same but has less calories? Or suggest to them a way that a person could once in a while have the sweet, but on high activity (like sports or exercise) days? By having a scolding and forbidding orientation, even though there is "good intention" (to preserve some ideal of diet and nutrition), it would never occur to her to have both, by using her expertise to modify the product and avoid a ban of such an innocent and fun sweet.

2. A man is an "expert" in consumer safety, and feels the sweet is just one of a list of things where the public must be protected from "unintended dangerous consequences."

Ahhh.... interesting. The "professional" "consumer safety" guy. Here is it nothing personal, because he's not against the candy and only the candy. He is against anything that the public is "ignorant" of possible "dangerous consequences." Again, many people would think that is a worthy calling. But is it? It sure is when there is a clear and present danger, such as toys that could choke a young child. His "intention is good," most particularly when he is indeed protecting the public from a built in hazard in a toy or product that could harm a child, for example. But he has two blind spots due to his intentions. One is that he stops thinking about each item and rather view them as a continual conveyor belt of "danger" that a continual conveyor belt of "ignorant" public might be harmed by, and thus he is in the taboo business, of looking continually for things to ban. So he has the error of thinking that all items he considers are dangerous deserve the same banning remedy AND he assumes a continual level of public ignorance (none of them are ever smart enough to pick their "dangerous" product). So his intention while certainly "good" on a certain level (dangerous toys for young children, for example) but is very slippery because it has made a factory of demonizing both products and the intelligence of the public.

3. A woman pretends to be a "concerned mother" and "homemaker." She secretly holds stock in a competing candy and sweet company.

Need I say more? That is obvious where the hidden intention is to hurt the successful competitor of a company whereby she holds a hidden financial stake. But let's examine this because my not so hidden intention is to tell people that they are harming themselves when they do not come clean with their own intentions. This woman would justify, I suspect, her advocacy of banning the sweet under consideration because she would say, if confronted, word for word, the following: "Well, even IF I didn't hold stock in the competitor company, as a mother and a homemaker I'd be against that unhealthy and dangerous candy!" Oh my. "Even if." Really? Only God knows how people would have behaved under alternative future scenarios. She is kidding herself, perhaps even honestly fooling herself, actually thinking that she'd be hoisting the banner and flag of advocacy against that product if she didn't have a dog in the fight. Odds are that if she did not have stock in the competitor product that the whole dangerous sweet controversy would have, in that "alternate future," just been a news story that she sees on TV or in the newspaper and like dozens of other stories, leave it to other people to sort out and act upon, as she'd have other interests and concerns. Having the competitive stock makes her more sensitized for both sinister (hurt the competitor company) and innocent (she's paying attention to products of competitors and news about them) reasons. There is no "even if" because humans are not single line entities where everything in their life goes the "same" "even if" "just one thing" were "different."

4. A wealthy woman really believes the product is dangerous and puts her money into the cause of having it banned.

So she is sincere in believing it is dangerous..... and she has the money (and thus influence) to do something about it. Hmm. Sounds good so far, right? A celebrity or an industrialist or media figure "putting good money to the cause!" Maybe so. But here are the different forks in the road of different intentions. 1) She has lots of money and thus bans it for everyone else, but stockpiles the candy for herself, figuring that it's a "dangerous" treat that "she can handle." 2) She really does believe it is dangerous and doesn't want the candy, but her success in this power play goes to her head. She looks for other "causes" that she can provide the money as "fuel" to muscle through people's agendas, both "good" and maybe "bad" ones. She gets hooked on being a power maker. The problem is that she becomes hooked on the power she has rather than the genuine worthiness of the cause, because of her intention to "make a difference." How many times do we hear those words: "I have the money to 'make a difference.'" Automatically that attracts such a person to causes that are able to be purchased, and in all innocence may not see causes that just need a pair of hands and a willing and open heart. Her "good deeds" become skewed and ultimately blinded and invalid because the motivation, the intention, is to use money and power as a lever.

Can you think of others? I could but I'm bummed out enough at always having to point out the faulty spiritual and secular reasoning that so very many people follow, without thinking of even more for you here, ha.

So think of other ones. Here's a hint (think about people who are killjoys because they were deprived in some way in their childhood or whatever....they can and do kid themselves that they are protecting others, while just begrudging what they did not have themselves).

After you've added one or two other examples to my list, now imagine the wrap-up. All these people agreed to a single "good deed" of "consumer protection from a dangerous product."

A. All people engaged in the same activity and got the law passed, banning the sweet.
B. Each person had a totally different motivation and hidden intention.
C. If they were honest about their intentions, many of them would have changed their minds about the law in the first place.
D. Better alternatives than the flat out ban are never even considered.
E. Alternative better actions are totally missed, so there is a high "missed opportunity" cost.
F. When one is not honest about one's inner motivations and intentions, one becomes the willing or unwilling slave to those intentions, continuing to act in that intentions mindless "service."
G. Serving those intentions results in missing other sets of priorities as one seeks out repeated gratification of those intentions in all things.
H. Hypocritical and coveting temptations have a greater and greater hold.

So now by expanding this analogy into faith, it is not at all difficult to see how God at the time of their personal judgment will place in front of each of these people, who agreed on one action (the banning of the sweet), how worthy or not their lives actually were, and how widely divergent all of these people will be. Same action but different intentions yield not just later but in the immediate wildly different results.

Ha ha, I can't resist, so here's another example, if you've not thought of it already.

5. A lawmaker is the author of the law banning the candy. He thinks it is unhealthy and dangerous.

OK, sounds like a responsible consumer advocate legislator, right? Yeah, but what if he knows that it will get voted down? He is trying to look good for the voters by banning the "unhealthy candy" but he knows it is "win-win" because if it passes, sure, that "bad candy" got banned, but if he is voted down, "well, he tried to do the right thing" and that ends up in his campaign ads. So at heart he cares neither if the candy really is dangerous (or he'd try hard to get all the votes lined up in favor of his banning law) or if the dangerous candy ban loses, and people keep legally eating it.... he's "won" either way as he looks like either the victorious, or losing, "hero."

Now, think of those intentions in the faith context. Some of the people above are flat out lying, sinful, coveting hypocrites. How will God judge them? It will be quite obvious that they will be harshly judged.

So this case study shows you how 1) even if you omit God from the situation under discussion that the same action can and does result in wildly different outcomes depending on the totally individual conscious or unconscious intentions and 2) since God IS in this and every situation, God knows not only the worthiness of the intentions (their genuine or not benevolence) but God also knows all the subsequent life directions and implications of letting those intentions rule.

I hope that you have found this helpful!