The fallacy of Situationalism and Cultural Relativism

Situationalism says that morality is determined by situations, and situations are relative; therefore, morality is relative. It says, even killing cannot be called wrong if done in self defense. Even stealing can be good if you are stealing a weapon from a terrorist. And since situations are so diverse and complex, it is unreasonable to hold universal moral absolutes. And thus, the situationalist concludes against moral absolutes because he finds all morality related to situations.

The premise of situationalism does have some truth in it. Situations do influence moral judgments. But when one says that situations influence moral judgments it does not automatically follow that all morality is relative and there are no moral absolutes. Situationalism begins on the right track but reaches the wrong conclusion. How? Let’s delve deeper.

Let’s consider the two examples stated earlier. Killing, which is generally viewed as wrong, cannot be called wrong if done in self defense. Stealing, which is generally viewed as wrong, can actually be called good if you’re stealing a weapon from a terrorist. You must note here that in each of these situations, there are actually not one but two moral actions. In the first case, it is killing and self defense. In the second case, it is stealing and preventing a genocide. In the first case, judgment is reserved because killing happened in the heat of the moment. Probably by an accident without any premeditation. In the second case, the evil of stealing is trumped by a much greater good of preventing a genocide. Thus, we must observe here that killing or stealing hasn’t become essentially good, but only balanced or trumped by greater good or evil.

If stealing is good in the above situation, it does not follow that killing and stealing does not have intrinsic moral value. And suppose if stealing has an intrinsic moral value of -10, then preventing a genocide might have an intrinsic moral value of +1000. (Note here that moral actions cannot have any empirically verifiable value due to the intangibility of moral actions. Here I’m just assigning an approximate value based on common sense.) The statement, “Stealing can actually be good if you’re stealing a weapon from terrorist” does not only talk about the moral value of stealing but it is also talking about the moral value of preventing a genocide.

And if, what I’ve stated above is the thought process of the situationalist, then he has already presupposed a moral framework. He already assigns more positive moral value to preventing a genocide than the negative value he assigns to the act of stealing. And this moral framework is not part of the situation. Rather, it is judging the situation by itself. And if there’s an external moral framework outside of the situation that is judging the situation, then, the situationalist has already presupposed a moral framework that he is trying to determine through situations. You cannot have a cake before baking it. And since situationalism is trying to smuggle a cake in the recipe of making a cake, its logic is faulty at best and its intentions questionable. Situationalism simply can not be true.

As a side note, situationalist’s own thinking pattern is not at all different than that of a moral absolutist. Moral absolutist do hold to a rigid moral framework that is universally true, but this moral framework is not rigid in it’s application. It can be applied flexibly in different situations. In Christianity, when there are conflicting morals, we are to oblige the greater good. The above thought process of weighing good and evil where conflicting morals exist in the same situation is called graded absolutism in christian ethics. The situationalist not only presupposes a moral framework but he believes this framework is true absolutely because it is used to judge different situations. And situations can be infinitely complex. If a moral framework is to be applied to situations that are infinitely complex, then it must be absolutely, universally true.

So, the situationalist actually believes exactly what moral absolutist believes and behaves exactly like a moral absolutist. But it leaves us with a question. If the situationalist already presupposes a moral framework, then where does this moral framework come from? I know the answer that the situationalist can provide. In fact it is the only answer that he can provide without explicitly invoking any moral absolutes. From cultures. People learn their moral framework from their own cultures. And cultural values can be relative.

This is basically cultural relativism. The claim is that anthropologists and sociologists have discovered moral relativism to be not a theory but an empirical fact. Different cultures and societies, like different individuals, simply do, in fact, have very different moral values. In Eskimo culture, and in Holland, killing old people is right. In America, east of Oregon, it’s wrong. In contemporary culture, fornication is right; in Christian cultures, it’s wrong, and so forth. And if different cultures can have different moral values, then moral absolutes do not exist.

But the fact that different cultures behave differently in the matter of ethics doesn’t automatically follow that there are no moral absolutes. Different cultures do behave differently in the matter of ethics, but that doesn’t mean that all of them are right. Only if we presuppose that all of different moral frameworks created by different cultures are right, then only we can say different cultures hold different moral values. But the statement that different moral frameworks created by different cultures are right is an absolute statement. It applies universally to every culture in every time. It is presupposing the very moral cultural relativism that it is trying to prove. This is basically circular reasoning. And even that with the help of an moral absolute.

The conclusion is, that complete situational or cultural relativism by itself simply can not be true. It has to presuppose a moral absolute. But moral absolutes is exactly what it is trying to disprove. And thus, any type of moral relativism simply can not be true.

But leaving aside what is philosophically true or false, we do live in a society where I can choose to subscribe to a worldview even if I do not believe it is true. I am perfectly capable and free to do that if I wish to. But we must tread with caution in the matter of moral relativism. Because if we do away with moral absolutes as relativism is trying to do, then eventually we will lose the ability to distinguish between not only right and wrong, but also right and left. That’s the only logical progression relativism offers. Everything else requires positing absolutes. There is no way of escaping from absolutes. We can have morality only through some set of moral absolutes.

In Defense of Naivety

“Naive” is generally a description we do not hold proudly. It is either used for children or for people who we see as immature or gullible. People who are not seasoned in the the ways of the world. Who are unsophisticated. Simpletons. It is not a word that majority of people would want to make to the shortlist of their character traits. It is perceived as a flaw. As something that needs to be corrected. Something to grow out of.

But before we go further, let’s look at what the dictionary says about the word. The dictionary gives 2 definitions.

  1. lacking experience of life, knowledge or good judgment and willing to believe that people always tell you the truth:
  2. (approving) (of people and their behavior) innocent and simple:

It is a quite narrow definition. But if we look at the root of the word, it is not so narrowly categorized. The word “naive” is derived from the Latin word for “natural”. A word that we are much more familiar with. A word that is much more favored than the word “naive”. Taking this new information in account, true naivety can thus be defined as absence of artificiality. As unaffected simplicity of nature. And with this definition, it becomes much less an insult and more a quality to which we might actually aspire.

But if the word naive is in fact a good quality, why then is it seen with so much negativity? Let us, once again, go back to the dictionary and look at the first definition of the word. It says, a naive person is “lacking experience of life”. I want to ask what kind of experience is this? Is it experience of people keeping their promises? No! Is it experience of never being wronged? No! Is it experience of never having to regret a decision to trust? No! To the contrary, the lack of experience that is being talked about here is actually the experience of being wronged. Of being manipulated, violated and broken. Never the experience of laughter or joy, never of trusty friends keeping their promises. The experience referred to here is only the experience of the dark variety.

Further, the definition speaks about “Lacking knowledge or good judgment”. These certainly do sound like a disadvantage. Knowledge and good judgment are really qualities worth having. But when I look into my own mind I realize that there are things that I know that I wish I had never known. I have knowledge that I regret having. It is a burden I wish I never had to bear. Everyone knows what I mean, and if you don’t just open today’s newspaper and you’ll come across an event that will permanently modify your outlook of the world for the worse. Just like in the earlier case of experience, the lack of knowledge that is being talked about here is the knowledge of how depraved and perverse the world has become.

So, the reason that naivety is perceived as a flaw in the world is not because it is essentially a flaw, but because of the state in which the world is! In a better world, in a perfect world, naivety would be all that we required!

But let us go one step further and think about what it means not to be naive. Or rather, what it means to know the world. If a person is not naive, does it not mean that he will bend the rules even just a little to his advantage? Does it not mean that he will take advantage of people who are gullible for his own advantage? That he will take shortcuts whether it is right or wrong? Does it not mean to have a permanent courtroom in your head where everyone is on trial? It seems to me that to such a worldly person, right and wrong or good and bad matter much less than advantageous and disadvantageous. For people who leave their naivety, morality stops being the driving principle and selfishness takes over the driver’s seat. It matters very little what others might suffer because of one person’s selfishness. And what about those who become victims of this selfishness? “They are naive. They must learn to live with it. It will make them strong. If they don’t, it’s their loss.” That’s how the world justifies itself. Simply put, the message is, “This is a dog eat dog world. It’s no place for children. The only way to live here is to leave off your naivety & innocence and play by the rules I dictate.” And these are the rules: anything you do is fine as long as you’re not caught.

But this type of thinking is flawed. Not only flawed, it’s quite simply wrong. And it makes men, less than what they used to be. The experiences that lead to one leaving one’s naivety behind also hardens the heart and grim the outlook of the world. It makes the person vary of every kind act and suspicious of grace. The proposal of someone doing a good deed for the sake of goodness start to look otherworldly. And if we go to the logical conclusion of this kind of thinking, in the end, the person himself will become incapable of doing good. Unless he leaves off the principles of the world.

And that is exactly what I propose to do. I propose that we look back in time and remember a time when we were still children. When the world was full of wonders. A time where in our youthful innocence, being a “Good boy” still meant something. Before a time when being “cool” or being a “bad boy” became fashionable. I ask that can we look at that child from our past and learn something from him? Can we learn to be like him again?

I propose to be naive again. But how can anyone decide to be naive? Is not naivety just a quality strongest when we are children but ebbs away as we grow up and experience perversity and horrors of the world? Yes, it is certainly that. But having lost that, I also think that we can still go back if we choose to.

Let me be frank. This essay has been more than 2 years in the making. And it is as much an argument as it is autobiographical. About 4 years ago, I had a sudden epiphany. I looked at where the world was going and what I was becoming. At the same time I looked at the childhood I was leaving behind. And I realized that the philosophy that I was leaving behind was much more complete than the the one that I was expected to accept. I decided there to stay naive since there’s no better alternative.

The decision to be naive is not an easy decision to make and certainly not an easy decision to live. To tell the truth, the first naivety of childhood has long been forgotten and I cannot go back even if I wanted to. I’ve seen enough, read enough to know that the pit of human depravity is bottomless. But still, in my dictionary being naive means to be generous. It means to trust people. To put away the spectacles of prejudices & discrimination based on caste, creed, race, color, status, sex etc & take people at their face value. To give them a chance, a second chance, a third chance and then, as many as they require. To put faith in them when no one else will. It means to be prepared to be hurt in order to heal. To sow so that others may reap. To do all this and still keep a smiling face and a joyful heart.

It sounds very hard to do, but then again, it is the easiest thing to do. Because it’s in our very nature. We are wired to trust what people say. We are not wired to deceive each other. If we do, we feel guilty. And those who don’t feel guilty are called sociopaths. A medically recognized mental condition. But being naive is still more than going back to our original nature. Living like this is like a breath of fresh air. For you and for the whole world. When one begins to live naively, he begins restoring the world back to its original innocence. First, through his own perspective he sees not the worst but the best in people. Not the ugliness but the beauty of the world. Then, through his actions, he begins to diffuse the artificiality of people who come in contact with him. Because slowly they begin to realize, for that one person, yes means yes and no means no. It’s as simple as that. And this simplicity is contagious. Slowly but surely, this simplicity, this going back to innocence can change the world.

It might sound like very foolish advice, but I believe in this foolishness with all my heart! Because I’m not the first person to walk this path of foolishness. There have been many before me, but before all of them goes the creator of the world! What shall I tell you about his naivety? Shall I tell you about his choice of Jewish people about which William Norman says, “How odd of God to choose the Jews”? Or shall I tell you about his choice in disciples? Or maybe I can tell you about all the disqualifications of the people who he chose to deliver nations!

I can go on, but I will speak on none of these. Instead I’d like to tell you about how he, after watching over humanity for thousands of years, after seeing every despicable act being committed against innocents, chose to be born as a baby, helpless and fragile, in that very world. How he gave himself over in the hands of his creation. But that’s not all! He came not to conquer, but to submit. Not to be served, but to serve. Not to condemn evil men, but to save them. Not to be glorified, but to be despised. Not to live as king, but to die among criminals. And in doing all these he changed the world. So much so that he is regarded as the central figure in history who divided history in two. He is regarded as the most humane teacher although he would refuse such a title. His teachings run contrary to everything that world promotes. He calls us to be “as innocent as doves” and teaches us to go “one extra mile”. When all that the world knew was “an eye for an eye” he taught us to “turn the other cheek”. A philosophy, that played a pivotal role in freedom struggle of India. The last two thousand years stand witness to the truth of his teachings. And perhaps, the last two thousand years also stand in defense of naivety.

Journey Towards the Perfect Desktop Environment

Many moons ago, I wrote about how discovered Archlinux. It’s nearly 6 years and Arch hasn’t let me down. Some people say that they use it at home but not on their main production system. Well I do. And even on my main production system it hasn’t let me down. I can’t remember when was the last time that Arch actually broke for me. It’s always been there. As a solid foundation on which to build my work environment. Its a solid distro and my faith in it keeps going stronger and stronger.

But Arch is not today’s topic. Today’s topic is my desktop environment. What I use to get things done.

Setting up a new work environment in linux is not a simple thing. Not if your requirements are non-standard. And my requirements are certainly not standard. From computers, I expect efficiency above all else. So, I’m happy to sacrifice some “user friendliness” in order to gain increased efficiency. I’ve learned that the general concepts of “user friendliness” are not as useful when creating a work efficient environment. If a computer system is only to be used by you, then it fulfills its purpose if it allows you to do your work without much hoopla. Anyways, my requirements are as below:

  1. An efficient window managerI think I need to elaborate what I mean “efficient window manager” as all window managers can claim to be efficient in different sense. And all of them would be correct. So, when I say “efficient window manager” I mean,
    1. It should let me focus on my work instead of tracking which window is where.
    2. Quickness
    3. Moving around windows should be as simple as few keystrokes
    4. Ability to show multiple windows at the same time, side by side
    5. Full screen mode
    6. Mouse should be supported but not required
    7. Lightweightedness is an added bonus if available but not a requirement as long as it is quick
  2. System trayAs many of the programs support docking to a system tray, it is pretty much a requirement of all modern desktop environments.
  3. Ability to launch programs with few keystrokes
  4. Modern conveniencesThe environment should afford me all the conveniences of a modern operating system. This refers to easy connecting to wifi hotspots, auto mount for portable storage media, Bluetooth connection etc. I shouldn’t have to fiddle with configuration files every time I need to use one of the above mentioned functions.
  5. Sane handling of multiple displays.

In my opinion, the above requirements are not something extra ordinary and most of the standard desktop environments do fulfill many of them. However, there’s only one combination of softwares that works for me. This post only describes how I found the tools that have been been working for me for last 3 years smoothly, without competition from any other desktop environment. This is a very subjective piece. It should not be taken as a critique of every other environment.

The setup that I use is basically XFCE desktop environment with i3 window manager and i3bar as statusbar and system tray. In time where the other two major desktop enviroments on linux, Gnome & KDE, have gone through several major redesigns and broken workflows of many people, XFCE has stayed relatively unchanged. It has stayed consistant and predictable. And this is the reason I choose to use it. Sure, it’s not as “revolutionary” as Gnome & KDE and the development pace is slow as snail but it only means that I can rely on it without worrying what chaos the next update might wreck.

So, why don’t I use the stock XFCE with it’s own window manager XFWM which is perfectly fine on its own? I blame circumstances in which I learned linux. You see, when I started using linux about 6-7 years ago, the computer I used was about 7-8 years old at that time. It had 512MB RAM. And, I had a lot of time on my hands. So, as I went on looking for the perfect operating system, I also went on looking for efficient tools. Tools that didn’t take up much of computer’s resources but helped me accomplish various things. I also subscribed to the unix philosophy of “Do one thing and do it well”. So I looked for programs that did that.

This was the time when I learned VIM, more, less, grep, rgrep and many other command line utilities. I witnessed the beauty of what simple shell scripts can accomplish and how a desktop environment can be bent to one’s own will. Microsoft windows doesn’t offer his luxury. And this is the main reason that I continue to choose my linux work environment over MS windows or even Mac OS X. (And I have used both extensively.)

Anyways, while I was exploring various tools and trying to minimize base resource use of my system, I learned that in linux, one can run window manager stand-alone, independent of any desktop environment. And that this will reduce the overall resource use of the system as additional bells and whistles provided by the desktop environment will be stripped. I liked the idea and so the first window manager that I ran standalone was openbox. A very good window manager. After that I also tried Fluxbox which was also good.

When I was reading various online discussion on window managers, occasionally I read about “tilling window managers” and how they were better than Floating window managers. The idea intrigued me and I had all the time in the world. So I tried out Xmonad. A window manager written in haskell. It was good but something didn’t stick. Later I tried ratpoison. It was OK but too spartan. I tried dwm but disliked the idea of compiling the WM from scratch every time I needed to change configuration. Also, the configuration wasn’t a configuration but the change in the source code of the WM itself. After that I tried Awesome wm and it was really awesome. I stayed with it for a about a year. It even provided an inbuilt system tray which I didn’t get with other window managers. However the version 3.4 upgrade of Awesome WM broke backward compatibility with the previous configuration files. And this was the reason I went looking for an alternative.

At this time I had started hearing good things about the i3 window manager. So I gave it a try, and it was love at first sight. The configuration was simple, it was lightning fast, and also provided a system tray through i3bar. But it also provided certain additional features that weren’t available in other window managers. It provided innovative feature “modes” in which the window manager will enter a different state where the keys can do different things. And modes can be defined and customized as per one’s liking. It also provides a “floating” layout which is used by default for notifications, program dialogs etc. which other tilling WMs always had trouble with.

From the days of using Awesome, the first tilling window manager that used seriously, I had already learned to configure the tilling window manager to my own liking and already had developed muscle memory to do various common activities for managing windows. I had also assigned certain applications default workspaces so that I can switch to them instantly. All this was possible in i3. Additionally, using “modes” made launching applications or running scripts a matter of few keystrokes. I created an “execute mode” in which I can open programs with a single keystorke. However, it doesn’t have to be a program, I can also define a keystroke for opening a particular document or do anything that can be done through a bash shell. Furthermore, i3 handles multiple displays very well. Exactly like how I want it. i3 became my favorite window manager.

This combination of i3 + XFCE provides the bedrock of my work environment. It gives me a way to focus on my work without having to think about window management.

Should a Christian eat ice cream? (and other important questions.)

There it is. The question might sound absurd but it’s a very important question that you should consider. I just had a discussion about it with my friend Jack. I’m reproducing it from memory for your benefit.

I was sitting on a bench, eating ice cream when all of a sudden I heard a voice behind me,

Jack: Noel?

(Me, looking back…)

Me: Jack! Hello! How are you?

Jack: I’m fine. How about you?

Me: I’m great as well. What a long time since we met! Must be a couple of years!

Jack: Yes. Indeed.

Me: (As he was still standing behind the bench) Come, sit. (Looking towards the store where I bought the ice cream and shouting) Can you send one more ice cream?

Jack: (Reluctantly) Um… I don’t eat ice cream.

Me: What? You don’t eat ice cream? What kind of person are you?

Jack: Um… normal? But I’m surprised that you eat ice cream. I thought you were a christian…

Me: What’s being a christian have to do with it?

Jack: A lot. In fact.

Me: Please explain.

Jack: You see, as Christians, Jesus called us to live a simple life. Even he himself led a very simple life. This should be reflected in every part of our lives. May it be housing, clothing or even food. We should only eat simple food. Dal & rice are enough. Ice cream is a luxury. Many people don’t even have the fortune to eat simple food, much less something as luxurious as ice cream.

Me: Hmmm… I see.

Jack: Yes. Instead of eating this ice cream, you could’ve purchased something simple and given to someone who doesn’t have food.

Me: (Ashamed and silent. Looking down.)

Jack: Furthermore, by eating ice cream, you are guilty of gluttony. While there are people who don’t have even simple food, here you are eating ice cream. Fulfilling your own fleshly desires. Putting your own desires above God’s command of living a simple life and loving others.

Even if you say that ice cream is a simple food, keep eating it and it will eventually make you sick. Simple food will never make you sick. It will give you strength and nourishment that you require to do God’s work.

Me: What must I do?

Jack: Repent!

The words pierced my heart. I dropped the half eaten cone of ice cream by the bench side and walked away from there. Taking a decision to never ever eat ice cream again. I have shared this life changing experience with many of my friends and many have accepted it. They have also taken a decision to never eat ice cream. There are 23 of us who meet weekly. You are also welcome to join us. However, I’m concerned about my other friends who have rejected this doctrine. It is for them, and many others like them I am writing this.

There are many Christian friends of mine who are good Christians but still do not understand the value of following Jesus in his simplicity and holiness. Many are still caught in the allure of this worldly pleasure. I pray that their eyes are also opened to this truth.

Disclaimer: All the events depicted above are purely imaginary and any resemblance with actual events or characters in the real world is purely co-incidental. Furthermore, no animals (except for a few mosquitoes) were hurt during the writing.

Was that cheesy enough?

You must be wondering if there’s an actual point in here somewhere… Well, there is. There’s a whole class of questions just like this one. Should a christian wear jewellery? Should a christian listen to rock music? Can a christian make tattoos over his/her body? Can a christian drink wine? Should a christian girl wear jeans?

These are the questions that I have heard over and over again for years. All these questions can be debated rigorously. Arguments exist on both side of the fence. Books can be written (and have been written) addressing just one of the issue above. However, it seems to me that there are more similarities than differences between the arguments that support each of these views.

The churches seem to be divided in regards to these issues. While fundamentalists or traditional churches are largely restrictive, liberals are … well … liberal. And the real victims of this debate are youths. It creates a great confusion among the youths whose elders are restrictive. And when they see their peers, their friends enjoying the (false) freedom that the world provides, for them, this restrictions become a reason to part ways from Christianity.

To be frank, I have nothing against being a fundamentalists or a traditionalists. I identify myself as one. But I’d rather reserve that hard nosed fundamentalist attitude for the issues that matter the most. Like the core doctrines of Christianity. To me, wearing jewellery or listening to a certain kind of music do not qualify as a core doctrine. But let me come back to the original questions. The questions that are very real for those who face them everyday.

With that very long introduction, let me come to the real content of the post. That is, to provide an answer to the question. I will address my answer to 2 different persons. The first person is the one who is actually facing the question. A young christian who might be wondering about jewellery or rock music. The second person is the person who doesn’t like my answer to the first person (because it’s leaning on the side of liberalism).

Here’s the answer to the first person:

I do not have answer to your question. But since you have come to me expecting an answer, and I don’t have an answer, I’ll invent some questions of my own and answer them instead! (I won’t let you return empty handed!)

  • Can a person wear jewellery and still be a christian? Yes.
  • Can a person listen to rock music and still be a christian? Yes.
  • Can a person have tattoos over his body and still be a christian? Yes. (But, why? I must ask…)
  • Can a person drink wine and still be a christian? Yes.
  • Can a girl wear jeans & still be christian? Yes.
  • …. and on & on ….

You get the general idea. But wait! I have another set of questions & answers as well! And this set is much more important that the above one.

  • Does the bible teach us to respect our elders? Yes.
  • Does the bible teach us to obey our parents? Yes.

And just to be through, I must also present a third set of questions.

  • Does bible promote being pompous and filled with vanity? No.
  • Does bible promote excessive drinking that ruins your life? No.
  • Does bible promote subscribing to vulgarity just because it’s packaged with good music? No.
  • Does bible promote being immodest? No.

I have given above sets of questions to create a framework for an answer that is specific to your situation. I don’t have a general Yes or No answer. However, these questions will help you come up with your own concrete yes or no answer. If you are still confused, ask me in the comments.

I will now address those who don’t like the above answer. Pleased to meet you! My answer above is positioned in such a way that it rules out everyone else except for those who believe that wearing jewellery or listening to rock music or wearing jeans is “essentially” evil & sinful. Hear me out.

Note: If you don’t think “listening to rock music” or “wearing jewellery” is essentially evil, and still disagree with my first answer, I think you don’t exist. But if you do, meet me in the comments. I’d love to hear you out.

First of all, as an exercise, I would like you to figure out what is wrong with the story that I started this post with. What’s the problem with the arguments presented in favor of total abstinence of ice cream from our daily life? If you can’t, does it mean that eating ice cream is inherently an evil thing to do?

All of the above questions are regarding highly superficial details of the christian life and if answered with a simple Yes or No, leaves the questioner with a rule without a reason to back that rule. As we have seen throughout history, all irrational beliefs eventually collapse or make people intellectually impaired and superstitious.

I understand that a person can be overzealous because of passion or love for something. If a church traditionally bans wearing jewellery and then a kid like me comes and tells them that all their rules & traditions are absurd & pointless, it might seem like an attack to the church itself. But that is not always the case. I’d rather request you to go back to the history of your church and find out the reason for these restrictions. The decision to not wear jewellery was valiant indeed. It required a surrender, a death, from the privileged members of the church for the sake of those who were not so fortunate to afford such luxury. Only a church truly led by God could’ve accomplished such a feat. But taking that one event, one instance and generalizing it, and following it blindly makes up more problems than it’s worth. If traditions & events are so important, why don’t we sell off all our property and live like the church of the first century?

So, mainly to those who firmly believe that all Christians shouldn’t wear jewellery or jeans, I request you to reevaluate your beliefs. This is the Internet generation. We sees too much and reasons far more recklessly than the generations gone before. We are not geniuses, just over-educated & over-exposed. We do not think through the decisions we make. And if the Christian religion becomes an inconvenience to us, we won’t think twice before we leave it.

If, even after doing all of the above, you are convinced that there’s a certain rule that we should follow, rather than imposing it externally, lead us to Christ. Let us taste and see that he is good. If you can’t convince us about the rule, and if we rebel too much, be gracious to us and lead us to the cross. Let God convict and convince us.

Addendum: It seems that many of my readers are now confused about whether to eat ice cream or not. While I’m tempted to keep the question open, I think I should make myself clear. So, here’s my response to my own (idiotic) question:

Everyone (including myself) seems to be of the opinion that eating ice cream is perfectly fine. However, no one (excluding me) seems to be able to provide arguments that are sufficient to refute the arguments presented in the above story. So, let me point out exactly what I have done wrong in creating the above story. It can be said that I have proved too much with a very limited part of the bible. I am creating a straw man argument by cherry picked the positions & passages of the bible that allow me to support the case while conveniently ignoring other passages of the bible which may contradict the positions of my imaginary cult.

Generally, I can say that God didn’t create us to be miserable. A life without ice cream would certainly be a lesser life. But going deeper into the scripture, we can see instances such as the first miracle of Jesus, the woman with alabaster oil and many more… These passages do not make sense when viewed from the lense of “no ice-cream” belief system. And thus, our “no ice-cream” cult can’t be a true Christianity. I think that should clear things up.

Who are you?


And this is the testimony of John, when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, Who are you? He confessed, and did not deny, but confessed, I am not the Christ. And they asked him, What then? Are you Elijah? He said, I am not. Are you the Prophet? And he answered, No. So they said to him, Who are you? We need to give an answer to those who sent us. What do you say about yourself? He said, I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, Make straight the way of the Lord, as the prophet Isaiah said. (John 1:19-23 [ESV])

Before Jesus started his ministry, John was exhorting the people of Israel to repent and be baptized. He was baptizing them in the Jordan river and telling them, “Make straight the way of the Lord”. In a way he was a herald for the heavenly king. As the news of a person baptizing people in Jordan river reached the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem, they sent priests and Levites to inquire who this person was. Here in this passage we read the conversation that happens between the party sent out from Jerusalem and John the baptist.

What I want to draw to your attention is this: The question that was asked to John was, “Who are you?” But he answered, “I am not the Christ”. Why? Did the Jewish leaders and the priests thought of John as the Messiah? Can it be that at that time John was rumored to be Christ? If yes, what was John doing? What kind of life was he living that he was mistaken for the Messiah? Can we live in a similar fashion where people around us can see Christ in us?

When John denied that he wasn’t Christ, they asked him if he was Elijah! The greatest of the prophets! When John said he wasn’t Elijah, then they thought, he must be one of the prophets. “Are you a prophet?” “No” Said John. Well then, “Who are you?” “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, make straight the way of the Lord”.

The question of identity is raised by the priests. And judging from the works of John, they are ready to give him the title of a prophet, Elijah or even Christ. But John will not accept any other office than the one divinely appointed to him, “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness. I am not Christ. Nor am I the Elijah that you remember and want me to be again. Nor will I be a prophet for you, because that is not the task assigned to me. I am the voice and I will not be any other.”

John the baptist knew his place and his purpose. Let us also ask God where exactly he would have us. Let’s ask him which part does he want us to play. Let’s not be carried away by the positions that world offers us but continually seek the divine disposition. And once we’ve found it, lets stand firm. Right at the center of his will.

Image Bearer

It was about 8’O clock in the evening. I was standing near one of the crossroads near my house waiting for someone. As I was standing, a little girl came towards me. She must’ve been around 7-8 years old. In her hands was a plate. On the plate there were two lamps and a picture of a goddess. She came to me and raised the plate. So, that I can bow my head to the goddess and receive my blessings.

Such a scene is not at all uncommon around here. In fact, it’s a gesture of good will. However, whenever something like this happens it is my general practice to politely refuse to bow and send them away without thinking much about it. The reason is that I respect them. Now, it might sound paradoxical that the reason for refusal is respect. Because, to deny a polite offer is in fact very much close to being disrespectful. But my reasoning is like this: If I bow my head before the gods they worship, I am in fact a hypocrite and acting contrary to my beliefs. If I act contrary to my beliefs, I am ridiculing all the people of faith in the world saying, “Your beliefs are not worth holding onto! In fact, the present circumstances ought not be judged and dictated by an eternal creed.” So, if a person comes up to me, following his/her own creed, offering me to receive my blessings from their gods, then I must politely refuse and act according to my own creed.

But anyways, let’s get back to the incident that we were talking about earlier. When the little girl came and stood before me, I was stunned. Because something happened that had not happened in all the years of my life after the day I had chosen to follow Christ. I almost heard the sentence, “The kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.”

I could not move or even bat an eyelid for a few seconds. The little girl before me was beautiful. Innocence was beaming from her eyes. All the excitement of being given such a great responsibility was overflowing on her face. Her childish frivolity had not yet vanished completely from her conduct and yet, she managed to approach me with a sincerity that only a child can apprehend. All of this, happening at not a moment’s notice caught me off-guard.

Regaining my composure after a couple of seconds, I followed my general practice and politely refused. But this time, I said “God bless you”. How could I let her go without blessings, when she had taught me so great a lesson?

You see, she was an image-bearer. In the plate in her hands, was a picture of a goddess and two lamps. Having received this image, being told to carry it from person to person, place to place, had her excited in a way that it was the greatest thing that happened to her. The way she carried it with sincerity was exemplary. This little girl from another faith had taught me much more in a few seconds than I could’ve learned by reading a thousand books.

During the afterthoughts of the incident, I was plagued by a singular question. What kind of image bearer am I? Am I as excited, as sincere, as honest, as humble as she was? I who claim to be a Christian, an image bearer of the living God, the follower in the footsteps of Christ, I, who claims to be these things really live up to that mark? Sadly, I have to answer that question in No. Some introspection is certainly in order but that doesn’t mean all is hopeless.

Regarding Jesus, John says, “In him was life. And life was the light of men.” Regarding us, Jesus says, “You are the salt of the earth and the light of the world.” These words are not empty. These words are the light that shines in the darkness. It doesn’t matter where one is in his journey to imitate Christ. The only thing that matters is that He is with you. And though we may weep at our unfaithfulness, we can always rely upon his faithfulness. So, I implore you, let us follow him and learn from him. Let’s be Image-Bearers.

Christian Freedom (or why can’t I do _____?)

“So, if the son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” – John 8:36

What is freedom? The dictionary defines it somewhere along the lines of being able to act, speak or think without any external restrictions. Or, quite simply, being able to do whatever you want without anyone stopping you. And that sounds like a correct definition. That’s what we mean when we use the word freedom. Is it not?

The bible tells us, “If the son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” and that sparks a question in my mind. Why is it written like this? What does the phrase “free indeed” mean? Is there some hidden meaning behind those words? Does it mean that when we think we are free, we are not really free unless the Son sets us free?

We’ll get into the meaning of “free indeed” later. However, for now, let’s assume that there is a special kind of freedom that only the Son, Jesus, can give us. So, if a person is a christian, if he really follows Christ, he must be “really free”. Correct? Well, it seems that’s what the bible is telling us.

It was one fine evening in an ICPF cell group when I was asked the question, “Is going to movies wrong?” The boy who asked the question was the youngest among us on that day. I can’t conjure up the exact chain of events that led to this question, but I can imagine the general state of his mind because it is common. Someone must have told him that going to movies is wrong. Maybe his parents had restricted him to go watch a certain movie with his friends.

Is going to movies wrong? Should a christian listen to secular music? These, and many more questions plague the minds of young Christians in schools and colleges. Having grown up in a traditional christian environment, there’s always some people who say that these things are wrong. “A christian shouldn’t watch movies.” “A christian shouldn’t listen to secular music.” “A christian shouldn’t go to parties” They can be parents, seniors or even pastors. And whoever they are, most of the times, they are very vocal about their beliefs.

“If the son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” “If you are a christian, you can’t ….” Is there a contradiction? It certainly seems like it. The bible seems to be promising a freedom, a special freedom, a greater freedom, a higher freedom to those whom the Son, Jesus, sets free. Yet, it seems that those who are given this freedom, those who call themselves christian, are actually less free that those who surround them. Less free, than the world.

How can it be? How can the divine freedom be less than what the world offers? Let us understand the meaning of that freedom that Christ gives us. It is indeed a greater freedom. But maybe it can better be described as “true freedom”. The freedom that Son gives, is the freedom to live. He liberates us from the yoke and slavery of sin. By destroying the hold of sin in our lives he makes us free to become what we were meant to be. The image of living God. When the Son sets you free, you are indeed free. Because he gives you a freedom that destroying the death marches on to resurrection. Marches on, to an everlasting life.

The freedom of the world is not freedom. It’s a deception. Because, for a moment, it may seem like that a worldly person is free to do whatever he wants, but the things that he does, will come to haunt him in future. For the devil is cunning and allures man and women with many enticements. It may seem like all is going well, until the man, to his horror, finds that he is trapped in a maze of madness that the devil has been laying all along his way. When he thought he was free, and entered a door by practicing his freedom, soon after, when he wanted to get out, he found the door locked. Addictions, heartbreak, depression, despair, restlessness and sleepless nights await him. The fires of hell, the black, lightless, infernal fires of hell await him. Unless, the Son sets him free.

So, Is going to movies wrong? Certainly not. Can a christian go to watch movies? Of course. Well then, why do parents, seniors or christian leaders restrict the youngsters from such activities? Because, one, they are right in many cases. Many movies of our generation aren’t worth a watch. They only corrupt the mind. However, there’s a second reason. It’s that they are worried. Worried that their children will fall on a wrong road. That bad company of friends will turn them bad as well. But why, I wonder, do the parents never think that the good in my child, will rub off on those around him and maybe one day, might even save them? Does not the bible say, “Greater is He in me, than the one in the world.”?

But, there’s yet another aspect of this christian freedom that is as mystical as the way of the wind. Maybe the best metaphor to describe it, is gravity. It is the weakest of all four fundamental forces of physics, yet strong enough to bind the cosmos. Like gravity, whomever the Son sets free, that person feels a gentle draw of gravity towards him. An attraction that in inexplicable and inescapable. It is because of this pull, that even though I have freedom to listen to any music that I want, I listen mostly “Christian Music” as commonly defined. Because, in there, I find a better song than the one that the world sings.

So, what are we to do in these matters? It seems to me that any external restraint or discipline will work only till a certain age and till a certain level. Beyond that, either the youngster will learn self-restraint or he/she will give in to the pull of the world. But before that time comes, a youth must understand the words of Paul: “You say: I am allowed to do anything – but not everything is good for you. And even though, I am allowed to do anything, I must not become a slave to anything.” – 1 Cor 6:12

Lazarus! Come forth!

Those of us who have been Christians for a significant amount of time are familiar with the story of Lazarus. It’s a story that is widely known. Many sermons are preached from this story. It shows Jesus’ humanity as well as his authority. It’s a story of triumph over death. A story of love. A story of life.

Let me reiterate the story quickly. In Bethany, a man named Lazarus, brother of Martha and Mary, was sick. Jesus’ relation to this family isn’t mentioned in the gospels. But the family had known Jesus and Jesus knew them. John says, “Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus”. So, the relation was dear and deeper. When Lazarus got sick, the sisters sent for Jesus urgently. The sisters knew that if Jesus comes, Lazarus won’t die. They knew and believed. And Jesus loved them.

When the message did reach Jesus, he stayed where he was for 2 more days. After 2 days, Jesus declared to his disciples that Lazarus was dead and they should head towards Judea so that he can “awaken” him. When Jesus arrived near Bethany, he found that Lazarus was buried for four days. Jesus met Martha and Mary. He wept. And then, he raised Lazarus back to life.

All study of scripture is the study of God. It is the study of his nature. It is the observation of his love. By studying scripture, we come closer to him. So, when we study this story, we must also apply the same principle. The part of Martha and Mary in this story is merely human. What I mean to say is, if caught in a similar situation, our actions would not be too dissimilar from those of Martha and Mary. But all actions of Jesus are extraordinary.

First of all, when Jesus receives the news that Lazarus is sick, he delays. Why? When Jesus received the news, he was about a day’s journey from Bethany. When he reached Bethany, Lazarus was buried for 4 days. Jesus delayed only 2 days. Maths tells me that Lazarus was dead 1 day before the messengers reached Jesus. Jesus knew this. And saw no reason to hasten. But this was for God’s glory, that he would raise Lazarus after 4 days, when there was no doubt regarding his death.

Second, when he finally arrived to Bethany, after meeting Martha and Mary, he wept. If he was going to raise Lazarus, why did he weep? Why wouldn’t he weep? He was touched by the grief of Mary and the people who came with her. The words of Mary, “If you had been here, my brother would not have died.” struck his tender heart. He was distraught and could no longer keep his composure. He wept.

It is not surprising that he wept. But it is surprising that we ask such a question. Why do we think that his tears were rendered ineffectual by the impending resurrection? Can it be that we are too easily intoxicated by power that we forget our humanity? Maybe we are. But he is not so weak to let his power harden his heart or to let his heart be deafened to the cries of his children.

Though Lazarus was dead, he was not completely lost. Life, was looking for him. “Where have you laid him?” he inquired. And though grave was sealed, he told them to roll away the stone. In the grave, lay Lazarus. Silent. Slayed by Death, the last enemy. In the grave, lay Lazarus. Loved by Jesus. Loved, though beyond the grave. As the crowd was looking, Jesus shouted in a great voice, “Lazarus, come forth!” That thundering voice shook the pillars of the underworld. For which death had consumed, God had called. A grave was opened. A requisition was made. The belly of death was torn asunder. Lazarus was reclaimed. Dead, he went into the grave. Alive, he came out!

The same voice that called Lazarus back to life speaks even today. The one who defeated death is alive even today. He is eager to give life to those who will receive him. He declares, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live even if he dies, and the one who lives and believes in me will never die.”

In Defense of Faith

This post came into being as a result of a recent debate on Facebook. The debate was about different religions. While discussing the whole range of issues covered in that debate is out of the scope of this post, I’d like to comment on one particular point that I wasn’t able to explain articulately during the debate.

During the debate, a statement, which I don’t see as an argument, was used as an argument. “Christianity is based on faith”. This statement was brought up repeatedly as if it was weakening the case for Christianity. I have written about faith earlier. If you’re interested, you can read this and this. However, this post should stand on its own.

It seems that it’s assumed that if anything is based on faith, it has no connection to reality whatsoever. However, my relationship with my friend is also based on faith. Does that mean our friendship doesn’t really exist?

In our times, where empiricism reigns supreme, it has become a fashion to denounce anything that has any relation to faith whatsoever. And if that thing is religion, even more so. But if a faith is based on reason (as my post here illustrates) then denouncing that faith is equal to denouncing the reasons of that faith. Let’s look at the central claims of Christianity and see if they are reasonable.

  1. Existence of God

    “If there was no God, there would be no atheists.” – G. K. Chesterton (Note: That’s not an argument. I’m just poking fun. Listing down all the arguments is out of the scope for one blog post. However, if anyone wants to argue, I hear comments are the place to be!)

  2. Historicity of Christ

    Wikipedia says, “Virtually all modern scholars of antiquity agree that Jesus existed historically”. So, if any of you have doubts about his existence, take it up to the “modern scholars of antiquity”. Whoever that might be…

  3. Resurrection of Christ

    Yes, I know, it’s a crazy claim. You know what’s crazier? The alternative. Suppose Christ was never resurrected but still, there are 2.2 billion people in the world believing that he did. How? The most common response is that they were raised up to believe that. So, there’s a boy who believes in Santa Claus and Jesus Christ. He grows up and stops believing in Santa Claus but still believes in Jesus Christ even more intensely. Why?

    There’s a better question. If Christ was never resurrected, how and why did the greatest civilization on earth at the time, Rome, after opposing and trying to exterminate Christianity for nearly 3 centuries, bowed to the cult of “one dead man”?

    The answer to both of these question can be given in one simple statement. “He was resurrected.” Every other explanation comes from either the tea table of conspiracy theorists or the people with an agenda.

    (Note: If you want to study the matter in detail, the case for the resurrection is well described in the books of Lee Strobel. If you’re not the reading kind, try a video.)

I can write much more about the subject, but for now, this should suffice. None of these three claims can be justly eliminated. But still, there remains a subconscious bias against faith, that anything based on it should be thrown out. Only the things that are empirically verifiable should be trusted. This is a recipe for madness. Because, if faith is ever eliminated from our daily lives, reason will go with it and what will remain, will be unreason.

Let me illustrate. Let me tell you a story of a man who decided to eliminate all traces of faith from his daily life. Incidentally, (or consequently) on the same day, he fell sick. Being an empiricist, he took a thermometer and checked his temperature. The mercury was at a level where it shouldn’t be. So, he decided to go to a doctor. He wanted to take a taxi, but couldn’t bring himself to trust any taxi driver. So instead, he took his bike and somehow managed ride it to the nearest hospital. After filling some forms, registering his case and waiting in a long queue, at long last, it was his turn to go to the doctor. And this is what happened in the doctor’s office: The doctor said, “How do you feel? What’s the issue?” “I’d like to see your license to practice medicine.” “What?” “Your license. Please.” “Is this some kind of surprise inspection?” “No, I just want to make sure that you have a proper license” “Well, I don’t have it on me right now… it’s at home. But, you don’t look so well. Why don’t you tell me how you are feeling?” “I can’t do that. How do I know you are a doctor?” “Well, I’m working at a renowned hospital which has very strict regulations for hiring…” “Well, you could’ve paid your way to your job…” “Seriously?” “I’d like to see those strict regulations…” “Mister, there’s a long line of people waiting outside who need my help. So, please, can you stop being so difficult and let me diagnose you already?” “No. I want proof that you’re a doctor.” The doctor picked up a phone and called security, and security escorted our hero out of the hospital.

Still, not feeling well, he went to another doctor. The doctor, fortunately (or unfortunately) was able to show him his credentials, but it was from an authority that our hero didn’t recognize. So, he decided to not get treated and instead look up the authenticity of the said authority. He hired a private detective to investigate the said authority. The investigator said that he’d contact him back 3 days later with the required information. Still sick, going back home, he realized what a grave mistake he had made! He “put faith” in a private detective without checking him out… “The fever must be getting to my head…” he said to himself. Went home and rested.

Long story short, two weeks later, he was still sick and his credit card was overdrawn. In his mad decision to never put faith in anything, he had managed to anger 4 doctors, 3 private investigators, 1 police officer, a parrot (don’t ask) and the head of the medical department of a renowned hospital. It was a public spectacle at his home, when on the morning of the 15th day of his life changing decision, an ambulance came and our hero was dragged to a lunatic asylum, kicking and screaming…

That story never took place in reality but it’s a very plausible scenario. And if only one person’s mad decision can cause so much havoc, what will happen if the whole world made a similar decision?

There’s one more point that I’d like to make. Someone might say that the use of faith in our everyday lives and religious faith are two different things. To those people, I’d like to ask a simple question. “How is it different?”. To me, both of them are one and the same things. Both of them depend on reasons. And these reasons are available for everyone to evaluate and criticize. As for me, I’ve not found a single philosophy/religion/belief system that is as worthy of trust as that of the crucified Christ.

Why doesn’t God just kill the devil and lets him roam around?

Recently I came across a question. It goes like this: When the devil first rebelled, why did God not just bring out a heavenly shotgun and shoot the devil in his face? A second and related question is, why does God let the devil roam free around the world? This is my response:

Let me predicate my answer by saying that all this talk is like two fishes born and brought up in an aquarium talking about what happens in the ocean. Just keep that in your mind. Now, let’s get on with the answer.

First of all, let’s play out the events that happened before the creation.

  1. There is a rebellion in heaven and the devil is defeated and cast out from heaven into the infernal lake of fire.
  2. Heaven and earth is created.
  3. Man is created in the likeness of God and given free will to choose to love or reject God.
  4. Devil comes and tempts Eve. Adam and eve commit sin. A perfect world is shattered.

This is our stage. Question no 1 arises in the step no 1.

Why was the devil only cast out instead of being destroyed completely? In response to that question, another question needs to be asked. What do you call a person who rules with unrestrained force and kills anyone who opposes him? A dictator. That’s what. Are you asking for God to be a dictator? If God had done that, the devil would’ve been right in leading an rebellion against such a God. Since he would be rebelling against a dictator.

There are also a few matters in this situation that we need to keep in mind.

  1. A simple battle in heaven cannot fully display how truly horrifying sin is.
  2. Destroying one rebel by force doesn’t make sure that another one doesn’t arise. The only conquest that lasts eternally is a conquest by love.
  3. The reason Lucifer led the rebellion was he wanted to be greater than God.

To address these issues, God creates a plan. Heaven and earth is created and man is created in the likeness of God. Here he addresses point no 3. No one can be greater than God since God represents the greatest, highest most perfect being that exists. God creates man in his own likeness. A being who has potential to walk with him as equal. (Notice that I am using the word potential. Man wasn’t equal to God at the time of creation. But by virtue of being created in his likeness, he has this potential. This potential is fully realized later in the life of Jesus.) So, first of all, God removes the motive of the rebellion. What Lucifer fought for is given to men for free.

To address the second point, the implementation of “No more rebels” policy in heaven can be done in two ways. First is a very simple method. There is an idiom in hindi which says “Na rahega baans, na bajegi baansuri” which can be roughly translated in English as “Without a bamboo, a flute can’t be played”. A simple “No more creation” policy would make sure that there are no more rebels. But that would be taking away the good with the bad. One might also say, “Throwing out the baby with the bathwater…”.

Another way is to do it by love. That’s the way God chose. For love to be possible, there needs to be a choice. Thus free will. Ability to choose or reject God. So, God created Adam and Eve in his image and gave them the gift of free will. I’ve explored this in more detail here: So, moving on, we come to the step no 4 in the original stage. Devil comes and tempts Eve. Here, question no 2 arises. Why didn’t God just stop the devil? There can be several answers here.

  1. God didn’t know. But if that’s the case, than God is not omniscient.
  2. God knew but couldn’t stop him. In that case, God is not omnipotent.
  3. God knew but he let him. If that’s the case, than God is not benevolent (all-loving) and maybe he is using us just for his entertainment… right? Wrong. There is another explanation.

The third option is indeed the case. God knew but he let him. So what can be this another explanation? Let’s look at the scene again. Right where we left it. Humans are created with free will. An ability to choose or reject God. With this ability also comes a possibility of denying God. Just like Lucifer did. Just like Adam and Eve did after the temptation. But maybe even if there wasn’t a temptation, there still remains a possibility that man will sin. Because the ability to deny God is in him, not external to him. When tempting, devil doesn’t bring something evil and put it inside man. He is only bringing out what is already inside him. (Terrifying isn’t it? The nature of temptation?)

So why did God allow him to tempt the man? Because it accelerates the process. Yes you heard it right. By tempting man, the devil is actually helping God by accelerating his plans. Now at later stage, when Christ is crucified, the true horrific picture of what sin leads to is put on display for the whole creation to see. Which addresses point no 1. Now as the result of both God’s way and going against God’s way is shown clearly to the whole world, the choice of either choosing him or rejecting him is made clearer. The bible reveals the logical out-workings of sin (going against God’s way, rejecting him) very clearly. It states, “The wages of sin is death.”

So, why does God let the devil roam free? Because he helps him. (A divine irony, wouldn’t you say?)