All Robert Fulghum ever needed to know, he learned in kindergarten. I didn't go to kindergarten, so I didn't learn those things. My parents didn't teach them to me at home, either. What my parents did teach me is that the Bible is the final authority for everything that matters. I believed them. I still believe it.
As I get older and look around, I see this strange disconnect between myself and just about everybody else. Most of the people I see on a regular basis say they look to the Bible for their values the same as I do, but they don't live like it. Their lives are essentially indistinguishable from the people who make no such claim. Either their claim is false, or else they are finding different values in their Bibles than I find in mine. To properly explain this I need some definitions.
Values -- I use the term "values" to refer to what a person considers most valuable, the goals to be maximized, and therefore the motivation to which other purposes and motivations are subordinate. Staying alive is a value most people hold dearly, so they do those things known to keep people alive, such as eating and breathing, and avoid those things known to cause premature death, such as jumping off cliffs or taking naps in the middle of a busy freeway. Some people, notably 19 guys with middle-eastern names on September 11, consider other purposes more valuable than even staying alive. Notice that the other guy with a middle-eastern name, the one responsible for sending them on their mission, did not share that value with them; he's still hiding because he wants to stay alive. Most of us, like Osama bin Laden, want to stay alive. It's a natural motivation wired into our psyche, put there by God -- or if you don't believe in God, then by Natural Selection (which is just a different deity preferred by a large number of otherwise intelligent people).
Biblical Values -- People get their values from a variety of sources, mostly from their parents before they are old enough to understand what is happening, but also from their peers in the culture and whatever literature (think: TV) they absorb uncritically. Biblical values are those motivations and purposes explicitly taught in the Bible, or else implicitly taught by example and not contradicted by other teachings in the Bible. Some examples of explicitly taught values are "Thou shalt not steal" and "Love thy neighbor as thyself." An exemplary value is self-sacrifice, demonstrated par excellence by Jesus himself, but also by a number of other people in the Bible. Nothing in the Bible condemns self-sacrifice.
Value Hierarchy -- Whenever there are multiple values to be considered and approved, there is the possibility of conflict. What happens when the value of self-sacrifice conflicts with the value of staying alive? In Jesus' example, self-sacrifice is a higher value than staying alive: He died. Oh wait, that's not a fair example, because he's alive again. But you get the idea. At any point in time, all the values that might impact or motivate a particular decision can be ranked as more or less important. Perhaps at another time they might be ranked differently. For example, two starving guys in front of a single apple, one of them might consider staying alive more important (and therefore eat the apple), whereas if there were two apples and he just ate one of them, then loving his neighbor might become more important (so he could let the other guy eat the second apple). But generally, whenever there is a conflict, there is a ranking we apply to the various values to decide which values win the contention. Perhaps unconsciously, we all do it, we all make choices.
So which values are so different between myself and everybody else?
Let's look at three:
Truth is a moral Absolute, there are no exceptions. Situations can be contrived where it might seem better to lie, but those situations are really about saying nothing at all, not about lying.
The Honest person (who values Truth) considers it cruel to withhold
information that another person needs to prevent or mitigate disaster,
such as getting or holding a job. The Honest person is not afraid of the
truth and is willing to be held accountable for what they say. Their "yes"
means "yes" and their "no" means "no" as Jesus taught [Matt.5:37]. If they
make a mistake, they are willing to admit it.
The Nice person considers it cruel to say anything negative about a person to their face for any reason, but it seems to be OK to slander them behind their back. I say "seems" because I cannot find any definitive exposition of "Nice"; I can only watch Nice people to see what they do. Nice people know that anything they say can be twisted into an insult or disaffirmation, and since that would be a violation of the Nice ethic, it's important to say everything so that it is plausibly deniable, with hidden inferential or double meanings. They also don't like to have things written down. That way, if you challenge them on it, they can deny that's what they said or meant.
Jesus was not Nice, not to his friends and disciples, not even to the
people he was helping -- like the Phonecian woman he called a "dog" [Mark
7:27]. When he was the guest in Martha's house, he criticized her efforts
at hospitality and praised Mary sitting and doing nothing but listen [Luke
10:42]. He called Peter, his top disciple by all counts, "Satan" [Matt.16:23].
God is not Nice, He calls people "Fools" and other less-than-complimentary
The Honest person recognizes that people make mistakes and is willing to help them correct their mistakes, and (this is most important) accepts their promise not to repeat the mistakes. This is honest forgiveness, the kind taught in the Bible and given to us by God.
The Nice person recognizes that "the leopard cannot change its spots"
so any effort to correct mistakes is futile. A Nice person "forgives" other
people by pretending (to them) that no mistake was ever made. Nice
people also consider it important to "forgive yourself." I guess that means
getting rid of guilt feelings by pretending you never made the mistake;
there is nothing anywhere in the Bible even remotely resembling self-forgiveness.
I have met some very sincere people in the churches. They are trying to do the best they can with the information they have. They know they are supposed to follow the Bible, but their church leaders have foisted off on them an unintelligible 400-year-old Bible that nobody (including the church leaders themselves) understands, or a slightly modernized version of the same which is only slightly more understandable. God is merciful. Rahab the Harlot earned her place in the Faith Hall of Fame by lying about the Israeli spies. She was in the process of converting to God's Way and had not yet learned about Truth. God accepted her where she was. God is much harder on the church leaders who (should) know better [Luke 17:1, James 3:1].
Biblical values must start with the Bible. If you uncritically absorb
secular values from your TV ten times longer each day than you spend absorbing
Biblical values from your Bible, guess which values you will live out ten
times more often? One of my relatives doesn't like to see a movie with
me, because I critique it. I analyze it. I ask, "How does this teach values
different from (or the same as) the Bible?" Screaming at the ocean will
not stop the tide, but it does keep you from becoming part of it.
Rev. 2005 February 9