The Cult is Having a Sale

The cult was having a sale and women’s ministry in the church wanted to go. When I pointed out to them that the store in question was run by a cult their plans didn't change. The only thing that changed was their attitude about me. It seemed obvious to me that there are certain things that Christians should not do and that if I made aware they would choose to avoid  questionable behaviors. I was wrong.

I learned that many Christians only consider morality in the extreme cases such as theft and adultery. If the bible is not explicit then no thought is given to rightness or wrongness. People are free to do what they want and none dare question it.

This was surprising to me because I have questioned my own behavior since adolescence. There have always been things I clearly could not do because of moral concerns. There were other things I chose not to do when morality was unclear. Even as a teen I would not go to parties if alcohol was being served and I didn’t attend R-rated movies. I didn't want to chance it.

The sale at the cult-owned quilting store seemed something the women might want to avoid. The store in question was unique. It was the primary source of income for a small religious commune in Orange County. The leader of the cult was a feisty woman who defied government authority and who taught that Jesus was nothing more than a man. I did not think that the church would want to directly contribute to such a cult by patronizing its business.

My first thought when I saw the flyer for the shopping event was that the leaders were unaware of the store’s backstory. The store did not overtly proclaim its mission and theology, instead choosing to present itself as nothing more than a neighborhood country store. I assumed that when the leaders learned the full story of the store that they would choose to shop elsewhere. I was wrong. I was accused of being judgmental and legalistic, unreasonable and disrespectful.

When I asked how, knowing what they knew, they could justify encouraging women of the church to shop at the store their answer left me dumbfounded. I was told that the store stocked some hard to find items and that it would be inconvenient to try and find them elsewhere. My concern that making the shopping trip a church sponsored event might lead some to believe that the church was supportive of the store’s mission was dismissed out of hand.

Over the years I have learned that my attitude about morality makes me an outlier. I live in a world in which the majority of people are not guided by values and principles. What matters most is what people feel and what people want. If making a stand is difficult or inconvenient most people will choose not to make it at all. 

The sad reality is that when values are sacrificed when they become costly, they aren’t worth anything.

-          Bart

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For those who are wondering, the cult store is still in business. It is the Piecemakers store in Costa Mesa, California.

The Foolish Immorality of Sean Penn

If you were given the opportunity to meet with a vicious criminal, a drug dealing murderer responsible for the deaths of hundreds of innocent people, a recent prison escapee who was a fugitive from justice and who had recently escaped from prison, what would you do?

If you are Sean Penn, you covertly accept the invitation and evade detection in order to meet with the man. You pose for pictures shaking his hand and write a story for a national magazine. You then give the criminal the final edit of the story so he can be sure he is portrayed in a favorable light.

And, because you are Sean Penn, you can be certain that you will face no criminal charges and will suffer no damage to your reputation or future acting opportunities as a result of your arrogance. In the western world, rules and laws are for the little people, not for celebrities.

As I read the story of Mr. Penn’s interview with the Mexican drug lord El Chapo I wondered how we arrived at such a place in our society. I am not so naïve as to expect perfection from famous people but I did expect them to possess some form of a moral compass, to care at least a little about being at least a little bit truthful or nice. I did not think that even the most low-life of celebrities would be supportive ofthe mass murdering head of adrug cartel.

I guess I was foolishly optimistic. I should have known that a man who had been fawned over for his entire adult life and whose talent gave him access to world leaders and power brokers would think he was entitled to meet with anyone he wanted for any reason at any time. Sean Penn was curious as to how a man like El Chapo came to be and his curiosity was all that mattered. Curiosity was more important than justice and fairness or right and wrong.

As I read about Penn and El Chapo the thought occurred to me that we may have cultivated a generation of Sean Penns. Many young people I meet are driven by personal desire more than they are by a moral code. There is no sense of duty to society as a whole orto anyone else individually. This is why so many in the current generation feel comfortable building up massive debt they do not plan to repay, using illegal drugs without regard for the law or future physical harm, orlying in order to get a job they want or a sexual partner they desire. Wanting something is what matters and when something is wanted there is no need to consider if it is right or wrong.

This type of thinking is the natural outcome of the post-modern thinking that dominates the modern world, a philosophy that denies the existence of absolute truth or a transcendent moral code. When we throw away external standards, when every person decides for themselves what is right and wrong, it should not surprise us if we are surrounded by fools like Sean Penn.

While there is nothing I can do to impact Mr. Penn's thinking, I am not hopeless. I have raised children who know the difference between right and wrong and I do all I can to remind others that absolute truth exists, that there is a God and that He has communicated His moral code to mankind. (I have even written a book about it!) The lie of post modernism needs to be exposed, countered and attacked. When truth is lost, only foolishness remains.

- Bart

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Photo by Seher Sikandar for rehes creative licensed through creative commons 

Pizza, Porn and Making a Stand

It was supposed to be a pizza party. It soon became a porn party. The members of the high school basketball team went to the local pizza parlor to hang out after a game. After a while the conversation took an unexpected turn. Several players took out their smart phones and brought up pornographic images. They laughed and joked and thought it was funny. For the one Christian member of the team it was anything but. It was awkward, and it was wrong. He called his parents and got an early ride home

When I heard this story I was heartbroken. I felt terrible for the young man who had been placed in such a difficult circumstance and I grieved over the lack of shame displayed by his team members. One thought repeated in my mind, “How did our society end up like this?”

There was a time when right and wrong were clearly defined. Not everyone chose to do the right thing but just about everybody knew what the right thing was. Wrong things included lying, cheating, foul language, underage drinking and alcohol use, and sex before marriage. Good things included respecting your elders, politeness, honesty and morality. Somewhere along the line these definitions were abandoned. Wrongness now only applies to such things as violent crime and political incorrectness and goodness is defined as whatever one wants as long as it does not directly hurt someone else.

How did this happen? It is the natural consequence of moral relativism. When right and wrong are no longer universal absolutes but are instead based on individual perceptions, moral decline is inevitable. Human nature leads people to think highly of themselves, so it is natural that people will define good as “what I do” and bad as “what someone else does” when given the opportunity. When good is determined solely by our personal desires there will be no need to rein our desires in.

When our nation embraced the moral relativism of humanism and  turned from its Judeo-Christian roots it also turned away from the well-defined moral code that guided our nation since its inception. Absent the boundaries of a clear moral code, immorality is boundless. Pizza parties become porn parties.

In such a world not only will immorality increase, morality will be attacked. Those who declare immoral behavior to be wrong will face accusations of intolerance, bigotry and of being judgmental. In such a context people of faith will endure difficult times.

When I deal with individuals who are caught up in an immorality I have learned that a simple question can bring clarity. My favorite question when I talk to someone caught in a moral failing is- "Is that the best you can do?" I challenge people to set goals of excellence for themselves, to strive to do their best, not to the minimum, in every area of their lives. I tell people that my goal in life is to be the best man, husband and father I can be, and that when confronted with a choice about a behavior I have trained myself to ask how the activity in question can help me be the best. 

I could go out and get drunk, but I want to do better than that, to have a clear mind and to remain in control.

I could look at pornography but I want to be better than that, to value my wife and allow her to be confident and secure in the knowledge that she is my ideal.

I could lie, I could cheat, but I want to be better, I want to be someone who is trustworthy, respected and believed.

The reason I want to give me best? Because God gave His Best for me.

-          Bart

Thanks for reading, take the time to be your best today. If you know anyone who may be encouraged by this post, consider clicking the share button and letting them know. Comments and questions are welcome. You can subscribe to the blog (click the button) to have future posts delivered to your inbox, or you can follow me on twitter @bartbarrettmd. 

When Sex is Dirty, We Lose

The world has changed. Things that were once completely unacceptable have become commonplace. Behavior once universally deemed shameful is now openly displayed. I have known this to be true for a while but there are still times when the magnitude of acceptable depravity catches me off guard.

I typically screen movies for content before buying a ticket as there are certain things I choose not to see. I subscribe to a website that describes potentially offensive content and use the descriptions as a guide, with a particular goal of avoiding sexual content. (It is my personal belief that in so doing I honor my wife.)

We recently saw a movie that contained sexual content for which I was not prepared. Their was a scene at the end of the movie that I missed in my pre-movie review. In the scene a young woman promises to allow herself to be used in a vulgar fashion by the protagonist. The act in question was repulsive to me and my wife and, prior to the movie, I thought it was repulsive to others as well.

The scene shattered my illusion. As we walked out of the movie disgusted we both expressed amazement that the act in question was not only portrayed as possible, but desirable. We realized that the film makers must have believed that the audience would agree with their portrayal. How could this be?

I think what we saw was the natural cultural outcome of a lack of moral clarity. Right and wrong are no longer clearly and consistently defined in our culture. In fact, the opposite is now true. We live in a world that values pushing the envelope, that believes moral restraint is something to be rejected instead of embraced. What we observed is the natural consequence of the abandonment of moral standards. If there is no good to be pursued there is no evil to be avoided and the perverse becomes normal.

What is most tragic is what people miss when they reduce sexuality to nothing more than a service one person performs to or for someone else. Love is missed. Intimacy is lost. Marriage loses meaning and loses relevance and stability. 

We went home that night glad that we are different. For thirty-three years we have pursued love, grace, and honor in our relationship with each other. We view intimacy as a sacred gift given to us by our Creator and we have nurtured and protected that gift. The result is a bond that is beautiful and unbreakable, a bond that will endure. A bond that too many others seem to have lost.

- Bart

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