The other day my daughters received a thank-you note from a sweet little old lady to whom they had given a small homemade gift on Easter Sunday. The valediction read “May you continue to use the gifts that God has given you.”
And within those sweet little words we find the devil. And thus began quite a long lecture—given to my girls on the spot—on the dangers of ideologies which reduce existence to an idea which enslaves them to authoritarianism for the rest of their lives. That idea is that life and existence are UNEARNED. And though Christians are more ostensibly to be blamed for this evil, the idea is in fact a foundational component of secular metaphysics as well.
Wow. Hmm. Where to even begin. This is tough. There is so, so much wrong with this that it’s like trying to determine which of a thousand maurading orcs I should decaptiate first.
Let’s start with the obvious and aforementioned presumption that one’s talents are gifts. Which implies that they are unearned. So, let’s work backwards to the premise, and from this we shall then have our conclusion as to what this really means…and we will see how sinister it is.
You want to build a cabin, but you have no tools. So someone gives you them. You don’t work for them, they are gifts. Now, you might have “earned” them in the sense that the giver must like you or at least value you as a human. So that’s something. I mean, you didn’t work for them, but you can argue that there’s some inherent value to yourself that serves as the reason why one would give you something out of the profits of their own time and labor.
So, can you call the cabin you build from gifted tools your own? Yeah. Probably. I mean, you’d have to thrown in the obligatory “I could never have done it without you” platitude pretty much every time you had the person over, but they’d be hard pressed to take any real credit for your work, or even more, to claim some kind of shared ownership of it.
What about if the materials for the cabin were gifted, too? Hmm…getting a bit harder to claim that you’re the sole owner of it. At this point, you could still call it yours, and appeal to the meaning of the word “gift” as grounds for sole property rights, but you’d probably have to give the gift-giver carte blanche when it came to using the cabin. They probably could convince you to allow them to come and go at will and to stay for as long as they felt comfortable.
What if they also gifted you the land on which to build the cabin? Now its harder still to claim it as soley yours. But still, it’s a gift, right? And a gift means that you now own the thing gifted and thus can do as you please with it.
True, perhaps in object principle. But let’s be honest, here. When that much is gifted, propriety, etiquette, social convention, and basic consideration at this point imply and, I submit, necessitate a level of gratitude that begins to bleed over into obligation. It’s “your” cabin, but only in abstract principle at this point. Still…you could make a claim based on the strict meaning of the word “gift”.
What if the food and water were also given to you so that you had the energy to build the cabin? And the clothes and the work gloves and the work boots? And the medical insurance in case you got injured, and the pick-up truck for trips to the hardware store and lumberyard; and the gas for the truck and the insurance for it? And the fees for the permits, and the water which will be piped into the cabin, and the electricity which will power the appliances and provide heat and air conditioning? What if all the training on how to build the cabin was also a gift? No fees. Just a free ride at the vocational school of your choice?
Well, you might still appeal to the very definition of “gift” to make the case that the cabin belongs solely to you. After all, you might argue, this is pretty much what it means to be a parent. You provide all of these things to your children so that they can go out and build their lives and you don’t necessarily claim to own the things they acquire after they leave home and start their independent lives. And true this may be, but lets’s be honest. There is still some expectation placed upon the children. All things normal, it wouldn’t be considered anything less than rank insult if the children left home, with all the knowledge and resources the parents have provided, and then declined to have anything to do with them. So, there is some quid pro quo expected, even in the parent-child context.
At this point we must begin to face the obvious. “Gift” doesn’t really imply no strings attached. In fact I would say it’s quite the opposite. Which is why when there are no strings attached to a gift, the giver usually has to make that specifically clear:
“Hey, Bill. Got you this new putter. And don’t think you have to pay me back…this is my treat, and I’m not looking for you to return the favor. No sir, not one iota. No strings attached, bro.”
Still, you could argue a technical right to categorical ownership. One is never obliged to give a gift, and thus the recipient can’t technically be obligated to provide return value. I mean, yes, you can make an ethical argument, which is compelling and is the norm in real life, but “legally” the receiver of the gift is not on the hook to return the favor at all.
So, while it’s unlikely, we could at least at this point technically say that God has given us, as gifts, the talents we have and use. It doesn’t mean that we necessarily owe him anything or that we didn’t necessarily earn the gifts. I mean, we could say that we “earned” them in the way that children earn the gifts of their parents. Certainly there is value endemic to the children in their very person that compels parents to provide nice things for them, right? And similarly God could be said to give us gifts because there is inherent value to us, in and of ourselves, that drives God’s desire to give us skills and talents and potential, right?
Sure…this is all possible, if we don’t wade any further into the quicksand of untenable Christian metaphysics. And frankly, the idea that we aren’t obligated to God in EVERYTHING and in EVERY WAY is complete anathema to the church.
Now, I wouldn’t be doing my job if I stopped here. To explore Christian metaphysis no further than this is why the Church is the rational disaster that it is. Thus far, though we are speaking technically, it still sounds relatively hunky dory. God gives us our talents as gifts because he loves us. Of course in our gratitude we’d use them “for his glory”, as they say. But we still own them, and this is because we are valuable to him.
Of course, in order for us to be valuable to God there must be an actual “we” somewhere in the equation. Meaning we must have an existence of our own, independent of God, for us to be loved and thus the recipients of his affectionate gifts.
And here is where Christain metaphysics take their inexorable sinister turn. This is where all the talk of love and value and affection and gifts goes right down the toilet. Because the truth is that there IS NO WE. There is no “me” to me. And no “you’ to you. And you’ll see what I mean as we move further along with our cabin example.
So, we’ve already hypothesized that our resources, including clothes and food and education and tools and raw materials, are all gifts to us. Let’s take it a step further. What if your vision is also a gift. What if your very ability to see the nail in order to hit it with the hammer was given to you…you didn’t work for it, didn’t earn it. It’s a true gift. And what if your ears and hands and feet are gifts, too? And your very brain, and all therein, and thus your very capacity for learning; and the roots of that capacity, as well—your innate potential to be good at this or that…your natural, genetic proclivities, like your IQ, your talent for abstract thinking and organization, and your creativity.
Not seeing a whole lot of “you” in the mix are you now? Starting to feel a little squeezed, huh? Starting to wonder just who it is that is receiving these gifts. You’re starting to see that there is a very fine line between “you” and “that which you have been gifted”.
Well, that make senses. Because the root premise is that there is no line. Because there is no distinction. Because there is no you at all.
Your DNA is a gift. Your genes are gifts; and the interaction of the genes by which you are formed in the womb, and the atoms and molecules, and the inherent ability of these things to interact in meaningful and efficacious cause-and-effect ways…these are all gifts, too. The very ability of any of these things which make up you at your most fundamental physical root are God’s gifts. And beyond the physical then we must go, deeper and further until “gifts” comprise all of your reality, and your existence, itself. The very ESSENCE of you—the ABILITY of you to BE you—is not of you, it’s a gift. Indeed it’s no strain on credulity at this point to admit that YOU, YOURSELF, are a gift.
In other words, YOU are given by God…as a gift to YOURSELF.
But wait. That doesn’t work. YOU cannot be something God gives TO YOU. If your “you-ness” isn’t of you then there is no you in the first place in which TO GIVE YOU.
And now we have arrived. This is the whole point.
When a sweet little old lady tells you to “use the talents God has given you” she is actually implying many, many Satanic things, which is disappointing and terrifying.
She is implying that your talents, and thus ALL of the fruits of those talents is unearned. This is meant to stem the sin of “pride”, but “pride” is only sinful when it is irrational. To say I am a better man than you simply because I am rich and you are poor (I promise you I’m not, by the way) is an example of pride as a sin. To claim that a cabin I built is a wonderful cabin and to take responsibility for its beauty and functionality is NOT sinful pride. It’s merely a statement of fact: my hard work has EARNED me a beautiful cabin of which I certainly can, and I would argue MUST, be proud. But Christain metaphysics make no such distinction at all. You see, because your very talents are gifts from God, you can fundamentally take no pride of ANY kind in anything. You cannot claim to have done anything, in and of yourself; you can claim no ownership nor credit for any thing of value you create. Without your talents, you can do nothing productive…because “talents” is a broad, broad category. Everything from your intelligence and creativity to your physical deftness and dexterity, attention to detail, your wit, your ability to organize, your innate understanding of color, your conscientiousness, your photographic memory, your compassion, empathy…and on and on and on. And this evil, false, thoroughly anti-Biblical idea of “talents as gifts” or “talents on loan from God” has been used by the church to guilt, terrify, manipulate, and exploit the masses of believers for thousands of years.
Next, the sweet old lady’s words imply that one can draw some kind of objective and verifiable distinction between “you” and “your talents”. As though there is any frame of reference for yourself ABSENT the very things that make you YOU, like your creativity and intelligence, contentiousness and organizational skills, your physical dexterity…etcetera, etcetera. These are all things that distinguish you from others. Without these things, who exactly are you to me or anyone else? Take away my wife’s tremendous organizational skills, her intelligence, her extraordinary work ethic, her compassion, her careful and caring nature, and yes, even her occasional rush to judgment, her critical disposition, and her relentless drive to finish her list of chores which never ends, and I don’t know her at all. Take away her talents, and even her foibles, and you take her away from me.
The claim that man has no innate and inherent talents that really belong to him, and BECAUSE of him, and from and to none other BUT him, represents—when followed back to its premise, and then pursued to its logical conclusion—the very death of man, and God by proxy. This is the premise: that God made YOU, entirely, completely out of nothing, or out of something completely NOT you. And thus there is nothing constant…no you QUA you, and thus you can claim NO aspect of yourself that you fundamentally own from beginning to end, and thus you can claim to have earned NOTHING that you acquire and possess in life. It doesn’t belong to you because there is no you.
This premise is the bane of man, and has been an excuse to terrify, torment, and murder human beings for thousands and thousands of years. It is evil. It is not true. It should be rejected for the rank lie that it is.
The dirty little secret behind “the gifts God has given you” is that there is NO YOU at all. You are nothing. A placeholder for “God’s will”, or “nothing”; at best you are merely a character in the cosmic play of God’s divine determinist plan. You are an illusion…a name on a page, an actor without will. You have no Self, and therefore you have no right to anything. Not even your very existence.
In the next article I will explain why this idea, or a semantically different form of it, is loved and adored by many strains of secularists and scientific determinists the world over, who only THINK they are different from the Christains they ridicule as blind and/or stupid.
END PART ONE