Think about Rick Warren's commitment to a "purpose driven life". It is the sort of psuedo-philosophical New Age ear candy that pop culture evangelicals lap up by the millions. It's Oprah Winfry and Dr Phil all rolled up into one silly putty psychological agenda whereby you transcend the crass materialism of mindless consumption and the spiritual arridity of self-absorbed narcissism and instead latch on to something that is just so much bigger than anything you had ever hoped to imagine.
But there's a catch, of course. And it revolves around the manner in which you approach a "purpose" in life as either a means to an end or as an end in itself. After all, could it not be argued that both Hitler and Stalin led purpose driven lives?
That's where it all begins to break down into psychologisms that are never really more than the sum of how you add up the parts. It is just an emotional and psychological scaffolding. It is analogous to someone [like a parent] encouraging a child to "just be yourself" and then when the child decides to be something the parent does not like, the parent says, "but not that". You are encouraged to "find yourself" but when you do, it has to be congruent with the family and community and religious narrative.
Warren is obviously not as dangerous as was Jerry Falwell or as is Pat Robertson. He's no James Dobson or born again wacko. He encourages "civility" above all else. Choosing God is practically just another "lifestyle" you can commit yourself to.
But he still inculcates that servile mentality all religions embrace in the presence of their Lord. He is just more inclined to nudge you in the right direction rather than use the bully pulpit to threaten you with hell and damnation. God light as it were.
I'm not Warren's biggest fan, and I certainly am not a fan of a lot of the pop-religion/philosophy people out there (please don't get me started on The Secret). But, something about this comment was really bugging me, and I'm trying to put it into words.
Of course, there's always a certain inconsistency, or even hypocricy, with these messages of "serve a higher purpose" -- it assumes that we all agree on the right higher purpose (iambiguous is right in that Hitler was, from a certain, sick point of view, serving a higher purpose). It's probably impossible to form a cogent, serious, objective standard to differentiate between those who follow good higher purposes and those who follow evil higher purposes. In other words (not to get too philosphical), there is no rational, objective way to differentiate between good and evil. But, that doesn't mean that there isn't a distinction at all.
"He is just more inclined to nudge you in the right direction rather than use the bully pulpit to threaten you with hell and damnation" - maybe it's this sentence which bugs me most. And, maybe, it's the word "just" that really gets me. The fundamental difference between Rick Warren and Hitler is that one is trying to push us towards caring and helping and embracing, and one was trying to push us to evil and killing. And, even if I can't explain, in logical exactitude, that one is absolutely, irrefutably better than the other, I know that one is better than the other. You know it, too.
Look - one should never try to address fundamental philosophical issues in a short blog posting (and the nature and the reality of morality is probably the fundamental philosophical issue), but if we live in a world where the only discernable difference between Rick Warren and Hitler is their taste in "purpose," then we have enormous problems! Rick Warren isn't my favorite guy - his theology is flawed, his message is often simplistic and his politics are (sorry) wrong, but he should be praised, not criticized, for pushing people to help others, be kinder and try to love more. Because, if we aren't going to value that, then what exactly do we value?
[p.s. I know I keep asking for comments, but I really mean it. What do you think?]