Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Tips aren't entitlements [Updated]

This story is doing the rounds on social media. The story is allegedly about a boorish and embarrassing Christian family who gratuitously insulted a waitress for her mannish appearance (see below for more on appearance) at the outset of a meal and then refused to tip her, instead writing her a note saying that they did not approve of her (presumptively lesbian) lifestyle and that this was why they were not tipping.

I have a somewhat different perspective, so hear me out. First of all, let me say at the outset that it's entirely possible that these people really were as rude and as much of an embarrassment to Christians as they are alleged to be. Perhaps, for example, their comments to the waitress were wholly gratuitous. Perhaps their comment was quite pointless, perhaps she did very little to put her "orientation" in their faces, and perhaps she gave them excellent service. Moreover, even if their side of the story turned out to be different than hers, even if there was more excuse for their behavior than the mainstream story tells us, and even if the story isn't faked (let's not forget that there are such things as faked "hateful incidents"), what they did was still foolish, because they should have known that it would do no good and would do harm to the reputation of Christians.

So I'm not condoning what they did from either angle.


Point 1: We have only her side of the story. According to her, she was a saint, and they were jerks from the get-go. Should we automatically assume that this was true? Is it possible, for example, that she made some reference to her "lifestyle" in order to test them, perhaps because she saw them look startled at her haircut, etc.? Her Facebook posts about what she wanted to do (spit in their food, for example) certainly don't show a saintly disposition, and one of her allegedly laudable supporters says (on a homosexual Facebook page) that the family and all their ilk should be wiped off the face of the earth. So...this is obviously an activist type of person with an in-your-face gay activist attitude, and I'm not entirely sure she is an unbiased reporter of what happened.

Point 2: Appearance. What the heck are those tattoos all over her hands? Are employers not permitted to take bizarre tattoos into account when hiring waitresses if they suspect the tats have something to do with being homosexual and if they are therefore afraid of getting in trouble for "discrimination"? Or are tattoos all over your hands out of bounds for employers to consider no matter who you are? The girl says, "The short hair and clothes just gave it away in her eyes." Well, it looks like "it" was in fact true, so maybe some combination of hair, clothes (What clothes? Do these waitresses not have to wear any sort of uniform? How weird were the clothes?) and the tats really did "give it away." Did it ever occur to this waitress or to anybody commenting on this that it's legitimate for customers not to want their waitresses to look bizarre and that having a deliberately bizarre appearance might be a legitimate cause for downgrading a tip, because that is rude, too? Yes, get a clue: Putting your "lifestyle" in people's faces by deliberately looking bizarre is rude. Rudeness on the part of a waitress or waiter is a legitimate reason for a customer's not tipping. But no, evidently not. Look at this preachy blog post, for example:

[The Bible] doesn’t say to leave them a note about what a miserable sinner they are; how disgusted you are by their obvious homosexuality, Goth appearance, tattoos, the enormous holes in their earlobes, or the bone in their nose;
Um, so lady, you're implying that it's perfectly okay for a waitress to have a Goth appearance or even a bone in her nose but that if I don't leave a Goth or be-boned waitress a full fifteen percent tip, I'm the baddie? I don't buy that. At all.

There used to be this sort of old-fashioned understanding that waitresses were expected both to behave and to appear pleasant. Presumably they don't want to be thought of as mere robots who bring you your food and are rated only by the speed with which they do so. Well, then, they have to be prepared to be docked if they wear unpleasant piercings or tattoos or in some other way deliberately, by their appearance, interrupt the pleasant nature of the customer's lunch. Which brings me to

Point 3: Contrary to the implication of said preachy blog post, a tip is not an entitlement. A tip has to be earned. Every single Bible verse quoted in our faces there (and aside--don't you love how progressive Christians are all against proof-texting except when they can try to shoehorn tipping flamingly lesbian waitresses into an Old Testament passage on paying your field hands or a New Testament passage on feeding and clothing our brethren in Christ?) implies that the customer at a restaurant is the direct employer of the waitress or waiter. Is this really accurate? Is the relationship "customer-waitress" really the same as the relationship "employer-employee"? If so, it's an extremely odd employer-employee relationship, especially since no wage has actually been agreed upon in advance, as it usually would be. That's why tipping is voluntary and falls on a sliding scale. Don't misunderstand me: I think one should normally tip 15 percent, and that's what I teach my kids. It should be the default setting, the prima facie case, that you'll tip at a restaurant where tips are left. (Some, like fast food restaurants, don't assign a particular waitress to your table, and tips are not the norm there.) But a default setting or a prima facie case is defeasible, and it's defeasible by a lot of different types of things. There isn't some moral rule, given by God, that if the food gets to your table in good time, if the waitress doesn't forget anything, if everything pertaining narrowly to the food and the food alone is okay, you owe the waitress a 15% tip. There are other ways in which the waitress could fail to earn that tip. By sitting down at the table, you don't tacitly agree to pay that tip. The entitlement mindset here is overwhelming, and it needs to stop. Sure, a customer could fail to leave a tip for unreasonable reasons, a customer can be a real boor, but we shouldn't start by assuming that a tip is an entitlement.

Point 4: The owner of the restaurant, eager to prove his progressive creds, is threatening not to let that family eat at the restaurant again. Really? That's interesting, is it not? Let's put this starkly: A lesbian couple could almost certainly waltz into that restaurant with their arms around each other and sit smooching from time to time at the table, and we can be good and certain that the restaurant owner would get the pants sued off him if he asked them to stop or even more shockingly told them they couldn't come there anymore. But a (putatively) Christian family that allegedly behaves rudely by leaving a snippy note instead of a tip can be told they aren't welcome? Well, presumably "non-tippers" are not a specially protected class under either New Jersey or federal law, so probably so, but to my mind there's something very strange about this set of priorities. What if they had tipped her but had also left a Bible tract explaining, in loving terms, the dangers of the homosexual lifestyle and offering contact information for groups that can help her leave that lifestyle? Would the restaurant manager then be threatening not to let them eat there anymore? To do so would skate pretty close to religious discrimination, which actually is allegedly illegal in public accommodations like restaurants. But I wonder if the restaurant manager would see the difference between that situation and the one that allegedly happened.

Let's not fool ourselves: Christians who hold traditional moral views are the last group that can be "discriminated" against. The same people who would usually imply that by golly a restaurant has a duty to serve anybody who walks through the door evidently think it's high and noble for this family to be blocked. Don't get me wrong: I'd just as soon go back to a world in which restaurants could refuse to serve anyone they wanted to refuse to serve. But that includes present liberal mascot groups as well, and you can be sure the liberals wouldn't like that compromise, either. No, they like things right where they are: Be open about your non-PC beliefs, get slammed. Put your sexual perversions in everybody's face, get fawned over.

So, while I think what the customers did was foolish at best and unnecessarily rude at worst, I'm rather inclined to say, "Cry me a river" for the mannish waitress who is arousing so much outrage and sympathy. I imagine by this time, assuming her story to be true, she has more than made up the lost tip in lavish outpourings from others. I'm pretty sure she hasn't learned anything from the experience, which is yet another reason why the customers shouldn't have done it.

But Christians, don't just jump on this self-hate bandwagon. It's not worth it, and it's a little more complicated than you might at first think.

Update: Aaaaaaand it looks like this was another hoax. Really glad I at least put that in the original post as a possibility and pointed out that we have only her side of the story! The inductive case that these things are hoaxes more often than not is adding up, so caveat lector next time you see a story of this kind. Please remember this before writing a "This is why they hate us" blog post or status update.

Also, Christians: If somebody guesses you are a Christian at a restaurant, they may fake a hate incident against you. Might be a wise idea always to tip via credit card from now on so as to be able to refute such lies. That was what this family appears to have done.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Far from the kingdom

Here is a self-styled honest atheist telling us how he would react if, after death, he turned out to be wrong and actually met the Christian God.

Several points strike me about this. First of all, it is very noticeable that nowhere does he refer to repenting of his sins if he were to turn out to be wrong. Does he believe that he has no sins? It almost sounds like that. His sneering references to the conversion of rapists, etc., and his statement that God would "know why he thinks he's led a good life" do seem to indicate that. Aside from any questions of the epistemology of religious belief, this is not the attitude of an ethically mature person. The only duty he seems interested in is one which he is very proud of having fulfilled--namely, the duty not to believe without sufficient evidence. He even goes so far as to say that he believes that God, if he exists, would be proud of him! Who says that? Even a Christian who believes his sins are covered by the blood of Jesus doesn't imagine standing up to God and telling God that God should be proud of him! Yet this young man has had every opportunity to know, given the research he claims to have done, that if God exists then we are all sinners before Him, we all have things that we need to repent of, and we will all be awed and struck to our knees by His holiness if and when we see Him face to face. Even by the natural light this young man should have some things that he is ashamed of or regrets having done, yet he is completely unfazed by the thought of God's existence in relation to his own wrong-doing. On the contrary, he has a positively pharisaical attitude towards "really bad" people who have "accepted Jesus as their personal Savior before they died." This reminds me of the Pharisee in Jesus' parable: "I thank thee that I am not as this Publican." Jesus said that those who are healthy don't need a physician. If an atheist can contemplate even the existence of God without thinking that then he would need a physician...that's a bad sign.

Second, though he says that he is taking seriously what it would mean for God to exist and for him to be wrong, he isn't taking seriously the character of the Christian God as he must know it to be postulated by Christianity. If God really does exist, God is worthy of worship, is one before whom we should bow, is all-good, and so forth. He says he's envisaging the possibility that the Christian God exists and that he is wrong, but as the end of the video makes clear, he's really holding out instead the possibility that "the Christian God" is merely vain in wanting to be worshiped, is petty, is unjust, and hence is someone he would have no duty to bow before and someone he would not want to spend eternity with. Yet given the amount of research he says he's done, he has every reason to know that in the very nature of the case the Christian God is One by whom and for whom we were made, is Goodness itself, is the true end of all men. If the Christian God exists, then worshiping Him is our true end, and attributing mere vanity to Him is an absurdity.

If he were taking this point seriously, he would take seriously the imagined conversion of those hypothetical rapists. He has had opportunity to know that anyone who truly believes and accepts Jesus has repented of his sins, that something profound has happened when these previously evil men "accepted Jesus as their personal Savior," that their doing so wasn't some trivial sop to God's vanity, yet he sneers at their conversion and sets up, to knock down, a petty and vain God.

Third, by this attitude towards God-if-God-exists, he is gearing himself up to tell God, "Non serviam," which is precisely the attitude of hell. At the outset of the video he says something good. He says that if he turns out to be wrong, he'll want to know where he went wrong in his reasoning. Great! But as he continues it sounds very much like he's absolutely sure that God would simply be dumbfounded by this request and wouldn't be able to tell him anywhere that he went wrong in his reasoning! Given that God does exist, it's entirely plausible, especially for someone who has has access to as many resources and has looked into this matter as much as this fellow says he has, that he has indeed gone wrong somewhere, that his motives hasn't been as pure as he advertises them to be or that he hasn't tried hard enough to get answers to his doubts and questions or that he has not properly prepared himself by following the light that he does have. So why not anticipate that God will show you that if God turns out to exist?

It would be quite different to say that if God exists, he will at that point be glad to fall on his knees and worship God, even if he doesn't understand everything, that he will humbly accept God's correction. But there is no trace of that attitude. Yet he says that his motives are pure and that he wants God to exist. Really? Then why would such a meeting at death not be a cause for humble joy?

Instead, by the end, he's envisaging not wanting to spend eternity with God, because a God who isn't proud of him and doesn't vindicate him would be a God who makes him sick.

There may indeed be tough questions about how God deals with those who genuinely have not had the opportunity to know about Jesus Christ--those who have been isolated from all Christians or even those with mental disabilities. But my own opinion is that people like the young man in the video are not the ones who create some kind of "problem of hiddenness" for Christians. They, rather, are the ones to whom God is likely to say those terrifying words: "Thy will be done."

Saturday, November 02, 2013

Not far from the Kingdom?

This inspiring story tells of a secular Jew in Boston, Lee Eiseman, who has been babying along an historic organ in a Catholic church for several decades. Finally it looks like the parish is going to scrape together the money to give the organ the full restoration it has badly needed all along. The organ wouldn't still be working today if it weren't for Eiseman, who has kept it going all this time with the proverbial chewing gum and string. Even on the evening of the concert announcing the beginning of the restoration project (for which some of the money still needs to be raised), Eiseman was up inside it with a miner's lamp on his head, fixing a sticky key.

I was especially struck by the briefly told story of how Eiseman came to be committed to this particular organ. At the time that he moved to Boston in the 1970's, he happened to be acquainted with a great organ builder and restorer, Charles B. Fisk. Fisk specially asked Eiseman to look after the organ at St. Mary's Church.
“Look after it and keep it alive, because it’s very important,” Fisk asked after Eiseman moved into the neighborhood, just a few blocks from the church.
So Eiseman agreed, and he kept his word, as a volunteer, even though it's doubtless turned out to cost him a lot more time and trouble than he ever imagined.

If one believes in the things that are valuable in themselves, how can one not be moved by that? "Look after it and keep it alive, because it's very important." I believe that. Eiseman obviously believes it too, as did Fisk, from whom he received his commission.

The news story says that Eiseman likens his surprising success in keeping the organ alive to the story of Hanukkah, in which God miraculously keeps the Menorah burning through eight days on an amount of oil that should have been far too little.

But there's an odd thing: Eiseman is a secular Jew, so presumably he doesn't really believe the Hanukkah story. Ah, well, perhaps it's just a sort of literary allusion.

Last evening I had a spirited and enjoyable discussion with a bunch of friends about the fate of virtuous non-Christians. What provision does God make for them? What does it mean to say that a person knows about Christianity and rejects it? How much does he have to know for his disbelief to count as rejection? What sort of grace can people receive who act on the light they presently possess even though they do not acknowledge Jesus Christ as Savior? It was all conducted with that combination of humor and earnestness that make for the best of discussions of important things. I'm sure much heresy was uttered all around, including by me, and many conjectures were put forward.

I do not believe that Lee Eiseman is somehow a Christian without knowing it. But I will say this: The fact that he sees the value of that organ and has committed himself so faithfully to taking care of it must be, to him, a means of the grace God gives to all men who know and love the good, the true, and the beautiful. By means of his faithful service and his love of what is worthwhile, Eiseman may, we can hope and pray, be preparing the soil of his own heart to receive the Word of God. If that were the case, it would be no small matter.