Review: "Three Simple Rules : A Wesleyan Way of Living"

I recently finished reading a book that an acquaintance of mine lent to me. Three Simple Rules : A Wesleyan Way of Living is a book that describes the character of a Methodist and proposes "three simple rules" for a person to live a fulfilling life. This book was a quick read at about one hour. The pages are very small, the book is very slim, and the font is quite large. Optimistic, easy, and desirable, right? Let's find out.

Some recurring themes echoed throughout the book that severely disturbed me and are at the heart of most, if not all, Christian beliefs:

Humans should give up (or be willing to give up) everything for God.
Humans are nothing without God.
There's something so wrong with humans that we need to be forgiven.
There's no morality without religion.
We should have unwavering trust and obedience in God.
They way of the world is wrong and the only true way is to follow Jesus.

The preface of this book says that a Methodist "loves the Lord his god with all his soul, and with all his mind, and with all his strength...there is nothing on earth I desire but thee" (6). Sentiments like this seem very dangerous, self-defeating, and all-encompassing. Healthy individuals should love family members, friends, their achievements, hobbies, etc and desire much more than simply worshiping a celestial being.

This book proposes that to fix the way of the world, we must turn to God for help so that the world can be changed for the better. This statement is quite curious because there is a tremendous amount of violence, divisiveness, dangerous superstition, wishful thinking, and death surrounding religion. I'm firmly holding on to the idea that religiosity is detrimental to society - we see examples of this every single day in the news. I discussed this in a previous post here and elsewhere in this blog. If we didn't have religion, we'd rid ourselves of so much unneeded harm and suffering in the world.

This book claims that, "Deep within, I believe all of us do want to live that faithful and fruitful life even though we have often turned away from God's invitation to holy living" (14). Sweeping claims like this bother me because it casts humans as wanting God no matter what they think or want. It's also like there's something wrong with us, so wrong that we need to accept God as the only form of help...instead of relying on ourselves, friends, and others.

What exactly do humans need forgiveness from? Why is it that we must demand forgiveness, worship this supposed creator of the universe, accept his domineering love, admit that we are worthless humans who need to be saved, and put God first in our life? This is no good being, but rather a dictator. I'm in no position to love beings or people that have not shown that they are worthy of my love, time, or compassion (especially when there is no evidence suggesting that this being exists). I tackle this issue more in depth here.

The first of the three simple rules is "Do no harm." There is no qualifiers or exceptions to this rule whatsoever. A very dangerous injunction is spelled out in this chapter, "When I am determined to do no harm to you, I lose my fear of you; and am able to see you and hear you more clearly" (23). Thinking like this is impractical, unfeasible, and strangely awkward. The world simply doesn't work like this at all - others' motives for harm are not suddenly diminished because we think that we will do no harm. Imagine if a child (or adult) in a "tough city" read this phrase and walked around thinking like this during nighttime passing dangerous individuals, dark alleys, and marauding with no fear of danger.

Another sweeping claim is found on page 26, "But deep in the silence of our hearts, we know we do want to follow Jesus. We know that following Jesus is the best and only way to live fully and faithfully." After reading this, I was very angry and stopped reading for a minute. I'm really tired of hearing that we can't be good people unless we follow Jesus and that following him is the only way to live fully. I can live a good life without following religious ideology and am much better off... Again, it's almost like humans aren't good enough to live on their own accord that they have to surrender themselves to divine sanctions and are lost without them. How demeaning. The author even goes so far to say, "even if [following Jesus] means giving up our favorite position or possession." This sounds like something a cult leader would say... Oh. yah, Jesus does say it in the Bible.

When talking about following Jesus, the author recommends a "radical trust" and "radical obedience" (24) to him... but for what? and why? Why should we have a radical trust and obedience for anyone or anything? Shouldn't our willingness to follow someone be based on a clear judgment after weighing the facts, making a decision, and be in-line with our basic convictions? Why should Jesus be a special exception to the rule? The trust and obedience should spawn on its own without injunctions that demand a "radical" form of it. Do I need to have "radical trust and obedience" to trust my family members, significant others, and friends? No, if I don't find good reason to trust and listen to them, I simply don't. I don't make exceptions to do so "radically."

Page 30 suggests yet another radical injunction, "To do no harm is a proactive response to all that is evil." If this were the case, we'd have no military, no self-defense laws, and we'd be total pacifists who would be conquered in a day. People in other areas of the world want to annihilate the world, the United States, and people who don't agree with their religious ideas about their sky daddy. These people, in their irrational fervor, can not be reasoned with and unfortunately, must be detained, killed, or otherwise subdued if they are aggressors.

Augustine makes an appearance on page 35 saying the wicked, "You owe your conscience to God; to one another you owe nothing but mutual love." Sorry, but I don't owe anyone anything. I will, of course, treat people with respect if they are respectful to me or treat strangers with respect for obvious reasons, but I don't "owe" this to anyone. I certainly don't owe God my conscience, my body, my life, or anything else. A tyrant would say things like this, "You owe everything to the party. Your life is to be a party member and obey the leader. Without party and leader, you are nothing." Sentiments like this are riddled through Christianity's core teachings and this book.

Page 36 features the classic "love your enemies" and "love your neighbor as yourself," two terrible ideas. I shouldn't love my enemies by any stretch whatsoever. Should I love people who treat me poorly, want to kill me, and are dangerous individuals? Of course not! I should avoid these people, defend myself if needed, and not follow ridiculous ideas this these. Tell the battered wife to love her abusive drunken husband. Tell the Muslim women who are raped by others to expunge shame from their families to love their aggressors.

I shouldn't love my neighbor as myself because I should be my first priority. I need to care for my basic needs first before I help others for obvious reasons. We shouldn't deny ourselves to extreme levels to love others. I can live a "minimum lifestyle" and then help the poor, homeless, and needy, but I must first by my food, pay my bills, and not be extravagant. This also doesn't work if my neighbor is a terrible person or I am a sadist or masochist. I shouldn't love the man who murdered his family and I shouldn't inflict pain on others if I deem this to be something that I like doing.

The rest of the book is filled with more suggestions that are self-defeating, impractical, and degrading. I may post the rest at some later date, but most of it has been covered above.