Christianity in the Age of ‘Whatever?’

Lots of people write blogs.  Very few people actually read them. So why this one?

Recently I’ve been absolutely stunned by the power of the delusion our society is suffering regarding truth, good and evil.  In this perverse worldview, people who elect to strap on explosives and detonate them, or fire automatic weapons at unsuspecting innocents aren’t really “wrong”.  In this worldview they are just reacting to our evil.  What is also remarkable is the popularity of this view.  We’re all familiar with the phenomena of ‘political correctness’, in which what most people once agreed was simple, honest, common sense has been suppressed in favor of this alternate reality by a kind of Orwellian ‘group think’.  I’ve called this phenomenon “New Think”, though it’s not all that new[1].

The tenants of New Think (NT) include a rejection of society’s past sins, ranging from slavery to paternalism, to oppression of various sub-groups; an idealistic egalitarianism; and a concerted and quite obsessive ‘tolerance’, ‘acceptance’ and ‘inclusiveness’ toward any of those previously shunned or persecuted by society, and against those perpetrating it.  So far, so good.  However, it doesn’t stop there.

What started out 50 or so years ago as an act of conscience against past societal wrongs has morphed into a near total rejection of all that society and its previous cultures have stood for and upheld.  (“If it’s old, it’s wrong.”)  But New Thinkers don’t merely reject their parent’s values.  They reject the very idea that there is any such thing as a value, any moral ‘good’, anything to acknowledge as virtue.  This worldview sees egalitarianism of thought and behavior as the pinnacle of human development.  “Your thoughts and beliefs aren’t ‘better’ than mine.  There is no meaning to the concept ‘better’.  Just different.”  This, I’m afraid, is the empty wasteland of the post-modern mind.

This thinking has had the effect of substantially resetting the values of our culture over the past 50 or so years, and not all for the worse I might add.  As a society we have been generally receptive to its ‘acceptance, not hate’ mantra, and thus have become gradually more tolerant of differences in people.  However, many have bought into its corollary idea that people have no responsibility for their actions; that they are simply innocent organisms reacting to their hostile, oppressive environment.  Hear no evil, see no evil because, well, there isn’t any.

What’s also laudable about the New Think is that it expresses compassion and concern for our fellows, but in some directions previously ill-addressed.  Of course, kindness and compassion are from God.  But they have been perverted and twisted of late into badges of selfish, public pride.  NT adherents express a faux compassion consisting of making proclamations, holding up signs and signing petitions, but not actually doing anything to help.  Once upon a time, the bases for acclaim in our society were the broadly shared ideas of virtue or accomplishment.  Now, however, it’s one who claims a grievance from the injustice of his oppressor, and those who self-identify with the victim.

This is what I find most disturbing about the main goal of NT’s adherents.  If you look just slightly below the surface, their purpose seems to be to feel good about themselves – morally superior, if you will – to buttress their self-validation.  In fact, nothing floats the New Thinker’s boat more than the act of professing outrage at society’s current or past ‘wrongs’ within earshot of others, so that their “righteousness” can be seen and heard by all.  Such public indignation must be quite an adrenalin rush for them.  A skeptic might label this ‘sanctimony’, as that’s what it feels and sounds like.  If you doubt this, have a look at the vitriol in social media posts from members of this group that you may know.

Perhaps predictably in this environment, the one remaining ‘evil’ to the New Thinker is the people who still separate good from bad, virtue from decadence, truth from falsehood and right from wrong.  I admit bias, but it seems to me that the majority of this animas is directed at those calling themselves ‘Christian’.  (I should note that there are many who identify as ‘Christian’ who also wholeheartedly embrace New Think.  So it’s not quite as black-and-white as you may think.)  New Think devotees in general seem to dismiss Christians as ignorant, backward and, not infrequently, “hateful”.  Ironically, it’s apparent that these New Think devotees themselves clearly “hate” those they identify as “haters”. So, same human play; different act.

It’s one thing to profess a wish for the best for economically or socially needy people.  It’s quite another to elevate these beliefs and the corollary hatred of those who don’t share them to the status of a religion, with all its accompanying fervor.  Here I’m thinking mainly of the absolutely shocking reactions to the recent mass shooting atrocities where the perpetrators are excused from blame.  What they did wasn’t ‘evil’; they were just ‘ignorant’ or ‘lonely(?)’[2].  In fact, the implication is that they themselves were just victims of some injustice wrought by ‘us’ – you know, we evil oppressors in the West.

What?  On hearing something like this, one is left speechless. Where, one puzzles, did this bizarre thinking come from?  How did we so quickly break loose of our long-held moorings?

Most would agree the three main sources of the communication of morality and values from one generation to the next are: 1) families; 2) churches/synagogues, and 3) schools.  It’s well known that the institution of the family has been under extreme stress for decades, as measured by statistics like divorce rate, single parent households, abuse rates, etc.  It should not be surprising, then, that in families experiencing these stresses, the chance of passing along a foundation of positive values, let alone Christian ones, is significantly diminished.[3], [4] Churches by and large seem to have increasingly abandoned the basic Christian message, since, they apparently think, such an ‘uncomfortable’ message jeopardizes their membership numbers: a serious problem in an increasingly church-averse population[5]  And public schools in this country haven’t communicated a moral or Christian-based values message to young minds in over a hundred years.  On the contrary.  They are at the very forefront of promulgating the new humanist religion – the New Think — and extremely proud of it.

So we have whole generations of Westerners steeped in this kind of societal self-hate.  Emboldened by political correctness, if you should assert anything to the contrary you’re committing a heresy that deserves quick and sure condemnation.  Of course, the human psyche being what it is, the possibility that their ideas are in any way flawed is unthinkable.  As Robert Wright notes[6]:

“One might think that, being rational creatures, we would eventually grow suspicious of our uncannily long string of rectitude, our unerring knack for being on the right side of any dispute… Nope. Time and again — whether arguing over a place in line, a promotion we never got, or which car hit which — we are shocked at the blindness of people who dare suggest that our outrage isn’t warranted.”

After several decades of developing their philosophy, today’s adherents seem to have elevated their dogma, in their minds at least, to the level of ‘love’ for their perceived victim.  Love, of course, is not a political or philosophical position, or some talking point.[7] Whatever else this may be, it is not authentic love.

Love isn’t acceptance or tolerance because the loved is virtuous, but precisely despite the fact he isn’t.  Universal acceptance — into the ‘body of Christ’[8],[9] — is taught in the Bible; Christ’s message was the definition of inclusiveness – “Come unto me all you who labor and are heavy-laden.”  But His purpose for this indiscriminate invitation was precisely to rescue “sinners[10], all of us who lack what He, in love, offers us to “fix” in us what is broken – what is wrong.   He didn’t, and doesn’t, accept the wrong or, more to the point, deny that it is wrong.  He offered, rather, to lift us up out of it.  In other words, He sought what was best for us, that which was in our best interest.

True love is a commitment expressed in devoted action to build up and care for the loved.  Authentic love stems from this thoughtful commitment to our fellow, not some blind emotion, philosophy or catch-phrase.  One does not, in any authentic understanding of the term, ‘love’ a class of persons, oppressed or otherwise.  Those who express true love seek the good of the loved to at least the degree, if not more so, than they seek it for themselves.  And in seeking the best for the loved, we encourage the loved to make decisions for himself that are best for him, whether he currently agrees with our counsel or not.  Love is not a boastful profession of compassion; it is a vocation of selfless action on behalf of the other.

It’s also not hard to see that today New Think attitudes have become modern society’s new idols – our new gods.  Many worship at their altar, slavishly carry out their ‘laws’, and chastise the apostate.  There are lots of reasons for this kind of confused thinking, most of which we’ve already mentioned: education (we’ve been taught this ‘religion’ in schools for decades), fragmented families that don’t have or don’t communicate values to their children, low expectations all around, cynicism about all authority, etc.  However, a crucial cause, and the premise of this blog, is that as a society we’ve lost our awareness of, interest in and the involvement in our lives of, God.  This is the natural result of our self-absorption: we, and our ideas, have become our own gods.

The fact of the matter is that the majority of Americans (and nearly all Europeans) have abandoned Christian belief as the foundation of their lives, and replaced it with the ‘religion’ of secular humanism that, taken to its recent extremes, has had the effect not only of disdaining the very idea of God, but simultaneously professing a near universal agnosticism of right and wrong[11].  One of my very favorite Christian authors, Dallas Willard, probes into a defense held by this mindset:

‘The powerful though vague and unsubstantiated presumption is that something has been found out that renders a spiritual understanding of reality in the manner of Jesus simply foolish to those who are “in the know”.  But when it comes time to say exactly what it is that has been found out, nothing of substance is forthcoming.’[12]

There is profound confusion today among many that abet classifying Christ’s message, to the extent they are even aware of it, as “nice” but irrelevant.  (You know, something ‘nice’ like Buddhism, Hinduism – ‘those kinds’ of things.)  This confusion shows itself in (post-modern) ideas like there is no such thing as truth, only equally valid opinions; that God is a myth, invented by ancients to explain nature; that empiricism is the only valid way of acquiring knowledge and understanding (‘whatever those are’); and that Christianity consists of occasionally sitting in a church, and trying to be “good”.  These attitudes clutter the modern mind, serving as built-in defenses against unfamiliar or challenging ideas, further promoting an insular, muddled thinking.

The uncomfortable, and thus rejected, truth is that there is evil in the world, and behaviors animated by it.  Good Lord, we’re swimming in it!  It’s far too depressing to list here all the aberrant stuff that qualifies.  Historically, we’ve been taught this truth by philosophers, authors, religious leaders, and (way back in the day) even school teachers, but particularly by Christians and the Bible.  However, many spokespeople identifying themselves as Christian, particularly in our contemporary culture, haven’t done an effective job either of explaining the true message Christ brought (and why it is the best answer to this evil we see all around us), or of modeling lives that reflect His message.  And people are extremely skilled at detecting hypocrisy.

I’ve been bothered by this downward spiral for a long time.  So much so that I feel an ache with each new revelation of it.  And the pain is increasing.  For me, it’s heartbreaking, a kind of profound regret that so many have been led so far from realizing the glorious reality of the God that is there and accessible all around them.  So, understanding that most people today have little understanding of who or what Christ is, I have spent a lot of time studying the Bible and the Christian message from many authorities.  And, despite the testimony of history — that preachers and expositors and apologists who truly “get it” have been, and continue to be ignored on a vast scale — I figured: “What the heck?  I’ll give it a try.”

Post-modern worldviews like New Think are products of our assumption that we’re in charge; that what we see around us is actual reality, and we have to ‘fix’ it, based on our own ideas of right and wrong. This is simply not the case.  You see, there is a hidden, true reality by which the one with which you’ve become all too familiar pales.  Our worldly pseudo-reality is but a very faint reflection of this real thing.  However, our day-to-day reality is perfectly capable of convincing us that there is no other – that it is all there is.  The true reality is the one the Creator established and inhabits, and has made accessible to all of us. Within it, however, our facsimile reality operates as a kind of pedestrian and superficial subset.  Most of us go through life not having any idea that the larger, deeper, more beautiful, more accepting, more loving reality even exists.  That’s why the message is so important – to alert us that there is an authentic, pure reality that, while accessible, is well camouflaged showing us only that which we have been enabled to see.  Our job in this exercise, then, is to try to gain at least a glimpse of it.

In trying to explain it, I want to try to explain not only why it’s believable, but why you should, if you’re thinking or have thought about it at all, believe it, and why it’s the only real answer.  We’ll do this by looking at the theological, historical and scientific (yes, scientific) framework in which it makes perfect sense.  But don’t worry.  This isn’t some pointy-headed study for which you need some kind of academic background.  It’s mostly simple explanation and a little common sense concerning things you either may have overlooked, or perhaps may have never really explored.

In doing this I will use common language, and stay away as much as possible from “Christian speak” – the little idioms and phrases that Christians use when talking to each other or that you hear out of them on the radio and TV.  My goal is to look at Christianity and God from the perspective of one who may have tried it and said “no thanks”; or one who simply fell away from it later in life; someone who knows just enough to know they don’t know; or, indeed, somebody who’s never really heard it laid out at all – but instead just the typical sound bites.  The other candidate audience to be served is those who equate “Christian” with “right-wing, evangelical fanatic/nut job”, based at least in part on media-promoted stereotypes.  I’m not saying there are no right-wing nut jobs that call themselves ‘Christian’; only that it’s quite doubtful that they actually are.

If you’re reading this and you are already deep in faith, hopefully there may be some new insight for you, though my way of looking at things may seem very unconventional to you, to put it politely.  Hopefully I won’t subject you to too many heresies. 😉

There’s a method to the use of common language.  First, many of these Christian phrases are shorthand for something much deeper than the phrase conveys.  So if you’re not familiar with these deeper meanings, you miss a lot.  Second, for many, these phrases trigger an immediate turnoff – a little like fingernails on a chalkboard, due perhaps to earlier bad experiences with a person or church.  I’d prefer not to shut the door before you ever get up to it.  And last, it seems to me that in order to explain challenging concepts, if you have to resort to coded or ‘insider’s’ language, it’s quite likely you don’t really fully understand it yourself.  So it’s a stretch to think you’ll explain it properly to anyone else using those same terms.  I will, however, continue to use biblical references where they help make a point.

I’m under no illusion here.  The Christian message is, well, unnatural — so much so that many people who have studied it and become versed in it think it’s just beyond reach — just too much for the average person to take seriously.  And as outlined above, today it is thought to be culturally passé.  Those who claim identification with it are, for the most part, thought to be unenlightened — or worse; “haters”.  So explaining it and its profound beauty to an audience that is, at the very least skeptical, if not outright hostile, presents certain challenges.  But I’m not worried.  The message itself contains its own power to overcome (1 Cor 1:18).

My explanation likely isn’t “the” or “your” definitive answer.  With the Christian message, as in perhaps no other topic known to man, one adherent’s “answer” is another person’s absurdity.  A lot of this is by design – if the hearer doesn’t sincerely want to receive and accept it, he just won’t[13].  And, perhaps regrettably, Christians themselves have many different variations of beliefs once you get past the most basic.  (There’s a reason there are, according to Wiki, some 41,000 Christian denominations.)  So to the extent that something in what I say makes some sense to you — resonates, if you will — and perhaps triggers some other curiosity and exploration on your part, I will have achieved my purpose.

First up, we need to explore the Christian message and its relationship to God’s larger story.

[1] In all honesty, the seeds of this ideology were planted in the philosophy of the Renaissance.  It’s just that today, we are living in the final, aggressive stages of it.

[2] Brooklyn Residents Blame GOP Not Islam For Orlando

[3] http://www.huffingtonpost.com/john-w-whitehead/the-breakdown-of-the-trad_b_675444.html

[4] http://familyfacts.org/charts/marriage-and-family

[5] http://www.churchleaders.com/pastors/pastor-articles/139575-7-startling-facts-an-up-close-look-at-church-attendance-in-america.html

[6] Wright, Robert. The Moral Animal: Why We Are the Way We Are: The New Science of Evolutionary Psychology. Vintage Books: 1995, p281

[7] 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 ( ESV ) 4Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant  5or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; 6it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth.  7Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

[8] Galatians 3:28 ( ESV ) 28There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave£ nor free, there is neither male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

[9] Romans 15:7 ( ESV ) 7Therefore welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God.

[10] Luke 5:31-32 ( ESV ) 31And Jesus answered them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick.  32I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.”

[11] http://www.christianpost.com/news/faith-rising-in-east-setting-in-west-europe-and-christianity-113757/

[12] Willard, Dallas. The Divine Conspiracy: Rediscovering Our Hidden Life in God. San Francisco: Harper, 1998, p92

[13] 1 Corinthians 2:14 ( ESV ) 14The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.

Introduction

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