Monthly Archives: April 2012
Andrew Sullivan, blogger from TheDailyBeast.com, recently wrote an article for Newsweek that made the front page. It is called, “Forget the Church: Follow Jesus”, and on his blog it falls under the heading, Christianity in Crisis. I have read it three times through, and some paragraphs more than that, with the intention of discerning his main points of contention with Christianity in America. Anyone who reads my blog knows that this is a topic that I like to focus on. As a Christian living in America, I want to better understand both the culture that I inhabit and the faith that I profess. So, I can’t help but read Sullivan’s article with great interest and scrutiny. In my analysis, his article hits on some major truths about the troubled state of the Christian faith in America, but it also declares something that is completely contrary to historical and biblical Christianity.
The first truth that I found in Sullivan’s article was the issue of using Christianity as a tool to acquire more political and worldly power. He writes, “What is politics if not a dangerous temptation toward controlling others rather than reforming oneself?” This is an excellent and timely point. In a post I wrote recently, “On Gay Marriage” I identified the problem of Christians treating America like a church and trying to make those outside the body of Christ adopt their values. It is foolish to look to the state of the world in the hope that it will reflect the truth of Jesus Christ. What you get is a highly politicized religion that focuses on particular issues more than on living humans. What you get is greater polarization. Instead of Jesus being the central polarizing figure in the interactions between Christians and unbelievers, you have issues marking the divide. And these issues do much to enrage people. Now, let me wrap up this point by stating that I believe Christians should stand up for the issues that best reflect their values. It’s a hard sell to say that abortion and gay marriage are condoned in the bible, so Christians shouldn’t pretend that they agree with them in the name of political correctness. But, and this is important, Christians cannot alienate themselves from those who are on the wrong side of their politics. If anything, Christians have to swallow their pride and lay down their judgement as an act of love toward one who lives in a way that is contrary to theirs.
The second truth of Sullivan’s article is simple, that Christians must practice what they preach. He writes a great deal about Francis of Assisi, who lived as an “example of humility, service, and sanctity.”
A modern person would see such a man as crazy, and there were many at the time who thought so too. He sang sermons in the streets, sometimes just miming them. He suffered intense bouts of doubt, self-loathing, and depression. He had visions. You could have diagnosed his postwar conversion as an outgrowth of posttraumatic-stress disorder. Or you can simply observe what those around him testified to: something special, unique, mysterious, holy. To reduce one’s life to essentials, to ask merely for daily bread, forgiveness of others, and denial of self is, in many ways, a form of madness. It is also a form of liberation. It lets go of complexity and focuses on simplicity. Francis did not found an order designed to think or control. He insisted on the simplicity of manual labor, prayer, and the sacraments. That was enough for him.
Sullivan believes, as I and most Christians do, that it is essential to live according to what Christ taught. In the Book of James it says, “You believe that there is one God. You do well. Even the demons believe—and tremble! But do you want to know, O foolish man, that faith without works is dead?” James 2:19-20. It is not enough to just know what is right. You must live according to it. Follow the example of Jesus who didn’t seek worldly power and who didn’t seek revenge against those who hated him. Unfortunately, Christians in America look very similar to the rest of society. For example, the divorce rate is the same as non-Christians, which makes it hard to have authority in the gay marriage debate. Jesus spoke harshly against divorce. We also embrace, in large part, the entertainment, materialism, and quest for health, wealth, and influence. Not to say that there are not many individuals who rise above these things by living more in accordance with Christ’s humility, charity, and righteousness. I mean not to condemn all Christians, including myself, just a large portion of us who are either Christians in name only or living out a lukewarm existence defined by half-hearted commitment to God’s will. It is apparent that it is harder to live a righteous life in the lap of luxury than it is in lowly poverty. But in each case what is required is submission to God’s spirit and the constant renunciation of pride and power.
Christians in America must repent and submit to God, and not put the majority of their energy into fights for more political influence, since the former is the true way to see lives transformed.
Now, I have said a lot of good about Sullivan’s article. But he gets something very wrong. I saw it from the very beginning when he lifted up Thomas Jefferson’s gutting of the Bible as an example of a man who was searching for, “the purest, simplest, apolitical Christianity, purged of the agendas of those who had sought to use Jesus to advance their own power decades and centuries after Jesus’ death.” Jefferson removed anything that didn’t fit his understanding of who Jesus was. That included many of the supernatural claims and large portions of the New Testament. In short, he was choosing which parts of the scriptures he wanted to accept. And Sullivan doesn’t denounce this as heretical. That’s a problem.
This type of radical redefining is something that I have seen before from current Christian leaders like Brian Mclaren and Rob Bell. (I have written on both men and you can find those articles, The Biblical Buffet of Brian Mclaren and What the Hell Bell? by clicking on the links) In response to the pressures of modern society they have attempted to redefine what Christianity has been throughout history. Mclaren throws the God of the Old Testament completely under the bus, and Bell throws out the doctrines of hell and diminishes the truth of God’s righteous wrath against sin. Both shy away from the truth of Christ being the exclusive way to God, and therefore Heaven. It sounds so judgmental and harsh. But just because something in the Bible doesn’t feel right to you, it doesn’t give you the authority to toss it out or redefine it. That is so arrogant and I see it as the result of a radically individualistic society.
Sullivan, as far as I’ve gathered, is a man who believes himself to be the “truer” version of both conservative and Christian. He distances himself from the standard institutions, believing that they have left him, and not the other way around. He believes the Christian church has abandoned the true teachings of Jesus, and that is why he included the “Forget the Church” in his title. But though the church of Jesus Christ is imperfect, it is the body of Christ on Earth. We are meant to live alongside other believers in a community setting. Sullivan isn’t telling Christians to stop working together to spread the good news of Jesus, but I am confident that he is undermining the established church and its doctrines.
In a society that is becoming more and more Bible illiterate, I do not see how undermining the authority of scripture and two-thousand years of church teaching is a positive step forward. If anything, these modern tendencies toward rebelling against longstanding authority and shrinking from any uncomfortable Biblical truths are a sign of a people turned inward. Andrew Sullivan says many good things about what needs to change with Christians living in America, but he has chosen to diminish the sacredness of scripture in the name of shaping Christianity to fit his mold.
“You cannot go on seeing through things for ever. The whole point of seeing through something is to see something through it. . . . If you see through everything, then everything is transparent. But a wholly transparent world is an invisible world. To see through all things is the same as not to see.” – C.S. Lewis, The Abolition of Man
‘When they see what I do, they will learn nothing. When they hear what I say, they will not understand. Otherwise, they will turn to me and be forgiven.‘ ” Jesus, Mark 4:12
Today is a holy day for both Christians and Jews. For Jews it marks the beginning of Passover, which marks the day that death passed over the ancient Hebrews before their exodus from Egypt. Christians recognize today as Good Friday, which marks the day that Jesus Christ died, nailed to a cross. On the first Passover, the Hebrews marked their doors with lamb’s blood as a sign that they were God’s people, not meant to taste the sting of death. On the day that Jesus was nailed to a cross, his blood poured out for all who would accept him. He is called the Lamb of God, and his blood was willfully shed for God’s people so that they could have his life. Blood is life, and Christians get their life from God. Good Friday, the day Jesus allowed himself to die, is both terrible and wonderful for the ones who see it. But for those who see right through it, there is only the sight of a mythical fool going to his death, never to rise and therefore never to have any importance to them.
It is good to question things. No one wants to be accused of gullibility. It is also good to test things. Why accept anything on blind faith? There is a widespread belief that faith is incompatible with reason and sanity. And there are plenty of religious people out there that only reinforce the stereotype. Just watch a movie like Religulous by Bill Maher. It looks like he had an easy time finding some ignorant people who supported his bias against the sanity of Christians. Once again, they’re out there. If you want to feel better about rejecting Jesus Christ, I can understand honing in on some of his less admirable followers to back up your own beliefs. Even Gandhi did it. “I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.”
The real test of one who pursues more truth and understanding comes when you’re willing to accept the full humanity of another who believes something different. If you’re simply “seeing through” the person you’re speaking to, you’re not really seeing them. If all you see is a silly or ignorant person, you dismiss them without much of a thought. I struggle with this, as most of us do, but I also take steps to really see where others are coming from. This is not because I’m looking to find a more appealing thing to believe in. My faith in the actual person of Jesus Christ is firmly implanted in me, and I not only let it grow, but want it to grow. Truthfully, it is this faith, which softens my pride, that even allows me to engage in discussion without popping a blood vessel.
There are many things you can choose to believe in: many philosophies you can choose to accept: many people you can choose to agree with. But I would warn you against the exercise of seeing through everything. That would mean declaring the death of God and truth in the world and looking past anything that might challenge your position. I remember taking a Bible as Literature course and the professor assuring us that we would not be approaching the book with any religious bias. That’s great, but what about the bias that assumes the book isn’t true? How is that really open-minded? And furthermore, how does that take into account the purpose of the book in the first place? To approach the bible as an old book of fairy tales is to not approach the bible at all.
I would encourage you to look at the story of Jesus and a teacher named Nicodemus, from the Book of John. It is at the start of chapter 3. It is one of my favorite parts of the whole bible because it is a one to one discussion between an open-minded religious leader and the man who claims to be God’s son. You see, many religious leaders throughout the story of Jesus are arrogant and close-minded and Jesus doesn’t share this kind of dialogue with them. They simply wouldn’t want it anyway. But this guy, Nicodemus, he is interested by what Jesus has to say and Jesus is more than willing to spend time talking about many things.
So today is the day Christians remember the death of God on a wooden cross. They see more there than an entire lifetime could contain. They see a hard truth about this world, and an even harder truth about their own. The world is ripe with evil and pain and death, and these things come to us too, eventually.
But Sunday is Easter.
And two-thousand years ago the son of God saw the first sunrise of a new age on this earth.
“I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen, not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.” C.S. Lewis The Weight of Glory and Other Addresses
I received yet another precious gift of Cadbury eggs today. Thank you to those who have responded to the cause. (See My Cadbury Egg Campaign and The Far-Reaching Consequences of a Shrinking Egg) The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. That step was awareness, and we will continue to spread it, but now we must prepare to move forward. Now is the time for action!
If you’ve been following my posts you will know that Cadbury is not actually to blame for the shrinking of their egg. In England, the home of Cadbury, the egg has remained 39g and will likely stay that size. The true culprit is The Hershey Corporation, who makes and distributes Cadbury products in the United States. In 2006 Hershey decided to drop 5g off of the classic 39g egg, and they had the audacity to mock the American people with the line, “They haven’t gotten smaller, you’ve gotten bigger.” Clearly this was a shot at the growing obesity epidemic. What monsters.
Though Kraft Foods bought out Cadbury a few years back, I still believe that the brunt of the blame rests with Hershey. And who can blame them for selling a reduced-size product at the same (or increased) price when the public still eats it up? They believe that we won’t care enough to notice, and we certainly won’t care enough to stop buying their product! That is why my mission has always been to get the word out. I believe many people simply don’t realize that they’re being swindled, and if they saw the truth perhaps more and more would rise to resist.
When Netflix threatened to raise their prices, people spoke out in large numbers and the giant was forced to retreat.
When Bank of America threatened to charge $5 a month for simply having a debit account, the people spoke out in large numbers and the giant retreated.
We forget that they need us. If we exercised a little power in numbers I am sure that we could get their attention.
We can change the world.
Don’t be discouraged by the fact that 6 years has already passed since the change in size was made. Consider all of the injustices that people of the past stomached for decades or centuries before they couldn’t take it anymore.
Change happens when the people decide it must happen.
Join us by complaining to Hershey. Contact them here Tell them that you are not satisfied with the 34g egg and you will no longer purchase their product for any reasons I listed or that you come up with.
When you speak out, please comment or like this post so others can see strength in numbers and decide to act.
We’ve been 5 Grams From Justice for too long…