I haven’t written anything like this in a long time. I used to write about philosophical topics on a regular basis, and it seemed to flow naturally, but for some reason I lost that flow. Now I’m attempting to pick it up again, if just for this one post. What I’m about to write has come out of much thinking and first-hand experience. There were many factors that brought me to this realization, and I think I’ve let it stew quite long enough. I have to say, I feel like an athlete who hasn’t worked out in months, so forgive me if this reads like a torn ligament. Gee, I haven’t even really started yet.
How often have you heard of this business about relative truth? You know, the idea that there is no one absolute Truth (capital T) about life, therefore each of us is left to come up with our own truth (lower case t) based on our limited perceptions. I’ve heard it many times in my life, and I can share one instance with you now. In a college class I sat in a lecture hall with over 100 students. One day the professor asked, “Who out there believes in absolute Truth?” Of the 100 students, I counted 3 hands, including mine. Later on, during a smaller discussion class, I was asked to explain myself. I shared my beliefs about the world and God, and then I figured I got them when I said that everyone dies. Clearly it’s true that everyone dies! You’d think I would have converted the whole lot of them, but instead I ended up arguing with a girl who was offended by my truth claims. Isn’t that the way? Anyway, I want you to consider this concept and to accept that it is a real belief held by many. Maybe it’s not a fully formed belief, like a religious or political doctrine, but it appears to exist as a modern default perception about the world: at least for many. Remember, 97 out of 100 college students didn’t raise their hands.
Since the last presidential election, I have been experiencing a minor identity crisis. You see, I got pretty passionate about that election as I focused intensely on my own political perceptions about the world. I figuratively saw red, taking a steady dose of talk radio and Fox News. In the end, everyone I voted for lost and I went to bed physically ill. I had lost myself in politics, and it took crushing defeat to shake me loose again. Since then I have had to reflect on what it means to define myself as a conservative, and, more importantly, I have had to reflect on what it means to be a Christian. The experience makes me think of this scene in The Dark Knight Rises.
It’s the futile battle that I was fighting. Each punch(argument or way of reasoning) that I threw came back with greater force until I was inevitably knocked down and defeated by what had become the bane of my existence. I know this sounds very dramatic, but remember that I was so invested in politics that I literally developed a cold when Barack Obama won re-election. I perceived the world through a political lens that made it nearly impossible to see the truth of my situation. By the time I realized that I had made politics into an idol, I was flat on my back, wallowing in defeat. I found the truth, but only after I was broken.
The truth that I found came out of a more humble position. During the election cycle, I had become prideful of my “rightness” to the point where I lost sight of the truth of my folly. My folly was my obsession with politics, and particularly the faith I was misplacing in my conservative candidates. Certainly this must have been clear to those who knew me well, and I can say that at least one of my friends tried to show me the truth. Once again, I didn’t see things clearly until I was broken (humbled) by defeat.
The Bible is quite clear on this subject of pride and humility when it comes to one’s proximity to the truth. Wise King Solomon, who lived about three-thousand years ago, wrote down many proverbs that are recorded in the Bible. One of his most famous proverbs is:
“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge,
but fools despise wisdom and instruction.” (Proverbs 1:17)
This might seem like an odd thing to say, but at the heart of it is an understanding of pride and humility. To fear the Lord is to live with the perspective that you are not the highest authority in your life. Imagine if a child acted as if their parents didn’t exist. Do you see any way in which that child grows up healthy and well-adjusted? No, if a child chooses to go his or her own way, they will live with an ever-increasing pride that will blind them from any truths that don’t fit their particular desires or inflated self-image. It’s a child who views his or her parents with reverence, who acts with an understanding that they probably don’t know better than their mother or father, that learns to see the world outside of their desires. If you are your own best authority for truth, can’t you see how much harder it will be to see and accept any truth that challenges your pride? How much truth is outside of the small space between our heads? Solomon also wrote, “The way of fools seems right to them, but the wise listen to advice.” (Proverbs 21:2) The principle is simple, humility allows us to see the truth outside of ourselves, while pride keeps us stuck in ourselves, and limited to our own perceptions.
There are billions of truths (lower-case t) in the world, but there is only one Truth. What I have seen time and time again in my life is that the humble are usually much closer to Truth than the proud. The proud are slaves to themselves, and they can’t see past their own feelings and beliefs. The humble have learned, often through difficult circumstances, that they are not the greatest authority on what is true. They understand that the world is more than what they may feel, and the world is more than a canvas to be painted by their own experiences.
To apply this to politics in America, just ask yourself where you see pride. Is there pride on the far-left and the far right? is there pride in Washington? Is there pride on MSNBC and Fox News? Are people seeking to stroke their own egos by conflating faith and politics and forming an American identity based on pride? Where do you see humility? Where do you see it? Honestly, the first thing that comes to mind is Pope Francis. He has defined the beginning of his time in the Catholic Church’s highest position by going low, focusing on service and poverty. He has denied himself many of the luxuries afforded by his office in order to connect with the people. That is humility. He is closer to the Truth, isn’t he?
Finally, I will return to the example I started with The Dark Knight Rises. After Bruce Wayne is broken by Bane, he is cast into a hopeless prison and doomed to watch the destruction of his city. He builds his body and tries desperately to climb out of the prison. Each time, he ties a rope around himself and can’t make the final jump onto a ledge that would lead to freedom. Lost in a dream, Bruce sees a time in his life where he fell down a well and his father came to lift him up. His father asks, “Why do we fall, Bruce?” He wakes up in a cold sweat and receives a word from a blind man in a nearby cell. The prisoner tells Bruce that he lacks the fear necessary to make the climb. He tells him he must climb “as the child did. Without the rope. Then fear will find you again.” Fear, in this case, and when it comes to the fear of the Lord, is about having a right perspective: a humble perspective. Without humility, the climb is impossible. Without becoming like a child, and recognizing the higher authority — the Truth outside yourself — you will be weighed down by your own pride. Bruce didn’t have to listen to the blind man. Climbing without a rope is probably suicide. But he was desperate to get out, and humbled by his inability to do so. He was ready to listen, and to begin the climb of faith.
It is possible to get closer to Truth, but it only begins with the letting go of pride. Difficult circumstances can forcefully strip us of pride, but it is up to us whether that is the beginning of our humble climb or the beginning of an endless search at the bottom of the pit for any shred of our former glory. The first step toward Truth is a step down.
Where can I rest my head?
Today we watched Barack Obama deliver his second inaugural address. On the day that we honor Martin Luther King Jr. we watched our first black president begin his second term as commander-in-chief. Many are elated and it truly is an important moment in American history. If you’re an American you should feel some sense of pride in your president on a day like this. This is the next step in the hard struggle for freedom for all Americans. And certainly, I appreciate the historical significance of it all. So why do I feel the way I do? Why am I not thrilled?
Let me bring you up to speed. For a significant portion of 2012 I was heavily invested in the presidential election. I followed every story as it broke and I looked into the candidates that interested me. Through research and discussion I chiseled away at my political positions until they hardened into bronze beliefs. Fox News and talk radio washed over my being as I prepared for the great battle of our age between big government tax and spend liberals and small government fiscally responsible conservatives. Obama was an enemy to “freedom” and somehow hated the very core of what America was, and no matter who replaced him that person would be an improvement. When it came to Romney, I found a way to like and support him as the better alternative. After the first debate I really got excited about the prospect of a conservative victory and increased my political presence on Facebook. Post after post I passionately made a plea for conservative principles. Right before the election I started to get feedback from friends that I had become too zealous and my words were losing their power. Even those who agreed with my politics were becoming annoyed. Admittedly, I was swept up in it. And then, after months of passionate reasoning and arguing, came the election. Oh, the election. I can sum it up in nicely in five words: Everyone…I…Voted…For…Lost.
After months of investing myself in politics I felt the awesome pain of total defeat. Seriously, even the little people I voted for lost. And to top it all off, I came down with a bad cold amidst the slaughter. Right before falling asleep, I spoke on the phone with my friend Steve who bet me a dozen Cadbury eggs that Obama would win. Though he assured me that everything would be ok, I went to bed physically ill, emotionally exhausted, mentally strained, and spiritually shaken. It was the sleep of a lost soul floating aimlessly in a hostile political sea.
So these past months have been a time of humble self-reflection. But they have also been a time of unease. You see, I’m truly struggling with my political identity. I’m in the midst of an identity crisis, you could say. If you’ve followed my blog for a while you’ve probably gathered that I have long wrestled with my conservative principles in an increasingly liberal culture. For instance, today my president said, “Our journey is not complete until our gay brothers and sisters are treated like anyone else under the law, for if we are truly created equal, then surely the love we commit to one another must be equal, as well.” Alright, so all that talk about gay marriage must be over. Now I’m the bad guy if I don’t compromise my beliefs about marriage and morality. And at the same time I recognize that gays have been treated with a special disdain within my Christian conservative community, and it’s hard not to view my side as the aggressors who are in the wrong. Why is homosexuality uniquely wretched while divorce is basically accepted? Where does evolving culture end and timeless truth begin?
So I’ve described to you my current political state. My party has become a national joke and lost its ability to speak with authority to the greater culture. There’s no Republican version of Obama. My core political beliefs don’t have a champion in the arena and so I’m left to wander for a while in the wilderness. Meanwhile, I’m wrestling with what it means to be a Christian in America today. It’s all quite humbling, and I believe in my heart that I will come out of it a better man. I just wish, in the meantime, I had somewhere to rest my head.
I know this is old news by now. The Democrats started their own convention this evening. But I can’t help but dwell on the speech that Clint Eastwood gave at the Republican National Convention. In it were moments of goodness and straight talking, but those moments were smothered by more moments of awkwardness. I’m a conservative guy, and I’m a big fan of Clint, so I want to pretend for a moment that I had the ability to edit his speech before he went out on stage. Perhaps we can get to the heart of things by shaving off the distracting bits.
Let’s start by watching the actual speech.
It’s a little painful to watch. Clint seems to stumble a bit and make some disrespectful jokes about the president. At times he seems a little lost. But once again you have to admit that there were parts worth keeping.
Now, here is the version of the speech that I would have approved.
EASTWOOD: Thank you very much. Thank you. Thank you
very much. Save a little for Mitt.
I know what you are thinking. You are thinking, what’s a
movie tradesman doing out here? You know they are all left
wingers out there, left of Lenin. At least that is what people
think. That is not really the case. There are a lot of
conservative people, a lot of moderate people, Republicans,
Democrats, in Hollywood. It is just that the conservative
people by the nature of the word itself play closer to the vest.
They do not go around hot dogging it.
So — but they are there, believe me, they are there. I
just think, in fact, some of them around town, I saw John Voigt,
a lot of people around.
John’s here, an academy award winner. A terrific guy.
These people are all like-minded, like all of us.
So I — so I’ve got Mr. Obama sitting here. And
he’s — I
was going to ask him a couple of questions.
But — you know
about — I remember three and a half years ago, when Mr. Obama
won the election. And though I was not a big supporter, I was
watching that night when he was having that thing and they were
talking about hope and change and they were talking about, yes
we can, and it was dark outdoors, and it was nice, and people
were lighting candles.
They were saying, I just thought, this was great.
Everybody is trying, Oprah was crying.
I was even crying. And
then finally — and I
cried that hard since I found out that there
is [are] 23 million
people in this country.
Now that is something to cry for because that is a
national disgrace, and we haven’t done enough, obviously — this
administration hasn’t done enough to cure that.
they have is not strong enough, and I think possibly now it may
time for somebody else to come along and solve the problem.
So, Mr. President, how do you handle promises that you have
when you were running for election, and how do you handle them?
I mean, what do you say to people?
Do you just — you know
know — people were wondering — you don’t — handle that OK.
know even people in your own party were very disappointed when
didn’t close Gitmo. And I thought, well closing Gitmo — why
that, we spent so much money on it. But, I thought maybe as an
— what do you mean shut up?
OK, I thought maybe it was just because somebody had the
idea of trying terrorists in downtown New York City.
I’ve got to to hand it to you. I have to give credit where
credit is due. You did finally overrule that finally. And
now we are moving onward. I know you were against the war in
and that’s okay. But you thought the war in Afghanistan was OK.
know, I mean — you thought that was something worth doing. We
check with the Russians to see how did it — they did there for
But we did it, and it is something to be thought about, and
think that, when we get to maybe — I think you’ve mentioned
something about having a target date for bringing everybody
gave that target date, and I think Mr. Romney asked the only
question, you know, he says, “Why are you giving the date out
Why don’t you just bring them home tomorrow morning?”
And I thought — I thought, yeah — I am not going to shut
is my turn.
So anyway, we’re going to have — we’re going to have to
little chat about that. And then, I just wondered, all these
— I wondered about when the — what do you want me to tell
can’t tell him to do that. I can’t tell him to do that to
You’re crazy, you’re absolutely crazy. You’re getting as
Of course we all now Biden is the intellect of the
Kind of a grin with a body behind it.
But I just think that there is so much to be done, and I
that Mr. Romney and Mr. Ryan are two guys that can come along.
never thought it was a good idea for attorneys to be president,
I think attorneys are so busy — you know they’re
always taught to argue everything, always weigh everything,
weigh both sides.
EASTWOOD: They are always devil’s advocating this and
bifurcating this and bifurcating that. You know all that stuff.
But, I think it is maybe time — what do you think — for maybe
a businessman. How about that?
A stellar businessman.
Quote, unquote, “a stellar
And I think it’s that time. And I think if you just step
and Mr. Romney can kind of take over. You can maybe still
use a plane.
Though maybe a smaller one. Not that big gas guzzler you
are going around to colleges and talking about student loans and
stuff like that.
You are an — an ecological man. Why would you want to
drive that around?
OK, well anyway. All right, I’m sorry. I can’t do that to
I would just like to say something, ladies and gentlemen.
Something that I think is very important. It is that, you, we
— we own this country.
We — we own it. It is not you owning it, and not
politicians owning it. Politicians are employees of ours.
And — so — they are just going to come around and beg
for votes every few years. It is the same old deal. But I just
think it is important that you realize , that you’re the best in
the world. Whether you are a Democrat or Republican or whether
you’re libertarian or whatever, you are the best. And we should
not ever forget that. And when somebody does not do the job, we
got to let them go.
Okay, just remember that. And I’m speaking out for
everybody out there. It doesn’t hurt, we don’t have to be
(AUDIENCE MEMBER): (inaudible)
I do not say that word anymore. Well, maybe one last time.
We don’t have to be — what I’m saying, we do not have to
be metal (ph) masochists and vote for somebody that we don’t
really even want in office just because they seem to be nice
guys or maybe not so nice guys, if you look at some of the
recent ads going out there, I don’t know.
But OK. You want to make my day?
All right. I started, you finish it. Go ahead.
AUDIENCE: Make my day!
EASTWOOD: Thank you. Thank you very much.
See, there was a good speech in there.
Imagine that the United States of America was a person. It shouldn’t be too much of a stretch. Culture is sort of like personality and habit. Politics is like an individual’s worldview or perspective on things. Both a nation and a person can become demoralized by internal and external forces. And, just as a person has a soul, a nation seems to have a deeper core that defines and guides it. It means something to be an American; it means something to be America.
So you have this image in your head of America, the person. I would be curious to know what you see. What is America wearing, if anything, and what posture does he or she have? Let me tell you what I see.
I see a man who can’t stop looking side to side. He goes from left to right, and each time he turns his head it puts more strain on his neck as he turns it a little more. At the same time his eyes are looking down at the ground. For a brief moment, every now and then, he peeks up at the heavens, but it is only for a moment. His clothes are very stylish, and very expensive, but in his breast pocket is a notice saying that all of his possessions will soon be repossessed if he doesn’t pay his creditors. His heart is experiencing palpitations due to the stress of a serious identity crisis. He was raised a Christian, but has started to doubt its significance now that he is more mature and well off. His daughter wants to have an abortion and he’s equally torn by his love for her freedom to choose and his love for her unborn child. His son is gay, and he doesn’t know whether to kick him out of the house or celebrate with a parade. He carries a small document in his hand that begs him not to forget where he comes from and who he is, but his hand is so clenched around it that he hasn’t read it in years. This man has seen better days. But not all hope is lost.
Inside the man is an indomitable spirit. Despite his identity crisis and crippling debt and all forms of adversity, he carries within him a tested spirit. A spirit that has passed through many fires. A spirit that burns brightest when the world seems darkest. This man has suffered many hardships and come out stronger in the end, and for that reason, for the spirit within that transcends the baggage and the vitriol and the pettiness, he has real hope for a better life ahead. But as long as he carries the pride of his own self-importance, and refuses to acknowledge the Creator that made him in word and deed, he will continue to be a divided man with a sore neck.
I needed a change.
For those who have been following this blog from the start, you might remember that in the beginning (around March 2010) it had the heading of, Thoughts of a Post-Grad English Major. This lasted for about a year, until a friend explained to me why WordPress was better than blogger. It was also at a time when I felt that “English major” wasn’t the best label for myself a year after graduating. For those reasons I switched to WordPress and changed the heading to, Thoughts of a Post-Grad Twentysomething. This served me well for a time as I was indeed a twenty-something and I was very much adrift in the waters of post-graduate life. But now, at this stage in my life, I understand that it is appropriate to change things again.
The new heading reads, Thoughts of a Man Named Dave. Now, it isn’t as descriptive as the other two, but I think that’s just fine. It also doesn’t serve the purpose of telling people what this blog is really about in any creative way, but that’s also fine. I’m not trying to aim for a niche in the blogosphere (not now anyway) by writing about cooking or gardening (though I love gardening and will write about it). Most of the people who read this already know me, and those who don’t will hopefully come because something I write catches their eye. I have not been willing to focus on one topic, since I want to write about multiple topics. The new tagline for my blog does a good job of encapsulating my interests and some semblance of focus.
“Getting at the big picture of Life in America through faith, politics and other things you don’t talk about at the dinner table.”
I have written about gay marriage and abortion multiple times. I have also written about Bill Cosby and why Baby Boomers love Paul Blart: Mall Cop. Sometimes it is light and fluffy and other times it is heavy and serious. It can be the kind of thing you wouldn’t discuss over dinner, but I suppose that depends on who’s eating. I seem to have a keen interest in American culture in general, so it’s a safe bet that I’ll be writing about things that relate to it. I also have strong feelings and a clear position on many political matters. But the overriding thing, the deeper current that steers this ship, is my belief that Jesus Christ is who the Bible says he is. Anyone who recognizes that God is real and knowable will also understand that it affects everything about them. Think about it.
So here I am, and here is the latest incarnation of my blog.
More to follow.
P.S. For those who follow my blog or know me, you should understand why I chose this image of a man punching a gorilla. The Tiger/Gorilla Question
On two occasions I have written about abortion (An Inflammatory Issue: Abortion & Speaking for the Victims of Progress). For each of those postings I took great care to control my emotions and also the language that I used. It is too easy to slip into a righteous rant, and I wanted my thoughts to shine clearly. I bring this up because I am now about to dive into another volatile topic: gay marriage. Truthfully, I have avoided this issue because of how challenging it is to discuss. This is the hot button issue of our day, exposing our deepest beliefs regarding freedom, morality, religion, family, society, sexuality, and love. Like abortion, it is an issue that often defines a political position. And, also like abortion, it defies many attempts to discuss with a cool head. Though I can’t promise that I won’t offend, I can promise a most sincere effort to proceed with clarity and compassion. Here we go.
I’m interested in what is behind an opinion, or a value, or a belief. What is the primary force inside of you and me that shapes our characters and the nature of our thoughts and wills? To tackle the topic of gay marriage, I think it is most helpful to try to identify the primary forces at work in both parties, for and against. You may think I am being too ambitious or resorting to too much personal opinion, and perhaps that is the case. All I ask is that you consider what’s to follow and ask yourself if I’m completely nuts or if I have a leg to stand on.
The popular liberal position on gay marriage is that it’s good, natural, and nobody’s business. They see society as advancing in tolerance, freedom, and reason as more states legalize same-sex marriage. Legalized gay marriage is viewed as a victory for progress. Furthermore, those who oppose this movement are viewed as having out of touch beliefs that are largely informed by outdated values. Many who oppose gay marriage are influenced by their religions. Those influenced by religion are in large part viewed as religious fundamentalists, which means they interpret their holy book literally. Each of the three major world religions condemn homosexual lifestyles, so the opposition either takes a more liberal stance on their religion (allowing for the acceptance of homosexual behavior) or they dig in their heels and quote their ancient texts. Many liberals are critical of conservative Christians especially, calling them bigots, homophobes, and haters. Society as a whole is growing more tolerant of gays and gay marriage, and this is good for those people who have lived in fear of judgment. There are many cases of teen suicide related to bullying, and many of these are hate crimes linked to anti-gay sentiments. Accepting same-sex marriage paves the way for gays to live more freely and securely in a society that is just now shaking off its puritanical roots.
If you represent the position I just described, please feel free to critique or condemn what I just wrote. I’m sure there are elements I am missing or glossing over. I’m attempting to sum up a position that isn’t my own so it would be better if someone who supports gay marriage had input.
The popular conservative position is that gay marriage is bad, unnatural, and nobody’s business. They believe that family is the foundation of society and marriage is the foundation of family. Many conservatives are informed by traditional values, which are informed by religious values. They point to a long history of civilization, but mainly to the short history of America for evidence of the time-tested legitimacy for heterosexual marriage. They view their opponents as possessing a worldly morality, that is one formed by the trends and passions of modern society. These liberals are governed by their own passions and desire for personal freedom, and pay no respect to a higher standard of right and wrong. Freedom is their god, and they recklessly sacrifice traditional values on its altar. To many conservative Christians, liberals who favor gay marriage are attempting to redefine marriage and pass legislation that will shift our society’s standards further away from the standards of God and traditional American values.
Once again I am fitting these beliefs into a nutshell. There’s much more to say on both sides of the issue. But for now I want to leave them be and move onto my own beliefs on this matter.
I ask myself, what is the role of the Christian church in shaping America’s policies? It is one thing to view a particular way of life as sinful, but it is another to influence secular society by fighting for political power. Should Christians be able to speak about their critical views on homosexual behavior, absolutely. This wouldn’t be America if people couldn’t express their beliefs openly. Open expression doesn’t mean there aren’t consequences. It just means that the government doesn’t snuff it out of the public square. I think all reasonable people can agree that civil discourse on this and any other issue is essential.
Regarding the political fight to shape legislation, or to prevent legislation, I am less confident about my role. It is one thing to establish a common morality within the church, and it is another to try to establish one in the world.
Is it our place to fight for the highest seats of power? Is it our place to expect the same way of life from those who don’t know Jesus Christ? I think it is damaging for people to treat America like a church, as if everyone used to be Christian and we just have to knock some sense into them. I see many people like myself dreading the changes in society as if society is meant to reflect the status of the Christian church. Society as a whole is a part of the world, and even though we live in it and shape it, we can’t look to it like we would look to the body of Christ. The church is called to be set apart from the ways of the world. What happens when the church judges someone outside of it as if that person were a member? Is that what Jesus wants us to do? Or does he ask us to live for Him and model a righteous life? Maybe then we would appear as bright lights to a dark world.
To sum up my position,,,
I believe that those on both sides of the gay marriage issue should speak openly and courageously. We as Americans shape the world around us based on our values. Christians like myself should vote for those people who most closely reflect their values just as anyone else should. But when society shifts further away from biblical values, Christians are not meant to panic and dread as if the church itself were crumbling. The church is a people set apart, and cannot demand of the world that it live in submission to its principles. That doesn’t mean that we curl into a ball and die. It simply means that we expect one thing from the church and another from society. Since Americans have the freedom to shape their government, and as a result their society as a whole, every individual also shares in the responsibility of the result. For that reason religious and non-religious alike should take an active role in politics. But the Christian doesn’t look to a worldly nation for his or her spiritual affirmation. They look to God, and their brothers and sisters in Christ.
Is our country a Christian nation?
The first thing we need to explore is what it means to be Christian. If you were looking at the true definition of Christian you would find that it can only apply to a human being. Christians are followers of Jesus Christ who accept his identity as God, savior, and master of their lives. Jesus told his followers, “If you love me, you will obey what I command.”(John 14:15) Christians love Jesus and live a life that expresses love toward him. They still sin and fail regularly at imitating him, but at their core they are devoted to the struggle of seeking God in a fallen world. True Christians are living and active, so this means that CDs and books and movies cannot truly be Christian. They don’t have the life of God in them. In the same way a country cannot be truly Christian. Even if 100% of the citizenry were Christians, and all of the government’s policies were informed by Christian principles, what we would have is a very large Christian community composed of individual believers. The United States would not be Christian; its people would be Christian.
Now, all of that being said I know that when people call an object “Christian” they don’t believe that it is saved by Jesus. They likely mean that it has a message which somehow ties into God. Switchfoot is a Christian band. Their music is shaped by their beliefs and many call it Christian. In its own way it points to Christ, so I will say that when anything outside of a human being is labeled “Christian” it must in some way point to Jesus Christ.
The two working definitions of Christian that I will use for the rest of this post are:
- A human being who accepts Jesus Christ as their personal savior, which results in an inner transformation turning the individual, over a lifetime, into the likeness of Jesus Christ. This means their thoughts and actions will be increasingly like those of Jesus as they seek to know him. More than a title or affiliation or even religion, Christianity is giving all of yourself with the belief that God will give you his own life in return.
- Anything that is not a human that points to Jesus Christ as he is portrayed in the gospels. Examples are music, paintings, movies, books, culture, etc.
Is our country a Christian nation?
I have heard arguments from both sides regarding the Christian foundations of America. One side claims that the founding members of this country were largely Christian, or at least heavily informed by Christian principles. As a result they drafted our core documents with divine assistance from God and turned to Him in prayer before taking critical first steps as a nation. The other side points out that many of them were Deists (namely Thomas Jefferson who made his own Bible by taking out all that mystical stuff about miracles and resurrections) or simply non-religious like the Enlightenment hero, Benjamin Franklin. This side also is keen on emphasizing the separation of church and state, which they say is the intention of our founders. Taken even further, this separation is used as proof that the founders wanted religion far removed from the governing bodies of this land. So what’s the deal?
Based on what I’ve gathered, and trying really hard not to let my own bias taint my senses, I believe that Christianity did play a critical role in the formation of this country. But at the same time ideas shaped by the Enlightenment were used to craft our government structures. The Bible was not the central document through which the Constitution was formed. That being said, many of the men who had a hand in the beginning were devout Christians, so it is not correct to assume that they wanted Christians to be separated from government entirely. Their ideal government wouldn’t be one in which men didn’t allow their faith to play a role in their decisions. Religion would never be forced on anyone, but America would also not force the religious to deny their convictions once in public office. If you need some proof of someone in high office exercising their faith, just look to George Washington or Abraham Lincoln. American citizens elect these people to reflect their own values.
More important than where we were yesterday as a nation is where we are today. Does our culture look Christian? Do our policies look Christian? Are our people even Christian?
Certainly, the dominant culture in this country is far from reflecting Christian values. The American Dream at its core is about amassing worldly wealth and happiness so that you can have a comfortable life. Is this anything like what Christ meant when he said to his followers, ” If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.”? (Matthew 16:24) The values that we see on television are shallow and ungodly. Physical beauty and the vitality of youth is idolized and sex is used as a tool for profit. How many advertisers and television shows whore themselves in our living rooms? The internet spills over with porn with millions of men and women captivated by the dull lustful glow of their computer screens. This isn’t about gay marriage and abortion, though legalized abortion is perhaps the greatest noose around the neck of America’s spirit. This is about a culture of death. We live in a culture of death. In one moment we are thrilled by distant or digital violence and in the next promised that eternal beauty and health is attainable. Just buy this or watch this or read this. So much of our culture is based on avoiding the reality of our inevitable deaths. This is the opposite of the Christian life. Clearly we cannot call our culture “Christian” since it does little to point anyone to Jesus Christ.
But what about our people?
How many people who say they are Christians are truly followers of Christ? Say 70% of the country identified themselves as Christian. Of those, how many go to church maybe once or twice a year and live their lives as if they didn’t love Jesus? A conservative guess would be half. Just consider all of the people you know who call themselves Christian or Catholic. Of those, how many would you actually label as a legitimate follower of Jesus Christ? How many actually live as if God was the love of their life? I even recognize that I am in danger of falling into this category when I consider how little I resemble Jesus and how much I embody the culture in which I live.
The point I’m trying to make is that Christians, true believers who live for God, are not the majority in this country. Christians are in the minority. Many conservatives hold tightly to their traditional “Christian” values but their lives are far from the heart of God.
Most Americans are not Christian.
Is America a Christian nation? No. We were once much more united by Christian values, but we are currently far removed from that past. Our culture is not Christian. Our people are not Christian. And increasingly less so.
God moves in the hearts of people. What will become of ours?
Sometimes something is so obvious and ever-present that we forget it is there, like the sound of the fan inside your computer, or the socks you’re wearing. Like so much white noise, advertising is our barely-noticed constant companion. When you turn on your television, or use the internet, or open a magazine, or move the radio dial, or drive on the highway, or put on a branded piece of clothing, or walk in the city you are taking a bath in the storm of advertising that is soaking the world like a Second Flood. And like the First, it is making it harder to breathe the free air.
There are plenty of people who are more qualified than me when it comes to the issue of advertising as it relates to our society. That being said, I believe I am still able to assess the situation. A lifetime of perpetual exposure to the message of advertising juxtaposed with a well-developed counter-worldview informed by my Christian faith gives me, I am confident, the perspective needed to thoughtfully address this topic.
We live in the age of the 24-hour news cycle. CNN, FOX News, and MSNBC are the three major network news channels. Each also has a presence on the internet. Every day they compile stories to report, experts to analyze, and commentators to express opinions. FOX News is slanted to the right, MSNBC is slanted to the left, and CNN is center-left. These political biases attract different audiences. Each network is aware of their audience and tailors programming to attract more viewers. They are concerned with their ratings. Each day offers a fresh chance to expand their numbers. So, considering the political bias of their audience and the issues that cause people to “stay tuned”, these networks turn to vitriolic speech, violence, and the things that excite the ignoble side of our natures. Anything for the sponsors.
News and advertising should be like oil and water. The news is supposed to report true and relevant information, while advertising is supposed to get you to buy something by manipulating you on some level. News tells you how it is, and advertising tells you how they want you to see it. Unfortunately, news and advertising have bonded together, creating a monster that threatens our true perception of the world. Stories about murderers, rapists, pedophiles, alarming studies, and marital infidelity work to gather up viewers so that when the commercials role, the sponsors have an audience to preach to. On top of this choice selection of mankind’s worst deeds, the networks also infuse an unhealthy dose of political opinion. Talking about how Obama is an anti-American socialist (Glenn Beck) really gets the blood of conservatives going, just like talking about how Scott Brown is a “homophobic, racist, reactionary, ex-nude model, teabagging supporter of violence against woman and against politicians with whom he disagrees”(Keith Olbermann) gets the liberals fired up. All of this hate speech serves to further divide an already divided America. Instead of reaching out and attempting to understand those who believe an opposing ideology, we are being conditioned to view them as the enemy who seeks to destroy our way of life. And this is because it is good for ratings.
Watch this, and then watch specifically at 8:40. What does the host tell Jon Stewart? Then pay attention to the items Wolf Blitzer brings up during the commercial.
Advertising is about showing people that they need the product that you’re selling. You do this by convincing them that they will be happier, healthier, or prettier once they have made the purchase. The Christian idea of being content with what you have, and not comparing yourself to other people, or envying their status or worldly possessions is not compatible with most forms of advertising (Unless you’re selling a book to Christians). Advertisements tell you that you should not be satisfied until you have more X, or better Y. You’ve heard the saying, “keeping up with the Jones’.” Advertising depends on you feeling inadequate next to your neighbor. Now, consider the daily onslaught that we endure from advertisements. Don’t you think day after day, year after year of this message has a significant effect on our perception of ourselves and the world? I know we all like to think that we’re too clever to be fooled by ads, but this kind of incessant indoctrination has to shape our minds, at least somewhat. We look at a country like North Korea with all of its government propaganda and we feel disgusted, but how do we feel about the corporate propaganda that has infiltrated every corner of our lives?
I’m not about to prescribe a cure for virulent advertising. It serves a necessary function in our society. I simply want to address the reality of it, and cause you to think about its presence in our daily lives. What does it do to the integrity of the news? What does it do to our understanding of the world? How does it play into our basest natures?
How will you ride out this storm?