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
“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
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?
“Americans are by all measures a deeply religious people, but they are also deeply ignorant about religion,” writes Laurie Goodstein in her article written for The New York Times, Basic Religion Test Stumps Many Americans. The survey found that atheists, Jews, and Mormons were more knowledgeable than Christians regarding a wide range of religious topics. On average, atheists answered about five more questions correctly (Out of thirty-two questions) than Protestants and Catholics.
Why does this matter?
I have a habit of going on CNN.com and reading articles having to do with religion. But more than the contents of the articles, I am interested in the reader comments. Here are a few that caught my attention. These are based on a CNN article written about the same survey.
“I just laughed and shook my head when I read: “For example, it’s not evangelicals or Catholics who did best – it’s atheists and agnostics.” Well yeah, there’s a surprise! This is what’s so damm scary about religion; people blindly following whatever they’re told without question or doubt. Only education and embracing other cultures will erase the ignorance that religion has cursed on our societies. I’m a proud atheist!”
“Atheists know more about religions than religious people. And it’s based on this knowledge that they choose not to believe it. So is it implied that religious people are too ignorant to know any better?”
“And it’s painfully obvious that the poorer and less educated a population is, here in the U.S. as well as in other 3rd world countries, the more religious they tend to be. Naturally, this belief in a wonderful, magical afterlife gives them incentive to get through the drudgery of their lives here on Earth. I say that’s fine if it gets them through the day, but in the end they will have suffered a less robust life based on their ignorance and, to top it off, they’ll rot in the ground and turn to dust just like everyone else. There is no grand prize awaiting behind door number three!! Live life to the fullest NOW!”
“Religion is slowly leaving. Now speed up.”
“Turn churches into museums. Gorgeous, historical architecture, but nothing good ever came OUT of them.”
“How do you know a teaching is false, if you don’t even know what the teaching is? Rejecting information without understanding it is willful ignorance.”
When I read through the comments after these types of articles I usually find a few ideas repeated in different ways.
- The more educated a person, the less likely they are to be religious.
- Believing in God and/or an afterlife is silly.
- Science and technological progress are making religion an unnecessary evil.
- Reason and faith do not go together.
I encourage you to search through CNN’s online archives to read these comments. Sure, there are a few people who represent the faithful, but the overwhelming majority appear to stand opposed to religion. The few who stick up for their faith are usually clumsy with their words and quickly overtaken by the objectors. It is a rare find to come across an articulate Christian with deep conviction about the faith they live by. At least in this realm.
In the beginning, followers of Christ were heavily persecuted for their beliefs. Most of Jesus’ twelve disciples (Later apostles) were put to death in a number of agonizing ways. These first believers carried the message of the gospel (that God has lived among us, and shown us how to live, and provided Himself as a means to save us from sin and the things that ensnare us through his death and Resurrection) After this came two-thousand years of church history. Christianity became Christendom (when government and society came to be defined by the church) and the foundation for Western civilization (even though it started as an eastern religion). Why am I saying all of this? Because modern American Christians are the result of all this history. The first Christians were persecuted heavily and had to be ready to die for their faith in Jesus. Modern American Christians are largely very comfortable. And with this comfort comes a tendency toward ignorance. I am a part of this. I admit it. I am too comfortable.
One who has to live by faith every day in order to struggle through life has more than “religious knowledge.” They have experience with the undeniable presence of God.
My father once told me about a Chinese Christian who came on American television to speak with a prominent pastor. The pastor told the Chinese man that they were concerned for their safety due to persecution, and prayed for them often. But the man of faith quickly responded, The Holy Spirit has told us to pray for the church in America. We are persecuted, but we are strong in the faith, and led by the Spirit. The pastor broke out in tears, recognizing how true this man’s words were.
A lack of religious knowledge does not concern me. What concerns me is a lack of spiritual conviction. I believe this survey reveals a symptom of a more serious ailment.