Whether we realize it or not, we are in a life and death struggle for the minds and souls of our people. All the old cultural anchors that once kept us fast are being ripped from the ocean floor, and we have become a ship adrift. The old definitions of marriage and gender, patriotism and honor, right and wrong are under assault. As a bastion of traditionalism and a defender of the old ways, the Church is also attacked.
Christians and the Christian faith are often ridiculed by the intelligentsia. People of faith are sometime treated as intellectual Neanderthals who fail to accept the obvious scientific truth that there is no God. Also, Christians are frequently subjected to misrepresentation and derision by popular cultural celebrities. In the cinema they are often pictured as ignorant frauds or arrogant, judgmental hypocrites.
What is the truth about Christians? Are these vicious attacks justified?
First, who are the Christians? Sometime the United States is referred to as a Christian nation, but do we deserve that label? Culturally, we are the heirs of Western European civilization, and our laws and mores continue to be strongly influenced by Judeo-Christian ethics; but how many of our citizens are professing Christians? Less than half our people regularly attend worship services, and not all who attend are believers. Many nominal Christians live daily lives that do not reflect even minimal adherence to Christian standards. In the current secular and often hostile environment, faithful Christians often tend think of themselves as a misunderstood minority; but they always have hope, and they consider it their duty, their joy, and their honor to shine a light of truth in this dark world.
Christians know that all men and women are sinners. The Christian who denies his or her sinfulness has no understanding of the faith. Christians also believe that we are not to stand in judgment of others for their sins. Followers of Christ strive to live righteously, but all fall short of being the persons God wants them to be, and they depend on God’s mercy and Christ’s sacrifice for salvation. Occasionally there are ignorant frauds and arrogant, judgmental hypocrites who profess themselves to be Christians, and sometimes evil men don the robes of ministers and priests. To portray these persons as representing the typical Christian clergyman or layman is a gross distortion of truth. No church is perfect, but most pastors and parishioners are humble, loving, God-fearing citizens.
Christians profess a faith based on the Bible, both Old and New Testaments. Some believe these texts literally, others exercise more latitude in their interpretation. Conservative Christian hold the Holy Scriptures to be divinely inspired and unchangeable. In more liberal Christian churches their approach to the Bible is much akin to a progressive judge’s view of the United States Constitution, i.e., it must bend with the times.
Christian faith is not blind adherence to an ancient dogma. There is overwhelming evidence that the New Testament narratives of the life and ministry of Jesus and his apostles are true. Examine the story of the greatest event of all time, the resurrection of Jesus. How can one study the facts and deny the truth of this miracle? Read the accounts of the apostles, and you will realize that these were real men, with all their weaknesses, who were inspired by their risen Savior to go out and change the world. Study the writings of brilliant Christian teachers and philosophers over the ages, and be edified.
There are a plethora of Christian denominations. The two great church schisms came with the Catholic-Orthodox divide after the fall of the western Roman empire followed some centuries later by the Protestant Reformation of the 16th Century. The superfluity of Protestant bodies arising after that time is largely because of different interpretations of or different emphases on certain portions of the Bible. In the Roman Catholic Church, tradition plays a role almost equal to that of Holy Scriptures, and important Catholic beliefs such as purgatory, priestly celibacy, etc. are extra-Biblical. Nearly all churches profess belief in the divinity of Jesus Christ and His death on the cross as an atonement for our sins. Denominations usually have a statement of faith based on the ancient Christian confessionals, but the average churchgoer is no theologian and may have little knowledge of Church history or other matters beyond the basics. Believers put their trust in God and Christ and take comfort in the fellowship of the faithful.
There are certain scriptural texts that are very important to Christians. Among these, I cite:
“What doth Jehovah require of you, but to do justly, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” Micah 6:8
“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the great and foremost commandment. The second is like it, you shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend the whole law and the prophets.” Matthew 22:37-39
“Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.” Matthew 25:40
“God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” John 3:16
“I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 8:38-39
“He is risen.” Mark 16:6
Another Christian believer would probably cite an entirely different set of verses. Sources of inspiration run very deep.
In this increasingly nihilistic and hedonistic society, there are many who have never attended church, and often they have a very distorted view of Christianity, the church, and individual Christians. As a professing Christian, I can only give my perspective from one very small corner of the vast congregation of believers. No denominational or church leader speaks for Christians in general. There are many opinions and many voices. A celebrated leader such as the late Reverend Billy Graham could speak with a certain level of authority and influence, and the Pope, as leader of the largest united Christian denomination, has an important voice in spiritual and civil counsels, but no one speaker or organization can claim to be the voice of the Christian community.
A few years ago, I engaged in a running correspondence with a self-proclaimed agnostic/humanist. I do not know whether his opinions and attitudes are typical of a non-believer, but I will use them as a launching point for my defense of Christianity. I refer to this agnostic as Nick.
Nick: “I believe that religion should not be imposed on those who do not share those beliefs.”
Response: “I agree that religious beliefs should not be imposed on anyone. I don’t believe they can be. You can force people to go to chapel, to listen to religious messages, and to be baptized, but none of these things makes a person a true believer. In the early days of Christianity some rulers and military leaders, either from conviction or for political reasons, decided to profess the Christian faith, and they often forced or persuaded their subjects to be baptized also. That didn’t stop their soldiers from pillage, rape and murder, now in the name of Christ. It gave Christianity a bad name.”
Nick: “I believe in the firm separation of church and state. Religion does not belong in school. If you want to teach morals, do it at home.”
Response: “In the atheistic or agnostic schools which you would appear to favor, what sort of morals would be promoted to guide student conduct? On whose philosophy or beliefs would these ethical standards be based?”
Nick: “Why do you equate ethics to religion? I believe society through open debate can set ethical standards. It seems to me that basic values and ethics can be taught without the religious connotation.”
Response: “Do you really believe that ethics can be based solely on human reason? If so, I would remind you that at the same time some French revolutionaries in 1792 Paris were building a statue to Reason, other revolutionaries were sharpening the guillotine. The Soviet Union had its atheistic ethics, and think of the millions of Soviet Citizens slaughtered under that Communist regime. What about Nazi ethics?”
Nick: “More people have died in the name of religion than any other reason.”
Response: “That statement is frequently made, but it is demonstrably false. Think of the great killers of history. What religion was Genghis Khan promoting? What about Pol Pot? Who did Hitler worship? Was Stalin the atheist killing in the name of God? You can cite the Crusades, the Muslim wars, and the 16th Century religious conflicts as examples of religious killings, but these aberrations don’t begin to measure up to the countless millions killed by Hitler and Stalin.”
Nick: “Christians are forcing their beliefs on the country today . . . . .”
Response:” I believe you agree that Christians, just like other citizens, have a right and even a civic duty to express their opinions about the important issues of the day. . . . I do not think that Christians are trying to impose their beliefs on others, but their faith compels them to proclaim the good news of God’s redeeming love for mankind.”
Nick: “Where are the Christian voices demanding that Congress deal with issues that daily affect the lives of countless individuals who suffer poverty and poor health? Instead Christians propose flag burning amendments, marriage amendments, etc. etc. etc. How as a nation do we justify the billions spend on trumped up wars overseas when people are living in sub-standard housing. Consider what we could have done with the billions wasted on war if we had spent it for education, housing, health care, proper nutrition, care for the children, the elderly and those that can’t help themselves. Where is the outrage from the Christian community? It may be cynical, but ‘Who would Jesus Bomb?’ Where are the Christian voices?”
Response: “Nick, it is obvious that you misunderstand Christians, the Church, and how the Christian community functions. During church services, at least those church services I have attended over the past 80 plus years, almost never has there been any discussion of controversial subjects such politics, military matters, public housing, health care, etc. The emphasis in evangelical, conservative, Bible-believing churches is on worshiping God and teaching the Bible. The Bible has little to say about homosexuality (I’ve never heard a sermon on the subject), nothing specific to say about abortion (only about the sanctify of life), and only addresses education in referring to the responsibility of parents to teach their children about God. Jesus Christ never addressed any of these subjects directly, and not all conservative Christians have the same positions on the social issues that you mention. As you know, the issues can be very complex, and there may be valid moral arguments on various sides. You condemn Christians for not speaking out enough on the really important issues that our country faces today; but, as I said, the basic job of a church is to proclaim God’s word — which calls us to love all men, to care for our neighbor, etc. Individual Christians, as good citizens of this nation, speak up and get involved in all social causes. Most churches have some form of outreach to the poor, but it is usually left to the individual to translate his or her Christian beliefs into social action and moral suasion — and they do get involved. Over the years Christians led the charge to abolish slavery, improve health care (think of all the Christian hospitals), educate the people (most of our prestigious universities were founded by Christian groups even though they are largely secular today), and establish justice. Christians, as is true with other citizens, fail to do all they could and should do, and there is no universal agreement on the best way to address many of the problems that confront us (how to fight poverty without creating dependence, how to confront Islamic terrorism, etc.). I’m sure we have different opinions on these several subjects, but I would hope that we all have the same end goals in mind.”
These are some highlights from my back and forth correspondence with Nick the agnostic.
There are more vicious attackers than Nick. Think, for instance, of the well-known atheist Richard Dawkins, author of The Blind Watchmaker and The God Delusion. Dawkins rips into Christians with unholy glee and seemingly delights in castigating them as deluded fools or charlatans. He presents his arguments as though he possessed impeccable scientific credentials and had the unwavering support of the entire scientific establishment. That is not true. There are scientists with academic reputations far more impressive than Dawkins’ who stand up for the Christian faith. Nevertheless, Dawkins has his supporters.
The truth is, neither atheistic scientists nor people of faith have all the answers.
Astronomers and cosmologists study the universe, and they have made astounding discoveries. Still, no scientist can explain why and how the universe all began. Nor has anyone provide a satisfactory scientific explanation for the origin of life. Theories abound, and atheists like Dawkins say it was all the result of an undirected series of natural processes in which an intelligent designer (God) played no part. But the more science discovers, the more questions arise.
Christian theologians also have their theories, and in their view all the world around us and man himself are products of the mind of God. They are less certain about God’s role in the ongoing processes of history, and there are various interpretation of Holy Scriptures on this point.
As for me, I cannot imagine a world that has no meaning – a life that has no purpose. I also believe that none of us, neither scientist nor philosopher, can wrap his or her mind around God. How can one fully understand a spiritual being that exists inside and outside of time and space and everything else which circumscribes our limited concept of reality? None of us can conceive of the majesty and greatness of God. The Bible gives us hints, but, as Paul the Apostle wrote, we “see through the glass darkly.”
Despite our limited understanding, we Christians believe in a Creator God and his beloved Son, Jesus the Messiah. And we believe that God loves us and wishes us to be his spiritual children. To us, that is much more logical and comforting than to believe in a purposeless existence in an accidental universe.
The ultimate question thus arises. Do we follow the tenets of scientific materialism, or do we seek spiritual answers? Those who wish to do so may make science their god, but, in the words of Joshua, “as for me and my house, we will follow the Lord.”
In Ephesians 6:12, Paul the Apostle wrote, “our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places.”
We defenders of the faith are in that struggle now. Never has the battle been more fierce.
May God help us in the fight.