People like me, who grew up being warned in grade school about the ideologies of socialism and communism, cannot imagine voting for someone who advocates nationalized medicine and free contraception for all. These concepts are integral to statist thinking, and I grew up rejecting that whole idea in favor of the risks and rewards of individual liberty. It is hard for me to accept the fact that in my church the pastor supports the political ideas of socialism, because he believes it is what Jesus would want. From a very early age my spiritual teachers showed me how the Bible advocates individual accountability, not submission to the state or dependency on the state.
So the title of my post fits my stated objective of writing about the way we live our faith in a world shaped by secular thinking. I am not looking ahead to the next election with the mantra “Wait till next time!” I am looking for an explanation of a phenomenon that does not make sense to me. I truly cannot imagine how a committed Christian could vote for a president who advocates what this one advocates, yet I have friends who are committed Christians who did exactly that. It feels to me as if somebody ripped out half the pages in the Bible in order to get along with the culture.
Secular thinking is the heart of socialism, and as our culture has increasingly demanded secular standards in the public forum, it has also accepted socialist ideas as normal. Secular morality, for example, derives from consensus among humans about human experience. Christian morality derives from the revelation of God to humans as recorded in the Bible. All individual revelations must be measured against the biblical teachings to which all Christians have access. Biblical teaching is considered to be absolute truth, not a waypoint in an evolutionary process that changes with the time. Secular standards, however, morph with the experience and objectives of the population. Secular standards very much change with the times, and that is why Christians are accused by secular thinkers of being so often “on the wrong side of history.” Christians, of course, think that accusation is completely meaningless. Those who consider the standards expressed in the founding documents of the nation to be normative, do not think those standards change with the times. Those who think that the founding documents can legitimately be considered to be out of date, just as the Bible can be considered to be out of date, look at socialism as a good way for political structures to accomplish what biblical morals have not accomplished.
I find it interesting that secular thinkers often make a distinction between themselves and humanists, because they know that there are religious people who consider themselves to be religious humanists. Secular humanist thinkers separate themselves from religious humanist thinkers. It is the religious humanists that muddy the political waters for Christians. Religious humanists claim to believe in a higher power, and they accept strength and blessing from this higher power, but it seems not to expect anything from them. In fact, the American Humanist Association defines religion as “that which serves the personal and social needs of a group of people sharing the same philosophical worldview.”
Using this definition, religious humanists gather for inspirational and motivational talks, sing happy songs, celebrate weddings, mourn at funerals, and seek counsel from their pastors. If they use the Bible, it is simply one source of wisdom and inspiration. The god they serve doesn’t ask them to deny themselves. This god’s ideas are taken into account along with the experience and advice of philosophical colleagues, but this god does not ask them to bear a cross daily.
In fact, for religious humanists, the whole idea of a god that makes rules and demands is out of kilter. For them, the purpose of religion is to serve the needs of people. For them, no doctrine transcends the fact that people’s needs must be met by religion in order to call it a religion. For them, a religion that makes demands that some people cannot or will not meet is a bad religion. Religious humanism is precisely where the terms “inclusive” and “diverse” arose.
Religious humanism is the force that has pushed the political changes that Barak Obama’s presidency has brought to the country. For religious humanism, conservative Constitutional interpretation is exactly like having religious doctrines that people don’t like. For these thinkers, it is not reasonable to limit the meaning of the Constitution, or the Bible, to its original intent. The original people and the original days are all past. We should use these words in new ways, and so they do. Suddenly the Bible’s proscriptions against homosexuality do no mean that homosexuality is sinful. Suddenly the Constitution’s statement that the federal government has only the powers listed in the Constitution does not limit the federal government anymore. This frame of mind explains why my friend can say that she voted for Barack Obama after she asked, “What would Jesus do?” People did not so much vote for Barack Obama because he promised change as they voted for him because they had already changed.
Many people in the US hold conservative religious values derived by the same kind of logic that shape their conservative political values. They believe that the Constitution and the Bible were written in words that have permanent meanings. They consider the documents to be “living” in the sense that they have as much relevance and value today as they had when they were written. They do not consider that the definitions of the words are “living” in the sense that each generation can redefine the words to fit its own perceived “needs.” Humanist thinking, whether religious or not, is the source of the idea that the timelessness of the documents requires creative re-interpretation for each generation. It is this view of both biblical and political truths that has resulted in the re-election of Barack Obama.
The numbers of people who claim that they are secularists increases daily. A recent poll revealed that many people under thirty claim no connection with any religion, and therefore it is reasonable to assume that their secular worldview shapes their political choices as well. People who advocate that government operate by definitions that prevailed when the founding documents were written will find it quite difficult to engage in meaningful political or religious dialogue with people for whom all those definitions are subject to change with the passage of time. Christians who are committed to the absolute truth of the Bible and who likewise are committed to the historical definitions of the founding documents of the USA are in for a rough ride. It is a serious test of our commitment to our faith, and we will be asked in a thousand different ways to obey government rather than our faith. If you observe or experience such a test, please comment on this blog. We still have freedom of speech, so let’s use it to build up one another.
What is the biggest faith challenge produced by political pressure that you have experienced or observed in the past week?
- Newly Elected Congress Told: Don’t Join Prayer Caucus (americanhumanist.org)
- HumanistLife : The difference between religious freedom and religious privilege (humanistlife.org.uk)