Tag Archives: culture wars

I am delighted to feature a post that says what needs to be said, and says it very well.

What Happens when your Worldview is Built Upon a Free Lunch

Ben Woodfinden is a graduate student at Carleton University in Ottawa, Canada working towards an MA in Political Philosophy. His research interests include the origins of modernity and the relationship between religion and politics. Ben holds a Bachelor of Arts from Carleton.

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Truth, the First Weapon

The major reason that the events at Benghazi in 2012, now nearly nine months ago are still headline news is a deficit of truth. Many people feel betrayed and disappointed, even alarmed, by administration speakers who avoid giving the facts about Benghazi to the citizens. Some people believe that misinformation provided by individuals speaking for the administration was deliberate, and the specter of uncovering lies by senior officials raises other horrifying images, including the moment when Richard Nixon resigned from the presidency in disgrace.

We all want truth and expect truth and even normally assume truth when someone speaks. That fact actually makes it easy to deceive us. Salesmen have a bad reputation because they often find ways to speak the truth in words that lead a prospective buyer to the wrong conclusion. If a sales representative says to a prospective customer, “This price won’t be available next week,” the customer assumes that the price will be higher next week. The words sound like a friendly, helpful warning that to hesitate is to lose, and the customer may rush into a poorly-considered purchase, only to discover that when next week comes, the price is lower. The salesman did not lie, but he certainly deceived.

People don’t like to be deceived. Even though people play little games with their own minds by claiming there is a difference between a “white lie” and a “black lie,” nobody likes the moment when unpleasant truth shines through a web of deception. If, for example, someone provided incontrovertible evidence that the President of the United States knowingly and deliberately withheld military assistance from the beleaguered Americans in Benghazi, the deceptive words that have hid that truth would only make the discovery of the truth more disturbing. A failure to speak truth is at the root of many broken relationships and broken nations.

Truth is at the root of the name of God, given to Moses at the burning bush. You may remember that God had a very tough job for Moses after he got Moses to pay attention. Moses recognized right away how impossible this job was, because he knew the pharaoh of Egypt personally, having grown up in Pharaoh’s household. Moses tried repeatedly to weasel out of the assignment, but God would not relent. Moses’ life story would not make him very credible to the Israelites, and he knew it. They would want to know why they should believe that God had sent him. They had every reason to believe he was a spy for the pharaoh, even though they knew that Moses had left Egypt as a fugitive from Pharaoh. Why should they believe that Moses had actually escaped justice at Pharaoh’s hand and committed himself to help them escape as well? Moses demanded of God, “If I come to the people of Israel and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what shall I say to them?” (Exodus 3:13)

God’s answer to Moses was “I am who I am.” (Exodus 3:14) In other words, God said, “I am exactly who you think I am, I am the One I appear to be. You were stopped in your tracks by a miraculous phenomenon – a bush on fire that did not burn up. Who do you think can do that?” Jesus, God in the flesh, later said the same thing in words that clarify the meaning of God’s words to Moses. Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth and the life.” Bottom line: God is Truth. You can trust God. You can trust God’s words and God’s messages and God’s promises. If God says, “I am with you,” he will be there, because he doesn’t just speak truth; God is truth.

Maybe this is why Paul listed the “belt of truth” first when he was naming the weapons and protective armor God has given us for our lifework of combat with evil. If Paul had been standing behind Moses at the burning bush, listening to the call of God to an impossible job, Paul would certainly have recognized the experience. God did the same thing to him. After Paul’s amazing experience with Christ near Damascus, a man named Ananias came with a message. The message God gave to Ananias for Paul was this: “I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.” (Acts 9:16) That is not the kind of message people like to receive. They would rather hear, “Your dreams are about to come true. Dream it and do it. You can get rich, because God wants you to be rich while you have a good time.” That is not the message God gave to either Moses or Paul. They were both asked to march onto a battlefield where evil was lying in wait for them, and both of them were told to speak and live the truth.

If Paul had been standing behind Moses when Moses received his call, Paul might have immediately told Moses what he told the Ephesians who were engaged in the same battle. Paul wrote, “we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” (Ephesians 6:12) Moses was headed to Egypt to lead a battle with Pharaoh, who thought he was a god. Paul traveled over much of the Roman empire battling what might have appeared to be political and cultural pressures, but they were all headed up by an emperor who thought he was a god.

Paul would have told Moses that his first weapon in confronting Pharaoh was truth. The truth God spoke when he said, “I am who I am.”  When Paul wrote to the Ephesians, he said, “Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth.” (Ephesians 6:14) That is ultimately what won the day against Pharaoh. The Egyptian pharaoh actually thought he was the son of one of the gods in the Egyptian pantheon. Paul would have told Moses, “Just tell the truth about God who is Truth, and all those false gods will be defeated.”  Ultimately, after Moses stood firm and spoke truth, Pharaoh died along with his army, demonstrating the ultimate truth that he was not a god. God, Truth, repelled the lie of Egypt’s gods and the lie that Pharaoh was a god. With that truth established, Israel could see the real truth and move forward in God’s plan.

Paul died at the order of the Roman emperor, who still thought he was a god. Yet two thousand years later, the Roman Empire is history, while God’s church, those who believe and speak God’s truth, outnumber any other religion on the face of the earth, and growing daily.

God has provided Christians with many weapons in the war against evil. Probably the most undervalued weapon of all is truth.

What faith challenge or cultural challenge faces you today? How could you use truth as a weapon in this conflict? Add your comment to the conversation and share your thoughts with others.

Can Christians Win a Culture War?

Recent surveys of the US population tell us that more and more people who self-identify as Christians readily confess that they seldom or never attend church. Most Christian denominations could have told us that without conducting any surveys; they simply need to look at all the empty pews on Sunday morning, pews that once barely contained the numbers who gathered there regularly for worship. In the face of increasing numbers of Americans who simply answer “none” to questions about religious connections, the decline in the most conspicuous behavior related to a church connection raises two questions that must be addressed. First, what is the point of church attendance? Second, does a decline in that behavior have any impact on the outcome of conflicts between the culture and the free expression of Christian faith?

First, the point of church attendance is somewhat like that of regular gym workouts for the body. A person who joins a gym and never again sets foot in it is unlikely to achieve any goals such as muscle toning, strength building, or an increase in physical endurance. A person who joins a church and never again sets foot in it is unlikely to develop in understanding of Christian discipleship as a way of life, is not likely to be a good spokesman for the absolute truths that are tenets of the faith, and is highly unlikely to be willing to endure cultural and political ostracism on behalf of the faith.

Second, given that the person who does not attend church regularly is weak on all the central principles of the faith, this person is probably not likely even to recognize that there is a conflict between the culture and the faith. A person whose church attendance is classified “seldom or never” almost certainly absorbs the cultural trends and initiatives and style of thinking about the issues, never realizing when those trends and styles are directly contradictory to the faith he claims.

Pollsters focus on church attendance precisely because this behavior is public. Anyone who wanted to know if someone attends church could verify the truth for himself. Churches open their doors to all; it would be most peculiar if someone came to the door of a church and was turned away. However, the public nature of this expression of faith has led the culture, particularly the segment with no religious connections, to conclude that church attendance IS the faith. This misconception is expressed most notably in a federal regulation that defines a “religious employer” as a church or house of worship. This definition is mirrored in writings on atheist and secular websites, where the term worship is considered to be equivalent to religion.

Why should a Christian attend worship regularly if worship is not the same thing as religion? There are several reasons.

  • ·         Attending church nourishes a relationship with Christ. Worship is a crucial element of faith, even though it is not the only element. Christians put their faith in God, the Mysterious Three in One, and in church on Sunday morning, God is the center of attention. In prayer, hymns, Bible readings, preaching, symbols, and yes, rituals within the worship experience, God is the focus. If Christian worship is not all about God, then it is not Christian worship.
  • ·         Attending church nourishes a relationship with other Christians. This item is very often dismissed by people who visit a church. They either conclude that they “didn’t get anything out of it,” or that one or more people they saw were hypocrites. Churches must be filled with hypocrites or there won’t be any people there at all. There is a sense in which it can safely be said that every Christian is a hypocrite. Lutherans say that we are all simultaneously sinful saints and saintly sinners. Every church is full of people who do not live up the best Christian standards, but the fellowship sustained by worshiping together nourishes commitment to those standards and to the effort and self-discipline required to achieve them. As for someone who claims not to “get anything” out of worship, it must be said that worship is not about “giving” anything to the congregation; it is about giving to God.
  • ·         The Lord’s Supper is as essential to Christian health as good nutrition is to your body. This is the element of worship where a Christian actually does receive something, and it is a precious something. In this meal, Christ gives us his very body and blood, the body broken and the blood shed on the cross. This meal strengthens us and reminds us what he did for us. It feeds our zeal and courage to live and speak our faith with confidence.

Church membership and attendance have numerous other benefits for a Christian who wants to be effective when the culture attempts to suppress the free expression of our faith in the streets and byways, at work, in the gym, in stores and doctors’ offices. None of the benefits of attendance are likely to develop if a person attends in the spirit of checking off an appointment. The question pollsters ask is about attendance, but the value is not in the definition of the word attendance; the value is what happens when the Christian is actively involved in the mission of the church nourished by education and guidance in the principles and practices of the faith.

Can Christians win a culture war? Until recently, the influence of Christian faith, practice and even vocabulary was dominant in the culture of the US, so there wasn’t much of a culture war. The culture wars have increased dramatically during the last twenty or thirty years. The cultural changes reflect in part the fact that more people feel free to say they have no religious connections along with a real decline in such connections. It is hard to predict how trending will continue over the next twenty or thirty years. However, it is quite certain that no Christian who confuses the normal cultural values in the US with the values and teachings of Christianity will be able to refute, reject and repel aggressive assaults on Christian values.

Those of us who think deeply and seriously about the meaning of these conflicts must pray and work to invite and attract Christians to be active participants in the churches to which they allege connections. It isn’t really something unique to this century. It is actually simple obedience to Jesus’ call to make disciples. Making a disciple goes way beyond simply persuading someone to pray to receive Christ. Making disciples does not end with good annual statistics for baptisms. We make disciples when we are constantly and consistently mentoring new Christians in the faith while helping long-time Christians to mature and take on leadership of newer disciples. This is what happens when people regularly “attend” church. If we do these things, then more Christians will be effective representatives of the faith when culture and Christianity conflict.

What Is A Christian Doing in Dirty Politics?

I have a wonderful friend who tells me that she does not want any part of politics. She does not want to hear about it. She does not want to talk about it. She believes that too many participants in politics are driven by hate. She is affronted by behavior and speech she regards as venomous.

Many Christians feel that way. Some do engage in the national conversations on topics such as taxation, budgets, social services and so forth, but my friend comments that when Christians say something, it is likely to be hate-filled speech. While I disagree that the political speech of most Christians is hate-filled, I did stop and take a closer look after she made that statement. I observed a couple of disappointing truths.

First, many Christians actually do believe that Christianity has the right and responsibility to dominate the culture. Secular thinkers complain that when Christians assert their right to express their faith, they are actually asserting cultural dominance. The secular thinkers say that Christians do not want “religious freedom.” Secular thinkers believe that Christians want “religious primacy.” The assumption by many Christians that cultural norms which held firm for more than two hundred years should continue unabated into the foreseeable future fuels the secular concern. The demographics tell us that the proportion of Christians in the population is declining as the proportion of secular thinkers is increasing, and the natural consequence of changing proportions is cultural change. Most human beings resist change, especially when it is uncomfortable change, and there are a lot of uncomfortable Christians in the culture of the USA.

Second, while I reject the accusation that Christians who speak out against cultural changes that are inimical to Christian teaching are venomous, I do observe that many are whiny. The sense that somebody stole the culture while we were not looking fuels that attitude. Whatever the explanation is, it won’t pass muster as justification for whining. Christians who whine are not doing any favors for the faith they want to promote.

Without going into the history of the declining Christian demographic, it is still proper to note that there is ample evidence that the founders of this country were predominantly Christian, and that those who were not Christian nevertheless believed that the God Christians worship existed and deserved respect. That is the worldview that shaped the nation for more than two hundred years.

Today, however, there are a couple of other worldviews that compete with Christianity for dominance: secular thinking and Islam. Christians who feel pressure to stop speaking and acting like a Christian in public are responding to the pressure from those two worldviews, but they are not always responding with the grace that the Bible tells us should be characteristic of Christians. A whiny victim mentality is not a testimony to our loving, victorious Christ, the One whose name shapes our name.

Just as Christ’s s name is embedded in the name of our religion, Christ himself is embedded in each believer. Paul wrote, “Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?” (1 Corinthians 3:16) If the Holy Spirit is living in us, then our words and deeds ought to testify to that truth. We are called to bring the kingdom of God near to everyone we meet, and whiny complaints about ‘the war on Christmas’ and other such issues do not bring people near to the love that sent Christ to the cross. It almost seems as if Christians in general have become quite Pharisaical in their views. Some seem to believe that as the appearance of Christian cultural dominance declines, Christians themselves should take offense in the name of Christ.

Jesus never did any such thing.

Christ himself constantly offended those who worried about appearances. The Pharisees complained that Jesus did not respect the Sabbath, because he went right ahead and healed people on that day. They tested his respect for the Ten Commandments when he refused to judge the woman caught in adultery. They thought he defiled himself over and over by touching lepers and eating with publicans. The truth is, Christ did not and does not have much use for “appearances.”

That does not mean that Christians should sit on the sidelines of politics in the USA. The government of the USA is quite different from the government of the Roman Empire. In this country, citizens must participate in the government, or the Constitution will not work. If citizens worry that politics is dirty, then more of them must get involved in the work of cleaning it up. Christians care deeply about the values expressed in the culture that ultimately shape the government. If Christians refuse to participate then their voice will not be heard in the decisions that are made by elected officials. The culture shapes politics, and politics shapes the government.

One problem Christians face if they do get involved is a demand that they keep their religion to themselves. This demand arises from secular thinkers who believe that all religion is bunk. They do not want to hear about religion in public, especially not in government.  A Christian who wants the government to mandate a national holiday on Good Friday will call down a firestorm on both himself and the faith he represents. Another issue growing in magnitude is pressure from Islam to incorporate sharia law into US jurisprudence. That pressure also wants to suppress Christian input, because Christian views did shape the English Common Law that is the basis for US law. Islam, a diametrically opposite worldview from secularism, believes that there is not and cannot be any separation between religion and government. Islam believes that Muslims must be governed by sharia law. Secular thinkers would say of Islam and Christianity, “a pox on both their houses.” The United States hosts a veritable conflagration of views that cannot all be simultaneously upheld.

 The people who wrote the Constitution and the Bill of Rights had great respect for religion. They respected all religions. They believed that religion had an important cultural role in shaping the values of citizens. Unlike contemporary secular thinkers, the men who wrote the Constitution believed that the culture and the government alike benefited from the moral and ethical voice of religion expressed when citizens advocate for the laws and the services that shape the government. They expected people to express their religion in the expression of their values, and they honored that contribution as a counterweight to the government tendency to operate more pragmatically than ethically.

Christians, like any other US citizen, need to be part of the political discourse, speaking, acting and voting. They should, however, be recognized in political discourse the same way they are to be recognized in all other venues. They should be known for lovingkindness that makes people see Christ in them. Christ’s lovingkindness was at work when he cleansed the temple as surely as it was at work when he faced Pilate, so Christians must not confuse lovingkindness with abandonment of truth for the sake of “getting along.” The value of “coming together” only stands if the group that comes together actually accomplishes something good. It is a considerable test of character to advocate without compromise for an important principle while unfailingly projecting God’s love into the discussion.

Christians need to stand for objectives that are good. Even more important, while a political conversation may not be the place for an evangelistic sermon, it is certainly a place where God’s steadfast love for all people should be manifest. If Christians are only known for whining and crying that things are not the way they used to be, they are utterly failing in their call to be light in a dark world.

For more discussion of the challenge to live our faith as light in a dark world, read my review of Martin Roth’s book Brother Half Angel.