Tag Archives: religion

The Book Every Christian Should Read

When you read my title, you probably think I am going to say that every Christian should read the Bible. Instead I am saying that every Christian should read How to Defeat Religion in 10 Easy Steps. Every Christian must read the Bible, because the Bible is our bread of life. The Bible is God’s Word, and Jesus said that our natural food is every word out of the mouth of God. However, Satan is becoming increasingly aggressive against all of us, and the best way to learn how he plans to attack is to read How to Defeat Religion in 10 Easy Steps. Every Christian should read it.

The subtitle is “a toolkit for secular activists,” and the method proposed by the author Ryan T. Cragun is clearly outlined in the Table of Contents:

  1. Promote and Defend Secular Education
  2. Empower Gender, Sexual, and Racial Minorities
  3. Provide “This Life” Security
  4. Encourage Sexual Liberation for Everyone
  5. Stop Subsidizing Religion and Deregulate It
  6. Encourage Regulated Capitalism
  7. Support Education, Art, and Science
  8. Syncretize Holidays and Rituals
  9. Change Society to Value Critical Thinking and Scientific Inquiry
  10. Teach Humanist Ethics in School

If you think that most of these elements of the “toolkit” sound innocuous, you need to recognize a fundamental element of the battle being launched by secular activism: redefinition. The battle for the life of humankind is being fought on the battleground of Truth, and a universal weapon against Truth is redefinition of words. Think, for example, about the word equality. Until recently, every American citizen would have said that the statement “all men are created equal” meant that each of us has equal standing in the law of the land and equal opportunity to thrive. The limits to our accomplishment and happiness are whatever limits we set on ourselves. We all are born equal in God’s eyes, and we are all equally loved by God.

The word equality took on a new meaning, however, when secular activists, the individuals who are the target audience for How to Defeat Religion, appropriated the word and coupled it with the word marriage. The first time I heard the phrase marriage equality, I could not imagine what the phrase could possibly mean. Who couldn’t get married? The answer: homosexuals. Why? Because everyone in the world understood that marriage was the union of a man and a woman. Whether people looked in the Bible for guidance or they simply looked at world history, one thing was obvious: humankind considered the union of a man and a woman to be a marriage. No other union of humans was considered a marriage. LGBTQ activists created the phrase marriage equality in order to avoid the discussion of the definition of marriage as the union of one man and one woman. Activists leaped past that definition by coupling the word marriage with the word equality. In so doing, they embarked on a discussion that did not even make sense unless the definition of marriage was scrapped. By forcing the discussion to the word equality  they avoided needing to argue for a redefinition of marriage. They successfully pushed the discussion past the definition of marriage and made it about a redefined concept of equality. The cultural whiplash dumbfounded many persons who wanted to keep the argument on the real subject, but activists acted as if marriage had always been a civil right protected by the 14th Amendment to the Constitution, and that is the argument that was successfully sold to the Supreme Court. The court did not address whether it is legitimate to call a union of two men or two women a marriage. The court simply said that nobody could be denied the “right” to marry. Any definition of the word marriage ceased to exist.

In the light of that experience, a Christian should read the book How to Defeat Religion in 10 Easy Steps with a wary eye. The author is writing for secular activists, not for Christians. He uses words as defined in the worldview of secular activism. The historic usage and definitions of words must be set aside when reading How to Defeat Religion in order for the reality of its plan of action to be clear. For example, in the title of chapter 9 you see the words, “Change Society to Value Critical Thinking and Scientific Inquiry.” You understand those words in their historic, common sense definitions, and you wonder what could be the problem this “change” would solve. However, if you read the chapter attentively, you will see that in the hands of secular activists, those words have very different meanings, and a serious problem emerges from the redefinitions.

Why should a Christian read such a book? The answer is simple. It is the old adage, “Know thine enemy.” Luke, writing in the gospel that bears his name, says that after Jesus rejected all of Satan’s temptations in the wilderness, Satan backed away and waited for a more opportune moment. When Satan saw the empty character of Judas, he entered in and engineered Christ’s crucifixion. Even though Christ’s death and resurrection actually worked the defeat of Satan in eternity, the Evil One still lurks in time and space waiting for opportunities in the hearts of human beings who have the same emptiness of character as Judas. The book How to Defeat Religion tells us some of the lines of attack Satan uses to invade humans, even many who claim the name of Christ.

When I reviewed the book on Amazon, I gave it five stars, because this book does exactly what it promises to do, but in my review, I point out that this strategy will only work if religion is what the book says it is: the will to believe a myth as if it were reality.

The thinly disguised fact underlying the book is that its target is not religion in general. I did not see any real evidence that the writer had a problem with Hinduism or Buddhism or Shinto. It seemed quite clear that the target is Christianity. That is fine with me, because Hinduism, Buddhism and Shinto, like all the other religions, are not about Truth. They are, in fact, myths, and many of their adherents do not have a problem with treating their religions as myths. Cragun, however, is not battling windmills; he is battling Christ. We who claim the name of Christ are not battling windmills, either. We are battling “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). The author of How to Defeat Religion reveals where we will fight many of the battles that make up this war.

The power that will defeat those who follow the path outlined in How to Defeat Religion works in the life of a person who lives in an active relationship with Christ. Cragun’s strategy will work only if there is nothing beyond the time/space continuum. Inside that limited universe, Satan runs rampant. The only force that can resist and defeat him is a life fully committed to Christ. The strategies outlined in How to Defeat Religion are powerless against a life traveled on The Way, filled with The Truth, and energized by The Life that never ends. We in whom the Holy Spirit dwells carry around in our bodies living temples that the strategies in this book cannot touch. No matter how many churches are regulated out of existence, Christ’s church will thrive in the lives of his followers. No matter how many homosexuals marry, or how many new genders are discovered, Christ’s followers will live in obedience to Christ, filled with joy according to Christ’s Truth revealed in the Bible.

We need to know what secular activists are doing if we are to be salt and light in the culture. Hiding from the reality of their agenda will only make it harder for us to shine our light in the world around us. Satan has sensed an opportune time to attack Christ and his followers. We must know our enemy and act in the power of Christ to defeat his assaults. How convenient that the Enemy’s current strategy is so clearly outlined in How to Defeat Religion.

 

Advertisements

How to Pretend to be Spiritual

One of the high-profile mantras of contemporary culture is to be “spiritual but not religious.” This announcement is delivered with serious humility and meekness, assuring the hearer that there will be no invitation, not even a subtle suggestion, to join in the quest. The speaker righteously disavows any intent to proselytize, choosing to leave everyone else to his own search for meaning, deliberately explaining that there is no “right or wrong” in anyone’s choices. This speaker is not like those religious fanatics who love God and invite everyone else to love Him, too. This speaker is no threat to anyone’s status quo.

Christians are taken aback by such a concept. It is hard to argue with someone about an idea so malleable. The discussion is a lot like trying to nail Jell-O to the wall. There is no core belief to dispute, no fundamental truth to refute. There is no substance to such an avowal.

Christians think that the person who takes this step might be on a quest for something meaningful, but to believe that “spiritual but not religious” is a quest for meaning would be a big mistake. To choose to be “spiritual but not religious” is to choose deliberately to avoid the complications of meaning or truth. This choice is, rather, a choice not to allow meaning or truth to interfere with self-worship. In other words, someone who is “spiritual but not religious” is engaged in a chiffon-like secularism. Its very softness confuses Christians who expect secularists to be hardened defenders of reason alone. This “spiritual” quest is the same thing as the secular search for truth; you know you have found it if it makes you feel good. It is Satan’s way of providing something for everyone.

Satan’s strategy is always to pander to the human ego. All the temptations to which human beings succumb are about choosing self over anything else. The temptations Christ is reported to have defused were all about self. I’m hungry—I’ll turn rocks into food. I want attention – I’ll jump off a tower without a parachute and float to the ground. I love power – I’ll do what it takes, even make a deal with the devil, to become the most powerful human being on earth. The temptation to become “spiritual but not religious” is no different.

How, you ask wonderingly, is it egotistical and self-serving to be “spiritual” when you are choosing not to be “religious” with all the ritual and hierarchy associated with religion?

The answer is that this choice is not about God or gods at all; it is entirely about personal gratification.

Those who choose “spirituality” alone most commonly reject Christianity. Often they are actually drawn to religions like Buddhism and Hinduism. (I know, I know. Buddhists claim it is a way of life, not a religion. Well, every religion either shapes a way of life or it is worthless. The rejection of Christianity is about rejecting the way a Christian is taught to live.)  They act as if to be vaguely “spiritual” is much more mature and sophisticated than to be soiled by participating in the life of the church. They cast aspersions on the whole idea that people who put their faith in Christ gather in groups, engage in shared worship, depend on the Bible, and organize in work and service. Most of all, they join in the secular outrage at Christians who believe that every moment of their lives is to be lived in submission to Christ. The idea of a relationship that permeates and transcends every moment of life is alien, and the idea of submission in that relationship is repugnant to those who want their own feelings to be more important than anything else. They cannot imagine deep happiness that is not about personal gratification.

Of course, the rejection of Christianity is justified by pointing to people who claim the name of Christ and live in complete denial of everything Christ taught. The rejection of Christ is excused because there are plenty of Christians who are not very Christ-like. Those who choose to be “spiritual but not religious” claim that they want purity, not hypocrisy, and they don’t want to associate with any hypocrites as part of their pure spiritual quest. The rejection of Christianity, or of any “religiousness” whatsoever is not rejection of anything that any religion actually stands for. It is rejection of people who don’t live up to their religious claims.

It sounds almost righteous to say, “I’m spiritual but not religious.”  The problem is that being “spiritual but not religious” is simply another way to be completely secular.  It sets up a life with “sacred” elements and “secular” elements. It makes for an interesting cultural phenomenon. A secularist completely scorns the idea of Christianity, because the secularist rejects anything not measurable in time and space. Which means, of course, that the secularist equally scorns the “spiritual but not religious.” He will, however, tolerate the “spiritual” ones more comfortably than the Christians, because the “spiritual but not religious” are completely willing to keep their spirituality in the spiritual part of their lives while keeping a high barrier between the sacred and the secular. Secular thinkers have no problem with someone who worships himself or herself, because the secular thinker understands that world view. The “spiritual but not religious” are more comfortable with secular thinkers than with Christians for the same reason. Both worship self, and both believe that spirituality is a private matter.

Christians are viewed like sand in the cultural cogs, because they bring their spirituality into everything. Why? A Christian is actually a little temple of the Holy Spirit, walking around carrying eternity and infinity wherever he goes. A Christian lives at the intersection of time and eternity, space and infinity. For the Christian, the notion of being “spiritual but not religious” has no meaning, because a Christian is the same in all settings. (Of course I know that we are all sinful saints as well as saintly sinners. So this statement must be understood as the teaching, not as a perfect reality. It is this teaching that drives Christians to assert that a business is only one of many ways the Christian serves Christ.) The standard for Christian behavior is set by eternal and infinite standards, not by how the Christian feels about something at some time. This is why a Christian engaged in commerce is not engaged in secular activity; such a thing is impossible for him. The Christian is a completely spiritual being.

Those who reject religion and claim to be “spiritual” without any real focus other than themselves are fooling only themselves. It is an empty enterprise to attempt to connect with something that is ultimately only oneself. To be spiritual without any spiritual identity is destructive, even if it does make someone feel good for a while. Incense, candles, and sacred rocks will be cold company when Satan unleashes evil in someone’s life. Long ago in a comic strip now defunct, a swamp possum named Pogo saw through the fakery of this kind of thinking. He said, “We have met the enemy, and it is us.”

Words Have Meanings

Americans have a bad habit of assuming things. For example, they assume that the First Amendment protects religious liberty. They expect not to be taken to jail for praying on a street corner. They expect nobody will care if they give someone a Christian tract in a mall. Americans think it is quite normal to start meetings of a city council and the US Congress with prayer, because of the First Amendment. They even believe that the First Amendment protects conscientious objectors from fighting in combat. The claim of religious faith on daily life has been consistently been respected in the culture and protected by the law. The US has claimed from its inception to be a nation of laws, not men.

There is reason to be concerned today about the future of religious liberty. The First Amendment isn’t going anywhere, but religious liberty is at risk. Nobody is trying to arrest Christians for going to church. The attack is coming from a different corner. The attack is being launched by bringing up a discussion of the meaning of the word religion.

You may have heard children or college students engage in arguments about definitions. If so, you know that if one contender is determined not to be boxed into a definition, it cannot be done. There is always yet another twist to some word or phrase that allows the wily debater to slither away. The introductory arguments for a definition of the word religion make it clear that the meaning of the First Amendment could change dramatically if Christian lawyers are not as wise as the serpents on the other side of the argument.

Brian Murray has written a very important post at Public Discourse on the subject of what the Hosanna-Tabor case in the Supreme Court contributes to the body of law surrounding the First Amendment. He specifically mentions the issues that have arisen due to the employer mandate in the Affordable Care Act. According to his view, the cases surrounding the employer mandate have “reignited the debate about the definition of religion.” If you didn’t know that there is a discussion about that definition, consider yourself warned.

The legal profession has always been deeply engaged in discussions of definitions. The ability to make words mean what they must mean in order to prevail in court is the mark of a good lawyer. In the argument about religious liberty and the way the Affordable Care Act diminishes it, it truly is important to have a definition of the word religion, but Christian lawyers must be assertive in that discussion. Otherwise, religious liberty as Americans have known it will disappear.

It is clear to any attentive observer, and Murray confirms, that the present administration considers religion to be confined to “inward, private belief.” Murray further confirms that, for most Christians, religion is “just the opposite of the administration’s emphasis on private belief.” Most Christians believe that faith in Christ creates an imperative to live by the principles of faith and to share the faith with other people. The two views contrast sharply, and the two definitions imply very different interpretations of the term free exercise when applied to religion.

In today’s climate, with administration pressure to achieve some specific social objectives by using the force of law to compel politically desirable behaviors, it is dangerous for Christians to assume that it is enough to assert First Amendment protection for religious activity. While cultural pressure in opposition to sharing the good news may arise from time to time, Christians have not been pressured to refrain from sharing their faith or from making attempts to persuade non-believers to convert. If a definition of religion as a purely private matter were to prevail in the courts, the low-key cultural rejection of evangelism could become much stronger, as has happened in numerous countries where a secular definition holds sway.

The current administration’s definition has much more in common with the strictly secular definition of religion that prevails in the courts of Kazakhstan or Uzbekistan than with the definition held by the founding fathers of the USA. In those countries, the government requires churches to register their buildings and provide lists of members. Every month, pastors must report every meeting held and who attended. Pastors must provide advance notice of planned meetings.  Some churches prefer the risk of going underground and meeting in secret to the risk of giving the government all the information required of the registered churches. American citizens have never had to contemplate such choices, because Americans have never defined religion as something to be kept out of sight.

Have you ever heard anyone complain that Christians are too public with their faith? Do you know anyone who thinks that Christian employers have no right to refuse to offer coverage for medical services and pharmaceuticals that conflict with the teachings of their faith? Have you observed any Christian being accused of wrong-doing for refusing to participate in activities, such as wedding ceremonies for same-sex pairs? All these situations are set up by a definition of religion as nothing more than a privately-held philosophy. What can you do to influence continuing religious liberty in the USA?

 

How Can You Separate Sacred From Secular?

How many times have you heard someone suggest that there would be no religious problems in society if religious people simply kept their religion to themselves? It is a very common observation, and this view is not isolated to atheists. Plenty of people who self-identify as Christians believe they should not “make a big deal” of their faith. Pushed to explain this attitude, they say that everyone has a right to believe whatever he wants and nobody should try to influence that choice. In the USA where there is no state religion and where citizens individually choose to follow any religion or none at all, people more interested in etiquette than principle will advocate this point of view.

The problem with this idea is that adherents of many religions would find it impossible to comply. Buddhism sells itself as a “way of life” rather than a religion, despite the fact that most people consider it one of the world’s major religions. Actually, it would be hard to find a religion whose adherents are free to ignore it unless they are inside a worship space engaged in the unique ritual of the religion. The very nature of religion is to provide meaning and guidance in daily life. There may be a religion somewhere which exists solely in its worship forms, but if so it is obscure.

Secularists particularly promote the idea of separate space and time for religion. Most secular thinkers believe that there are two realms, the sacred and the secular, which must never mix. This notion simply does not square with most religious teaching. Religions are much more about the way people live than they are about the forms of worship. Some religions are extremely specific about the prescribed worship forms and spaces, but they all include teachings about the difference between right and wrong or good and evil, and they all advocate behavior considered to be good and proscribe and punish behavior considered to be evil. When secularists attempt to keep religion out of sight, they are attempting an impossible division.

Christians, in particular, believe that Christian religion is the life of the Christian, action that always takes place in a worship space, because each Christian is a temple of the Holy Spirit. It is this concept that the apostle Paul verbalized so eloquently in his call to faithful living. He said, “Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?” (1 Corinthians 3:16) Then, he nailed down the argument by saying, “If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple.” (1 Corinthians 3:17) He called on Christians to recognize that they could not act any differently on the streets of Corinth than they might act during worship, because God, in the person of the Holy Spirit went with them everywhere. He may have been thinking how Jesus had promised, “I will be with you to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20) That comforting presence was also a constant admonishment to live and act in obedience to the call of Christ.

Secular thinkers believe that religion is what happens in worship spaces, while all other action takes place outside of worship spaces. They have recently begun to appropriate some of the forms of worship in churches as if that form would give them the kind of fellowship Christians have. Atheists in various locations around the country gather on Sunday morning to sing and tell stories to each other and listen to inspiring words. They actually believe they are mimicking whatever it is that creates the strong bonds and supportive service that is characteristic of churches. They think they need to borrow the forms of worship in order to get the benefit, and they believe they can get the benefit without needing God. This misconception grows out of a complete failure to understand what it is to live life in relationship with Christ.

The founders of the USA who wrote the Constitution understood that every person’s life is sacred space. They regarded humans as God’s hands-on creation. They knew that people who choose to live in relationship with their Creator can’t turn that relationship off and on depending on their surroundings. That is why they protected the free exercise of religion rather than defining where religion is allowed. It is important for Christians to be able to verbalize this situation when they are confronted with people who quietly fold their arms and say, “Well all this conflict could be ended right now if everybody just kept his religion to himself.”

 

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.