Tag Archives: secular thinker

Something to Die For

People who eat decadent desserts sometimes sigh, “It’s to die for.” A woman might be shopping for a dress for a wedding or a gala event and find one that she says is “to die for.” Chocolate is such a beloved flavor in large segments of the population that anything dipped in chocolate is supposedly “to die for.”

In today’s culture, however, nobody is actually supposed to die. Continue reading Something to Die For

Is Human Charity Service to Humans, or is Human Charity Service to Christ?

Every Christian knows that Christ taught people to be generous. Even people who are not Christians know that Christ taught his followers to feed the hungry and heal the sick. Secular thinkers who completely reject any form of religion recognize that charitable action is a characteristic of most Christians. It isn’t charity performed by Christians that secular thinkers reject; it is the testimony.

Here is an example. In Illinois, until 2010, Catholic Charities provided adoption services to about 2500 children each year. Today all those agencies are closed. In 2010, Illinois passed the Religious Freedom Protection and Civil Union Act. This law established a process for the civil union of same-sex couples and authorized parties to such unions to receive all the rights and benefits of a “spouse.” Religious groups were supposed to be given the freedom to perform or refuse to perform ceremonies for same-sex couples in the language of the law: “Any religious body, Indian Nation or Tribe or Native Group is free to choose whether or not to solemnize or officiate a civil union.” This statement was publicly lauded as a protection of religious freedom, but the law’s full language was subsequently interpreted to reject the claim of Catholic agencies that their right of religious freedom allowed them to deny adoption to same-sex couples; the foundation of the interpretation is the fact that a party to a civil union is classified legally as a “spouse.” Advocates for LGBT rights interpret Catholic commitment to a definition of marriage taught by the Catholic Church as an excuse to discriminate, not as a testimony to their faith.

Religious groups in general believed that the language of the law meant they were free to treat parties to a civil union as unmarried if that view was part of their fundamental teachings. They failed to take account of the full scope of a law that gave spousal benefits to parties to a civil union. Catholic charities routinely do not place children with unmarried parents, and in Catholic teaching, two people of the same gender may not be married. After Illinois authorized civil unions and spousal benefits in this act, Catholic Charities discovered that their state contracts for adoption services were at risk. Religion New Service reported that “Circuit Judge John Schmidt ruled Thursday (Aug. 18, 2011) that state officials can cancel contracts with Catholic Charities after church officials said they could not comply with a new civil unions law that could require them to place children with same-sex couples.” Catholic leadership protested, but to no avail. Unable to continue operating without state funding, Catholic adoption services in Illinois came to an end. The law did not compel Catholics to perform and bless weddings of same-gender couples, but it was interpreted to require Catholics to provide spousal benefits to parties to civil unions, even though the law did not require Catholics to officiate at civil unions.

Catholics no longer provide adoption services in Illinois. Agencies formerly associated with Catholic Charities who have severed that relationship continue to provide adoptions, and they place children with same-gender couples. Secular thinkers, whose ideas have taken solid form in Illinois law, did not set out to reduce the number of agencies engaged in the charitable action of adoption. Their agenda was to suppress Christian testimony expressed in a refusal to place adoptees with same-sex couples. The language and interpretation of Illinois law link two secular ideas: 1) that the definitions of marriage and family can evolve within human society, and 2) that religion and religious views are irrelevant and need not be accommodated by the society due to their reliance on evidence that science cannot measure. The result is that secular culture demanded a law whose consequence is suppression of the freedom to live by a religious conviction.

The argument is poisoned by the money issue. Social services are expensive, and religious agencies cannot help as many people if their only source of funding is private donations. They argue for their right to participate in the distribution of taxes right along with any other not-for-profit group, and they argue for their Constitutional right to express their religious principles in their operations. There is a biblical model for exactly this sort of confrontation between faithful living and the legitimate expectations of government.

Daniel and his three friends were exiles in Babylon. They were among a large group of young men selected by King Nebuchadnezzar and trained for leadership in his administration. They were Jews. They believed in only one God, and they believed that they owed obedience to God in word and deed. Their commitment to live their faith was tested over and over. During their leadership training program, they had to prove that they could do the work and still live their faith. When the king later demanded that people pray only to him, Daniel had to pay the price for praying to God by spending the night in a den of lions. When a later king demanded that everybody worship his golden statue, Daniel’s three friends were all thrown into a furnace. Refusing for the last time to worship that statue, they all agreed, “Maybe God will rescue us if you throw us in, but even if he won’t, we will worship only him.” (See Daniel 3:16-18) Daniel and his three friends were vindicated in each of their confrontations, and each time, the king accommodated their beliefs, but the real lesson of their experience lies in their complete willingness to lose the battle. The statement that “even if he won’t [rescue us]” they would persist in faithful behavior is the point Christians must absorb.

If we twenty-first century Christians want to be faithful to Christ in word and deed, we have to be willing to pay the price. If the government will not permit us to take its money and use that money according to our own principles, then we must be willing to do without that money. The Catholic Charities of Illinois need to raise funds from devout Catholics and other people who support their principles and re-open their agencies. The court said that they can’t take government money and refuse to place adoptees with same-sex couples, but nothing says thy must take government money. The same is true for any Christian group that is restricted in its testimony by rules for the use of government money. If Christians cannot be true to their testimony while using government money, then don’t use government money. All those first-century Christians who refused to worship the emperor are looking down at us from heaven and wondering what we are fussing about. Giving up government money is not like being thrown to the lions or crucified or beheaded.

(This is not to say that the secular culture will allow Christians to live their faith unimpeded if the Christian behavior offends secular sensibilities. Currently, Illinois law is not trying to universally suppress Catholic agencies from refusing to place children with same-gender couples. Currently the law only forbids them to received state funding to do so. There are other cases in other locations that suggest there is a bigger move under way that threatens any behavior that expresses religious convictions contrary to secular cultural standards. This is a topic for other posts.)

Anne Hathaway supposedly cares so much for animals that she required vegan footwear in all her scenes in Les Miserables. She garnered vast public praise for her stand. Yet when Catholic employers say that they care so much for God that they won’t participate in behavior that is disobedient to their commitment to him, they are not praised at all. Rather, they are reviled, by the very same people who fawn at the mention of Anne Hathaway’s name. Without any animosity toward Anne Hathaway for doing what she believes in, I simply ask: why isn’t the same respect and regard granted to Christians for doing what they believe in? The answer is obvious: Anne Hathaway believes that humans can save the world, but Christians believe that it is God who redeems humankind and all creation. Anne Hathaway believes that she is helping to save animals of the world by wearing vegan footwear. Catholic charities believe they are serving God by protecting God’s standards for a family, standards they believe are part of God’s work on earth. The culture respects and regards those who think it is all up to humans while it rejects a commitment to a religious principle.

There has always been a secular element in our culture. There have always been people who believe that any and all religions are myths. Today is really not all that different from any other era. The question for us has always been whether Christ really is first, or not. The issue of religious freedom always hinges on one thing: do we live our testimony, or not? Secular forces will admire, even encourage, our charitable work, as long as we leave Christ Jesus out of it.



Living in the Intersection

The Readings: 

1 Kings 19:4-8; Psalm 34:1-8; Ephesians 4:25-5:2;John :35, 41-51


In John 6:38, Jesus said, “I have come down from heaven.” The Jews murmured about this statement. When you read this verse, you can almost hear the susurration flowing through the crowd. “He came down from heaven?” “What does he mean, from heaven?” “Who does he think he is?” “Did you hear that? How could he have come from heaven?” “We know where he came from!” The whispers spread, but nobody actually wanted to confront Jesus after he had said “the name.” Jesus, the son of Mary and the carpenter, said, “I AM the bread of life,” and that was scary. Then Jesus said that he came from heaven. What gave him that idea? Yet nobody could quite explain how a carpenter’s son had fed five thousand people, either.

The Jews muttering about Jesus were exactly like contemporary secular thinkers who reject Christ on the ground that the notions of deity and heaven are myths. The Jews would never have gone so far as to say that God did not exist, but their faith that God existed did not extend far enough to wrap itself around a flesh and blood man who claimed that he came down from heaven.

The culture in the USA, bewildered over the question of whether Islam is or isn’t a violent religion, puzzled by the notion that a Christian could be spiritual and not religious, confused by celebrity writers and talk show stars who claim that every person is actually his own god, cannot wrap its communal mind around the idea that the universe of time and space actually is not all there is. There are a lot of religions and plenty more spiritual practices. They can’t all be right. Maybe they are all just a lot of wishful thinking expressed by good story-tellers. The culture is tired of trying to sort through all the myths. Pure reason says that if we can’t measure it, then it does not exist. There is nothing particularly wrong if people want to believe in the easter bunny or the tooth fairy or any sort of god or God Almighty, but the culture finds such ideas not particularly useful. The culture wants those ideas gathered up and swept out of the public forum. Put those fanciful ideas in little boxes, buildings, and let those who enjoy the fantasies go into the buildings and play their games all they want without bothering the rest of us.

The Jews were beginning to believe that Jesus was a good storyteller with great sleight of hand tricks who needed to be brought under control before he upset the Romans and made the government mad at the Jews for creating a public nuisance. That is the secular culture’s vision of Christianity, too – a public nuisance.

The Jews, of course, did have faith in God. They claimed faith in the God who, according to Jesus, had sent him down from heaven to earth. The Jews had a history with God, and one of the most important details of that history concerned the manna that saved their ancestors from starvation in the wilderness. They looked back to those days, remembered how Moses had taught the Israelites to eat the manna, and asked Jesus if he could show them something that miraculous.

Christ’s answer to the Jews was to point out that despite eating manna, all those ancestors were dead. Their wonderful story was wonderful as a time-space survival story, but even though the people who ate manna lived longer than they would have lived without it, they, nevertheless, eventually died. The miracle of manna was no different from the miracle of the feeding of the five thousand. The people who ate manna, and the people who ate the miraculously-multiplied loaves and fish, were still destined to die. Ancient manna, Galilean bread – they were the foods of time and space.

Christ responded to the Jews the way he responds today to secular thinkers. He asked what becomes of the people who limit themselves to this world. The answer is that nobody gets out of here alive. Human beings limited to this world of time and space are limited to a world in which evil runs free and death is final.

Jesus closes with a reference to the bread in the Eucharist. He foreshadows his own crucifixion and the institution of the Lord’s Supper when he says, “the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.” When the communion server says to me, “The body of Christ, given for you,” I am reminded that Jesus died in the flesh for me, but he did not stay dead. He rose again. He lives. When I eat the bread, I am reminded that Jesus said, “Whoever eats of this bread will live forever.” The flesh of the living Christ is in, with, and under the bread I eat, and it nourishes my life eternal.

The lesson here is a reminder to all Christians that we live constantly at the intersection of time and eternity. We don’t live simply in the present. Our words and deeds have meaning in both time and eternity. Our lives, our testimonies to Christ, are both temporal and eternal. We cannot live in the eternal framework only when we are inside a church building. We cannot leave that eternal connection behind when we exit the building. Wherever a Christian goes, his location is always the same: the intersection of time and eternity. Our culture and secular thinkers in our government may think there can be a separation, but Christ teaches us that we are not discrete religious and non-religious persons. Each one of us lives eternally at the same time we live in time and space.

Christ’s interaction with the murmuring Jews should remind Christians of two things:

  • If the Jews who knew God and were, at least in theory, waiting for the Messiah could not accept him when they saw him, we have good reason to show compassion and love for the people in our culture who also do not recognize the Christ, in us or in the Bible. 
  • Our loving and faithful testimony will not always stir up a loving response. We can expect scorn and opposition, no matter how loving and faithful our behavior is.

This Sunday, when the server hands you bread and says, “The body of Christ, given for you,” listen intently for the voice of Christ in your heart, reminding you, “Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.” When you leave the sanctuary and step out into the street, remember that no matter where you are, you are at the intersection of time and eternity. May all your words and deeds invite others, no matter how incredulous or scornful they may be, to join you in that blessed intersection.

What’s Creation All About?

Blogging Through the Book
The Gospel of Yes by Mike Glenn

After Chapter 3, the author asks, “When has creation prompted in you a response of worship and awe toward God? This question doesn’t go nearly far enough in probing what creation evokes in our lives. I have been awed by the experience of storms at sea and reminded there how infinitely powerful God is. I have been forced to my knees in worship by sunrises and mountains and by seeing through a microscope single-cell animals swimming in a drop of water. But that is not all that creation does for me. I feel immersed in the joy of creation most of the time. Joy, delight, amazement, discovery, appreciation – and more. I can be stopped in my tracks by the sight of a tiny flower that has sprung up in the grass between the sidewalk and the curb. I am richly blessed when I hear a birdsong. I’m not measuring or weighing these events. I just enjoy them. I am constantly in awe at the fact that God’s creation is beauty and it is fun. I agree with Ian Steward that beauty is truth and truth is beauty, so when I have all these beautiful experiences, I am learning truth.

There are many ways to experience creation, and they are not all capable of being weighed or measured. When I plan a meal, for example, I certainly take nutrient value, a scientific measurement, into account. I eat three times a day, and over the course of the day I want to ingest the right nutritional components in the right quantities to sustain healthy life. However, I never plan to eat a survival tablet. I want a meal, and a meal nourishes me in ways that no scientist can actually measure. My nutritional needs are science, but my other needs are part of my own unique creation story. Mike Glenn says, “We were placed in the world to creatively engage the world.” One way I engage the world creatively is at dinner.

My meal planning begins with the food elements, but there is much more to it. Appearance, for example. The colors of the foods on the plate or in a bowl. The shapes. The way some colors and shapes look good together while others do not. I consider flavors. I don’t want every dish in the meal to be spicy; there needs to be a cooling flavor like blue cheese dip for a rest from the zing of spicy wings. I consider mouth feel and texture. One crunchy item is enough for a meal and is nicely balanced by a silky sauce. I could feed my body with survival tablets, but my spirit, that part of me that lives at the intersection of time and space with eternity and infinity, wants more from creation than the things science can measure. In creation, God has provided food in so many forms that I will never run out of options for delicious, colorful, flavorful, satisfying, and yes even nutritious food.

To top off my meal planning, I want someone to share it with. I can eat alone, but food eaten in pleasant company tastes better. I love to eat with my husband, and I love having guests, because the conversation and interaction with the meal and with each other fulfills hungers over and above the biological need of my body for nutrition. So in addition to nutrition, I need an experience that transcends time and space, yet is experienced in a place over a period of time.

I love the way creation richly provides for my needs, because God created a universe in which beauty usually trumps utility. Everything in God’s creation has its scientific purpose and value, but everything in God’s creation has a bigger purpose than its physical presence. My food, for example. If God thought in a human, secular, scientific way, the nutrients in a green leafy vegetable would be provided by a green leafy vegetable that grows everywhere in just the quantities needed by the population. Instead, God provides a proliferation of green leafy vegetables that grow in different shapes and different environments all over the world. They aren’t even all the same shade of green. Some have red or yellow stems. Some are broad leaves, and some are narrow leaves. Some of the leaves are actually fuzzy. Some leaves look like elephant ears and some look like knives. Such abundance. Such variation. Some taste better raw. Some taste better cooked.

God’s creation clearly was not designed by an efficiency expert or a budget control officer. The “cultural confidence in science” leads many people to think they need to interfere with creation, because they think it is out of kilter. It also leads them to believe that human beings can overpower God’s creation and destroy it. This is arrogance on steroids. God certainly gave humans the responsibility of stewardship of creation, but he did not give them the power to break it. Creation will end in God’s time and God’s way. God’s forgiveness for our ignorance, and even for our arrogance, is built into the resilience of creation. Time and space will end at a time and in a way that is part of God’s perfect plan. We should use science to learn how to be better stewards, but we should trust God to carry us through the learning curve. Creation is a blessing, and God determines the quality and duration of his blessings. We cannot overpower his plans and purposes even when we make really big mistakes. Because God is sovereign, not human beings, we can trust God for now, for all of time, and for eternity.

Be watching here next Wednesday for more about The Gospel of Yes. 

The Son of God, Jesus Christ, whom we proclaimed among you, Silvanus and Timothy and I, was not “Yes and No”; but in him it is always “Yes.” For in him every one of God’s promises is a “Yes.”  2 Corinthians 1:19-120

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Blogging Through the Book is a group of bloggers who literally blog while reading the book. It’s different than merely reading a book and posting a review. We have a chance to read and share our thoughts in community. Click HERE to learn more or visit www.danapittman.com.”