I am a Christian, in the only sense in which he wished anyone to be: sincerely attached to his doctrines in preference to all others, ascribing himself every human excellence and believing he never claimed any other. To the corruptions of Christianity I am indeed opposed, but not to the genuine precepts of Jesus himself. – Thomas Jefferson
The world’s most popular search engine is a marvel of mathematics and algorithms. Type just about anything into the search box on Google and the system will start providing type ahead options for what it thinks you are about to ask. These options are based on the millions of searches that have been performed previously on the system and are there to help you refine what you are looking for and save you a few key strokes along the way.
When it comes to researching social stereotypes and societal perceptions nothing is more accurate that the Google search engine. That’s why this article in Christianity Today was so interesting to me as a Christ-Follower.
The number of times negative impressions of various Christian denominations came up is both sad and not surprising to me. The terms “wrong”, “judgmental” and “cult” keep coming up time and time again. I venture to say that it’s not just the atheists and agnostics that are driving these searches. In fact I doubt it quite strongly. I am willing to bet that the driving force behind most of these negative stereotypes is actually coming from competing Christian churches. It’s a far cry from what John wrote would be the mark of Christians that’s for sure.
By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another. [John 13:35]
In the garden of Gethsemane Jesus prayed for the unity of the church that would follow. When Christians search out other denominations with questions like “Why are Anglicans so wrong” it grieves out savior and gives a black mark to us all.
20 “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, 21 that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22 I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one— 23 I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me. [John 17:20-23]
Dr. Greg Boyd of Woodland Hills Church in Saint Paul Minnesota and the author of several best-selling books including “Myth of a Christian Nation” and “The Benefit of the Doubt” said it best in a sermon not too long ago. “The only opinion we are allowed to have about our fellow human beings is that God considers them valuable enough to die for.”
When so called Christians portray a contrary attitude is it any wonder that the church is struggling for relevance today? David Kinnamen president of the research firm Barna Group put it this way in this book “unChristian; What a New Generation Really Thinks About Christianity and Why it Matters”
When outsiders claim that we are unChrisitian, it is a reflection of this jumbled (and predominantly negative) set of perceptions. When they see Christians not acting like Jesus, they quickly conclude that the group deserves an unchristian label. Like a corrupted computer file or a bad photocopy, Christianity, they say, is no longer in pure form, and so they reject it.
Just for fun I tested the Google algorithm by typing “they will know we are Christians by our love”. I got 12 characters in before Google completed the phrase for me. At least people are searching the right things, or maybe it’s because that’s the title of a popular hymn. Who knows?
Every once in a while I feel compelled to explain why I use the word meek to describe the work I do and the movement I’m trying to start through this blog, my books and my public speaking. As I say in the introduction to “Meekonomics; How to Inherit The Earth and Live Life to the Fullest in God’s Economy”; meek is one of those bible words we don’t use in regular conversation anymore and as a result it has lost much of its meaning.
Originally published in 1937, at the height of Nazi Germany, it’s a clarion call directed at German Christians to reject the godless politics of National Socialism and return to an uncompromisingly orthodox understanding of scripture. It’s precisely this kind of writing and preaching that landed Bonhoeffer in a jail and saw him hanged by the Nazi’s just two weeks before the allied armies would have liberated him. That, and the fact that he was implicated in a plot to murder Hitler could apparently get you killed in the 1940s, go figure.
Now, over seventy years after it was first published, and in a Christian culture dominated by right wing political ideology, the message of “The Cost of Discipleship” remains just as relevant as it was in Hitler’s Germany, and for a book written in a different era, it’s a surprisingly easy read.
Bonhoeffer’s interpretation of Matthew 5:5, which I base most of my writing on, is perhaps the most clearly profound explanation of this biblical passage I’ve ever read. I don’t poach the work of other authors very often but I’d like to take this opportunity to quote Bonhoeffer at length and allow his writing to speak for itself.
“Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth.” This community of strangers possesses no inherent right of its own to protect its members in the world, nor do they claim such rights, for they are meek, they renounce every right of their own and live for the sake of Jesus Christ. When reproached, they hold their peace; when treated with violence they endure it patiently; when men drive them from their presence, they yield their ground. They will not go to law to defend their rights, or make a scene when they suffer injustice, nor do they insist on their legal rights. They are determined to leave their rights to God alone – non cupidi vindicate, as the ancient Church paraphrased in. Their right is in the will of their Lord – that and no more. They show by every word and gesture that they do not belong to the earth. Leave heaven to them, says the world in its pity, that is where they belong. But Jesus says; “They shall inherit the earth.” To these, the powerless and the disenfranchised, the very earth belongs. Those who now posses it by violence and injustice shall lose it, and those who here have utterly renounced it, who were meek to the point of the cross, shall rule the new earth. – Dietrich Bonhoeffer; The Cost of Discipleship
I really have nothing to add. Instead I challenge you to meditate on that for a bit and ask yourself; are you ready to inherit the earth?
I liked this book. Sam Harris is an intelligent and articulate thinker and writer. He lays out a very compelling argument for people to enter into reasoned debate about tribalism in a globalized world. We need more thinkers, philosophers, theologians, atheists and deists on all sides to enter into this discussion if we are to understand one another and learn how to live together on this rock we call planet earth.
But Harris’ core thesis; that Faith in an unseen God is unreasonable and must be expunged from our consciousness if we are ever to ahieve lasting world peace, is overly simplistic and completely misses the mark. Yes religious tribalism is bad but that has little or nothing to do with faith. Harris knows this and tries to have it both ways when discussing spiritualism and mysticism but completely glosses over or ignores it when discussing the major world religions.
I’ve seen this argument time and time again from both atheists and deists alike. It’s a red herring.
No theologian or philosopher worth his salt will waste any breath attempting to prove or disprove the existence of God. The “evidence” we have either way is circumstantial at best and you either believe that it points to God or you don’t. There is no smoking gun and there is no DNA on the body. Just like the OJ trial 15 years ago and the recent Casey Anderson verdict it’s un-provable so move on.
Therefore; what is at issue here is not faith but religion itself. After exhausting the limited argument for or against the existence of God, which usually takes nothing more than a single paragraph, what most authors on both sides of the debate (Harris included) are left with is a discussion about the value of various religious dogmatic positions.
Let me be perfectly clear here. While religion requires faith, faith does not require religion.
What Harris does is give an explanation for the end of his faith but does not provide any evidence that would lead others, who didn’t already share his view to end their own. What we’re left with is a 200 page argument about various religious practices that are incompatible with a tolerant, pluralistic society but any further attempt to link religion with faith falls flat.
By the end of the book Harris appears to abandon all pretence when discussing mysticism. Somehow in Harris’ view a mystic who believes that the world can simply be experienced without the need for any scientific analysis, or has he puts it, concepts, is more rational than one who attempts to connect concepts with unexplained experiences through, for lack of a better term, faith.
The roiling mystery of the world can be analyzed with concepts (this is science), or it can be experienced free of concepts (this is mysticism). Religion is nothing more than bad concepts held in place of good ones for all time. It is the denial – at once full of hope and full of fear – of the vastitude of human ignorance. – Sam Harris; The End of Faith
To be fair, Harris doesn’t actually use the term faith here, he blames it all on religion but the implication is clear. Somehow the “faith” of a mystic is more rational than the faith found in religion, and while this may be true in many cases and may be a reason to abandon your religion, it is not a reason to abandon faith.
I am sure at this point many of my readers are going to want me to continue this line of thought and become an apologist for one faith
tradition or another. I’m not going to do that. If you have read any of my previous posts on religion in general and Christianity in particular you know where I stand on this. While ultimately I do wish all atheists would become Christians the first step in that very long journey is to first recognize the rationality of Deism we can discuss the particulars of faith later.