January 6, 2016
I haven’t’ been around in a while… Christmas, New Year’s… etc.… I hope you all are well and had a wonderful Holiday season.
I quite regularly hear criticism of the Christian Church. And as the faith in our country continues to swirl downward, and as more and more people fall into the category of “religious nones” we will no doubt receive escalating flack. I should ask; do you know what “nones” are? It’s a term that has become popular lately to describe the growing number of (mostly young people) who answer the question, “Religious affiliation” with the word: “none.”
Of course we all know what they say about “statistics” but it seems that somewhere in the area of 20% of our population are “nones.” Get that? One in 5 people are claiming “no religion” and that number increases each year. Let me return to this in a moment.
There is no doubt that we in the Church have made a mess of things over the centuries. Let me distinguish between “the church,” i.e., the man made institution and “The Church,” the gathering of God’s people around the world. When we talk about denominations for example like Presbyterians, Methodists, Catholics or even Independent churches we are talking about the former, i.e., manmade institutions. I suspect it is “the church” that has made a mess over the years, but that’s just me. We have split, divided, and hurt one another. We have killed innocent people in the “Name of Jesus.” We have failed to care for the poor, widowed and the orphaned due to our own selfishness. I have heard the phrase that “Christians are the only ones who shoot their wounded.” I’m sure that’s not true… Christians are not the only ones. It is no wonder that we are reviled and despised by many outside of the faith. And honestly, we should be on some levels. We are indeed the biggest hypocrites on the planet. HOWEVER…
There is also an upside to the institutional church. One simple example. When hurricane Katrina hit the gulf coast several years ago my small church (under the leadership of our then youth pastor) took 6-7 trips to Mississippi to provide relief. We heard much grumbling in the secular press about the slow or nonexistent response of the government and insurance companies. What we didn’t hear was the fact that hundreds of thousands of Christian people over the next several years “flooded” that area with help. I don’t mean financial (although there were gobs of that as well) I mean “boots on the ground” rebuilding, feeding, providing medical care. I would hazard to say that if not for The Church in this country, New Orleans and the surrounding communities would still be pumping out their homes and businesses. And yet, nary a word of that from the secular press. (I should add that many other agencies and “religions” also provided aid.)
No doubt we in the church have our issues, but we also need to carry a burden for the moral trajectory of the world. I’m not implying that Christians are the only ones who provide a moral compass; other religions need to get credit where credit is due. So the question is not one of “how dreadful religion is.” A better question is: What would the world be like if there were no religion?
I can hear my atheist and agnostic friends saying, “Hallelujah! It would be a much better place!” (Well, of course they wouldn’t say “hallelujah” since it’s a Hebrew word meaning “praise God” but…) Really a much better place? I think not. One only needs to look at the history of humanity to know that immorality and more immorality leads to chaos and death. Human beings left on their own only swirl into selfishness and chaos. Oh, for sure there are a few examples of indigenous tribes in the world who have somehow managed to live peaceful lives, but there are very few of them!
George Orwell in Animal Farm and William Golding in Lord of the Flies both had their finger on the pulse of a world where lack of moral certainty and the preponderance of human depravity run amuck. I wouldn’t expect you to remember but a famous line is found near the end of Animal Farm after the total take over by wickedness: “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.” That is the progression and the mantra of a world with no religion. The truth is “religion” doesn’t even have to be real. It could be that we die and there is nothing but decay. But if there is no pretense of religion; if there is no one standing against the tides of selfishness and power mongers; all the future holds then, is eventual animalistic destruction.
I have had a conversation with some lawyer friends over the years about the inadequacies of our legal system. In particular, the fact that poor black people are more likely to be executed for crimes than are rich white (or even non-white) people. They always fall back, it seems, on this line, “Well, we are still the best system in the world.” Somehow that is seen as the end of the argument. My comment is, “But it still has huge flaws that need to be addressed. It can and needs to get better.” We are not unlike that in the church. We have giant flaws… and we need to get better! I’m not hopeful, but I do at least know the need.
So how do we get better? I think it’s the same process that we should use in our personal life, i.e., we begin with repentance. “God we are sorry that we have not been the people you have called us to be. Change our hearts and cause us to seek after you and you alone.” If the church were to have New Years’ resolutions, maybe that should be it? Just sayin.
Next week we’ll look at “freedom of speech and ‘safe places’”… Oh joy.