So who's the fool?

I need to blow off some steam for a few moments, about something that just bugs me a lot. Please bear with me.

I am amazed by the number of people who (1) profess to be a Christian, but define the term according to their own whims and convenience, or (2) simply blow off the entire "God-thing" as unworthy of their consideration, which is perhaps the same thing in different words. These groups are large, and the two have some common characteristics. We find many of the first group in churches, but a lot of them are staying away from "organized religion." We also find many of the second group in churches, and others who would not set foot in a church. They have some things in common.

A while back, I wrote that a very important element in shaping one's life - perhaps the most important - is one's view of God. This is true even if one's "view" is that there is no God.

I began thinking about this some years ago while teaching. I required my students to write a paper on the influence of their fathers in their lives. One young woman immediately said her father had no influence, since he left when she was very young. I pointed out that he was indeed an influence, by not being there when he should have been.

Another student spoke of having a warm, loving family with a good father. A third spoke of being abandoned by her father and molested by her stepfather.

They were all shaped in some manner by their fathers, whether present or absent, for better or for worse. I was, as well, and my father died when I was a young boy.

So it is with God.

God is a factor in our life, regardless of our opinion or attitude. We may like it or we may hate it, but we cannot escape it.

I think what bothers me about folks in these two groups is that they think they can define reality, and, curiously, the "reality" they define always works in their favor. It's like they own the place, and they can make up the rules as they choose. But of course, that's nonsense. It's the height of arrogance and hedonism.

We didn't create this world, we control little of it, and we can't make up the rules that ultimately governing our presence here. One who believes, "I am the captain of my fate," should talk with someone who has just gotten a diagnosis of terminal cancer, or who lived through one of the unspeakably barbaric wars in Africa. We control little, except how we will respond to God, people and events. We are dependent beings who are accountable to the God who created both the world and all that's in it.

And so I'm puzzled when I watch seemingly intelligent people - some of them calling themselves Christians - living as if they were God. Or as if there were no God. That's a fool's game, because in the end, no matter what else you do with your life, you lose. Nothing you can accomplish is big enough or good enough to offset that one fundamental error.

Nobody lives entirely divorced from perceptions and desires. True objectivity is an illusion. But it's critical that our perceptions are as closely as possible aligned with "objective" reality. One might say that at some point divorcing oneself from reality becomes insanity: living in a world that doesn't exist except in one's mind.

Here's reality: God is. Here's more reality: We cannot escape that fact, and it is the single greatest factor in determining both our present life and our future. To deny that is beyond foolishness.

Okay. End of rant.

1 Comment

Larry,

Having read your posts dated April 30 to May 24 covering the secularization of America and the powerlessness of her church, concepts of God and poor leadership, etc., I am led to ask a question. My question is, having made these and other points concerning the church in the three posts, why should you be “…amazed by the number of people who (1) profess to be a Christian, but define the term according to their own whims and convenience, or (2) simply blow off the entire "God-thing" as unworthy of their consideration…” Of course, this post is, or was, a blowing-off of the steam of a reasonable frustration to have. I am nevertheless puzzled over why you are “…puzzled when I watch seemingly intelligent people - some of them calling themselves Christians - living as if they were God. Or as if there were no God.” Puzzled by why this number of people should amaze you in light of your previous posts.

At first glance, this might appear to be a harsh or even a picayune comment to make on a posting. An understanding of the causes of a problem, however, should make it easier to deal with, at least at a personal level; it should make one more tolerant toward the lost souls who suffer from the ills you describe.

I suggest that perhaps the reason why frustration persists to the boiling point is that the core causes you define are actually not core causes. The core of the problem is not “a powerless church,” and/or a “distortion of the Gospel,” and/or a “distorted concept of God” and/or “poor leadership”; these are, rather, symptoms – symptoms of an elusive, yet to be understood, cause. I could not agree more with these observations. They are clear and distinct. But perhaps you should have continued asking “Why?” after each of these observations: Why do we have a distorted concept of God and the Gospel, why do we have poor leadership, why am I still amazed at the number of people who… why, why, why…..

Some theologians have pointed to cultural shifts as a cause for the symptoms you give. In the last few decades, we have seen such shifts as the movement away from a notion of absolute truth toward relative truth, the movement away from trust in the social, political, and religious institutions toward independence from all institutions. It could be fueled by a massive, global triumph of the problem of pain following the horrors of the Second World War, to which we respond with yet another god made in the image of man. This kind of god is far more digestible than the one whose distance and silence in the midst of global horrors means he must either have a deep hatred of creation, or not exist at all. Once that takes root in society, then the distortion or loss of the kerygma, the poor teaching and leadership, etc. are just a matter of time.

To me, these are just more symptoms of that elusive cause. I would suggest that the cause is a subtle cooperation between two very powerful forces in western society. Each force could achieve the same result alone but the second has merely taken advantage of the first, weakening, force. To find both, one must look back centuries, and seek what is hiding in plain sight. The first is so far back in history that we can hardly be responsible for it and, owing to poor education and leadership, we certainly can be completely unaware of it. As to the second force, we live today in its present-day manifestation, to which we give such wholehearted consent and participation that it has become utterly normal, and even a good and noble pursuit.

What we are experiencing today is, in my estimation, the result of good old-fashioned western religious legalism, a malady unique to the West and which has in turn given us division and confusion by way of Western man’s need for individual freedom and the scientific treatment of divine mysteries. Compound this problem over 15 centuries and it comes as little surprise that we find ourselves today lost in a web of doctrinal confusion manifested in (reportedly) some 38,000 Christian denominations, each one of which will, at least to itself, claiming to hold the whole truth. It has only encouraged our human tendency to form God in our image. Denominationalism has destroyed unity-in-diversity, yet we pride ourselves in it, all the while claiming some kind of “invisible unity” to dull the pain. It was not the Reformation that started it – its roots are deep in an era of Christian history in which the church was still visibly one, and what are we left with today, as a result, but a severely weakened collection of severed body parts susceptible to other, secular forces.

The first of these is, in my opinion, the rise of what some social critics call “advanced industrial civilization,” rooted in the pre-industrial world of corporate mercantilism and manifested today as the all-pervasive, all-persuasive consumer society. It has evolved over the centuries into a repressive, dominating, and near-inescapable social/economic/political System capable of absorbing into itself all its negations – including Christianity. And not only “us”: So also are Judaism and Islam likewise threatened with absorption as it turns good people of good faith everywhere into slaves to extraction, production, distribution, consumption, and disposal, to advertising and to debt. This is the matrix that traps us and hides itself from us in open view to such an extent that many are completely unaware, and fueled by our very own daily consent and willful participation.

How else have Christians learned to be, as one commenter said, “consumer Christians”? Today, even under the most ideal conditions and regardless of the quality of her leadership, the church has but an hour or two per week to act in her capacity as an agent of salvation in the world. Be in the world, not of it. Well, the last two centuries have worked with incredible efficiency to see to it that we are today not only in the world, but well and truly in it. Such is the corruptive power of the love of money, we say to ourselves in whatever church we go to, even if our church is our home, repeatedly, like a mantra, and then we go shopping in the afternoon. Yet we wonder why…

I desire and pray for a liberating break from consumerism with its love of money and goods and services. Achieve that and we might reclaim that part of our soul which has been stolen by the very culture we claim and defend. Accomplish that, and a few generations later we might recover, as a whole body, the Gospel of Life. Alas, how many Americans (just to name one such afflicted society) would sacrifice their standard of living for God? Who is willing to sell all to buy that one perfect pearl? I’m certainly not going to claim such freedom from absorption. I haven’t taken any red pills lately. So at least until we are willing to do that (and in the future the price may not be so steep), we ought to be thankful when one person in 3000 sermons converts and trusts him- or herself to the God of history.

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      Larry, Having read your posts dated April 30 to May 24 covering the ...

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