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Come Reason's Apologetics Notes blog will highlight various news stories or current events and seek to explore them from a thoughtful Christian perspective. Less formal and shorter than the Web site articles, we hope to give readers points to reflect on concerning topics of the day.

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Showing posts with label diversity. Show all posts
Showing posts with label diversity. Show all posts

Wednesday, February 03, 2016

Trying to Become More Relevant Makes Liberal Churches Less Relevant

There has been a lot of noise about the rise of the Nones in the U.S. As the 2014 Religious Landscape Study reported, more people are not identifying with any organized religious. That doesn't mean they are all atheists, though. According to the Pew organization that published the study, "the majority of Americans without a religious affiliation say they believe in God. As a group, however, the 'nones' are far less religiously observant than Americans who identify with a specific faith."1 The rise of the Nones mirror the decline in mainline Protestant denominations, while religious groups such as Evangelicals are holding steady or even growing slightly. Millennials are increasingly identifying as Nones.

None of this is surprising. Millennials take an increasingly subjective view of faith claims, just as the more mainline denominations had held and taught. I believe the problem stems from the shift that occurred in the theology of mainline seminaries and churches. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, mainline denominations became increasingly more theologically liberal, spiritualizing what had previously been understood as objective morality and a record of historic events. This was their fatal move, as Francis Schaeffer pointed out in How Should We Then Live:
The new liberal theology, because it says that the Bible does not touch the cosmos or history, has no real basis for applying the Bible's values in a historic situation, in either morals or law. Everything religious is in the area of non-reason, and since reason has no place there, there is no room for discussion; there are only arbitrary pronouncements. Immanuel Kant could not bring together the noumenal and the phenomenal worlds, and the new theologian has no way logically to bring his personal arbitrary values into a historic situation. Or to say it another way: Sartre said that in an absurd world we can authenticate ourselves by an act of the will; but, as we saw, because reason has no place in this we can help people or hurt them. Similarly, because the pronouncements of these theologians about morals or law are arbitrary, in a different mood they, too, can be totally reversed.

The new theologians also have no way to explain why evil exists, and thus they are left with the same problem the Hindu philosophers have; that is, they must say that finally everything that is is equally in God. In Hindu thought one of the manifestations of God is Kali, a feminine representation of God with fangs and skulls hanging about her neck. Why do Hindus picture God this way? Because to them everything that exists now is a part of what has always been, a part of that which the Hindus would call "God"—and therefore cruelty is equal to non-cruelty. Modern humanistic man in both his secular and his religious forms has come to the same awful place. Both have no final way to say what is right and what is wrong, and no final way to say why one should choose non-cruelty instead of cruelty.2
Because mainline denominations abdicated an objective standard of scripture for subjective one, they lost their claim to any real knowledge about the world. The Millennials have recognized this. If there is nothing liberal theology can provide and concrete and objective, then why bother with it at all? If one teaches an olly-olly-oxen-free approach to faith, then why would anyone need to bother with the inconvenience of waling up early to drive to some church building and sit in a pew so someone else can tell them what their understanding of spirituality is? The congregant has his or her own view, which is equally true, so why not skip the whole enterprise? And that's what they've been doing.

Ironically, many mainline churches have tried to recapture the interest of the Millennial generation by showing just how progressive and accepting of all viewpoints they rare. I see banners all the time hanging from Methodist or ELCA churches proclaiming their diversity and acceptance of views that have historically been anathema in Christianity. They don't seem to realize their stance makes their church less relevant in the mind of Millennials, not more so.


1. "U.S. Public Becoming Less Religious." Pew Research Centers Religion Public Life Project RSS. Pew Research Center, 02 Nov. 2015. Web. 03 Feb. 2016.
2 Schaeffer, Francis A. How Should We Then Live?: The Rise and Decline of Western Thought and Culture. Wheaton, Ill: Crossway, 2005. Print.177-178.
Image by Colin Babb and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

Wednesday, January 08, 2014

Should Oklahoma Allow a Satanic Statue on Public Lands?

On Monday, the Associated Press reported that a New York-based Satanic Temple has applied to have a seven foot tall statue of Satan erected on the Oklahoma state Capitol so that "people of all ages may sit on the lap of Satan for inspiration and contemplation." According to the report, the group claims that the state of Oklahoma opened the doors to such a display when they allowed a privately-funded Ten Commandments monument to be erected at the Capitol in 2012. The next day, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors voted to restore a cross to the county seal. Meanwhile, the battle for the cross on Mount Soledad continues to rage.

In a pluralistic society such as ours, should we expect to purge all public or government-owned lands of any religious symbolism? Or should we expect a religious free-for-all where petitions by Hindus, Satanists, and even atheists to place Flying Spaghetti Monster symbols in public locations will be commonplace? Are such things even reasonable to consider?

It is obvious that the requests by the Satanists and the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster are really nothing more than publicity stunts. No one actually believes that such a thing as the FSM exists. The concept was used as a rhetorical device by a college student in a letter he wrote to the Kansas Board of Education, and that is definitely not a sound basis for a belief system. Their church and all that follows from it is just a joke. As for the Satanic Temple, even spokesman Lucien Greaves admitted the petition "is in part to highlight what it says is hypocrisy of state leaders in Oklahoma," according to the report. Greaves claims the Temple is serious about having a monument placed there, which is no surprise since if you can get your protest installed as a permanent structure, it lasts much longer.

What is clear, though, is that none of these requests are taking into account the function of what public monuments are supposed to perform. Communities place monuments in public spaces to provide a link to relevant actions or ideas that helped shape that community. As Wikipedia puts it, "A monument is a type of structure that was explicitly created to commemorate a person or important event, or which has become important to a social group as a part of their remembrance of historic times or cultural heritage." While the Ten Commandments can be explicitly shown to have shaped both the values of the citizenry in the state of Oklahoma and also modern American jurisprudence, the church of Satan, the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, nor even earnest practicing Hindus can make such a claim. The state of Oklahoma is well within it prevue to reject these proposals even while allowing the Ten Commandment monument on just such reasoning.

Similarly, Los Angeles County Supervisors Antonovich and Knabe argued that the cross is appropriate on the LA County seal because the seal depicts a mission, which has historically boasted a cross on its steeple. California history is simply incomplete if one were to ignore Father Junipero Serra and the California missions. Whether the supervisors were themselves sincere in their desire, I don't know. However, I do know that the mission with its cross does accurately reflect the history and the cultural forces that shaped the county. Spanish Jesuits are why Los Angeles is so named.

It strikes me as I see more and more attempts to purge our cultural markers of Christian symbols that such motives are endangering our collective memory as a society. Monuments are important because they serve as remembrances of important influences. Public lands are not like AYSO leagues; not everyone should get a medal for simply being there. There are good reasons why certain Christian symbols belong on a county seal or a capitol lawn. I see no benefit from New York Satanists, nor how their ideas have contributed to the welfare of Oklahomans.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Why is Thanksgiving an "Accepted" Religious Holiday?

Thanksgiving is a fascinating holiday in the U.S. The overt Christian underpinnings of the celebration cannot be denied (the Pilgrims, were Christians, right?), yet I don't see any complaints of "shoving religion down one's throat" or the worries about offending someone by wishing them a Happy Thanksgiving. Macy's holds its annual Thanksgiving Day parade to the enjoyment of thousands and even Google has a Thanksgiving doodle today, where they seem to be adamant about ignoring Easter.

So why is Thanksgiving considered a "safe" holiday? As I've written before:
"In the very concept of thanksgiving, there's a tacit recognition of giver and receiver. In other words, if you are thankful for your present advantages, you must be thankful to someone. It makes no sense to say that you are thankful, but that thanks is attributed to the laws of nature. Imagine being thankful to gravity for holding you to the earth.  Similarly, it makes no sense to be thankful to luck, for luck is simply a word we use to talk about an arbitrary outcome.  There's no motivation behind luck; it is by definition purposeless and blind. To be thankful for purposelessness is silly."
Don't think the above statement is me stamping my foot and saying "If you're not going to acknowledge God, you can't celebrate Thanksgiving!" On the contrary, I'm glad that Thanksgiving has as far a reach as it does! I'm happy to know that the American culture still embraces this important holiday. Sure, from a consistency point of view I think that when many people express some kind of general thanks today they are fudging a bit on what they are saying, but I am very happy that they do say it at all.

You see, I think the far-reaching acceptance of Thanksgiving acknowledges our inherent understanding that we are not the most important thing in this world—that there is something bigger than us and that on our own we really are small creatures on a speck of dust floating through a vast universe. There is in each one of us at least a tacit recognition of God, even if it is as amorphous as "being thankful." Such recognition is important. By expressing an attitude of thanks it "demonstrates that God's law was written in their hearts"(Romans 2:15)and that He can still reach people.

Being thankful at Thanksgiving means that one is not out of reach of God's salvation, that one is still able to recognize his or her need for Him, even if it isn't identified as such. And for that God, who would build into us such a precious gift even when we didn't believe, I am truly thankful.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Let's Not be Diverse for Diversity's Sake

It seems that everywhere you turn that the term diversity is the byword of the day. We hear about corporations who seek to become more diverse to reach an ever-widening global market, diversity training classes for the "insensitive," and the need for more and more diversity across our cultures and institutions. Yes, the call for diversity is increasingly strong, but what is it we're calling for?

image by tadness
Whenever the concept of diversity is discussed, it's nearly always offered as a positive. But it seems that it's rarely well-defined. What exactly does diversity mean and why is it so important? If it is as important as the emphasis seems to show, then there ought to be a clear idea of what constitutes diversity and what path an organization can take to be more so. But, because the term has become such a buzzword, I'm concerned that people are agreeing to a concept that is too amorphous to be useful.

The University of North Carolina's Gillings School of Public Health pperformed an open survey in 2010, asking students how they would define diversity. Most answers centered around two ideas: the primary one was that diversity entails gathering together individuals from all kinds of different backgrounds, different socio-economic strata, different political opinions, different religious beliefs, and even different moral beliefs.  A second idea that surfaced was that these differences are all equally valid. As one answer put it "Diversity of experiences, viewpoints, backgrounds, and life experiences. Tolerance of thought, ideas, people with differing viewpoints, backgrounds, and life experiences." But is this really true? Should we seek all kinds of differing viewpoints for the sake of having difference? Should we tolerate just anything?

Now, I understand that there is great benefit to learning about and understanding other cultures. The Chinese gave us gunpowder, the Persians advanced algebra. Certain cultures excel at different aspects of life and culture A may be stuck trying to find the answer to some problem that culture B has solved long ago. Humans are like that; we think linearly for the most part. However, I have become a bit worried because with all the talk of diversity, we never speak of the other side of the coin. There is a very significant drawback to diversity for the sake of diversity—and that is the danger of becoming less human.

Let me explain. If diversity means sinply accepting everyone for who they are, regardless of their beliefs or cultural differences, then there would be no cultural practice one could call wrong or bad.  Cultural practices are simply different.  But in the real world there truly are some things that are bad and should be discouraged. For example, in many African nations the practice of female genital mutilation is a longstanding cultural tradition. This practice is barbaric, though.  We should not accept it for the sake of wanting a different point of view.  We know that such a viewpoint is simply unjustifiable.

The only way cultures advance is to improve themselves. This may mean looking to other cultures and learning from them, but it may also mean teaching other cultures a better way to do things. If we are simply accepting all cultures, all points of view, then how do we as a human race advance? Christianity has been the leader in helping other cultures across the globe with issues like farming, providing clean water and medicine, providing education, and other advances that western nations take for granted. In so doing, they are not spreading diversity, but unity; they recognize all human beings as worthy of dignity and the best that all our advances have brought to life. I fear that today as more and more people call for diversity across every aspect of life, that they don't realize it will only make a positive impact if it is first run through the filter of moral clarity. That's the only way we can serve humanity well.
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