Post-Christian -- America's Food-Court Faith
Twenty-five facts have come to light in our post-Christian culture that are so unexpected, yet important, they were featured in Newsweek with the attention-grabbing title, “What You Need to Know Now.” The sense of urgency for our post-Christian world is compelling.
Newsweek’s must-know findings include: “Aliens Exist!” (well, not really, but given enough money and resources, we’re sure to find them); “It’s Too Late to Stop Global Warming” (following the previous piece, this felt like a bid to divert our attentions from climate change to SETI, so that when we do find those aliens, they can show us how to avoid the terminal heat wave); and “Getting Greener All the Time” (global warming notwithstanding, air and water quality on the planet has never been better; a fact, it will be noted, rarely reported by the mainline media).
Some of the other provocative findings are “Bipartisanship is Bad” and “Socialism is the Best Medicine.” I’ll let those pass for now, and turn to the capstone of the piece: “We Are All Hindus Now.” It follows a current thread.
Post-Christian – Our New Cultural Heritage?
What’s the evidence for our post-Christian thinking? Earlier this year, the American Religious Identification Survey (ARIS) reported that since 1990, the percentage of Americans self-identifying as non-theists grew from 10 to 20 percent, while the percentage of self-identified Christians slipped from 86 to 76 percent.
Then, in April 2009, president Obama opined to a Turkish audience, “We do not consider ourselves a Christian nation or a Jewish nation or a Muslim nation; we consider ourselves a nation of citizens who are bound by ideals and a set of values.” Earlier, Obama the candidate told CBN’s David Brody, "Whatever we once were, we're no longer just a Christian nation; we are also a Jewish nation, a Muslim nation, a Buddhist nation, a Hindu nation, and a nation of nonbelievers.”
While it is true that our nation enjoys a rich diversity of faith expressions, that diversity is not the product of religiously pluralistic values but, rather, of Christian notions about individual freedoms, including, foremost, the freedom of religion. There is a reason why culturally Christian nations consistently lead the world in religious liberty, while Muslim, Hindu, and secular nations lead the world in religious persecution.
Whatever “we” Newsweek and the president are referring to, is certainly not the “we” who understand that the “ideals and set of values” that bind us—like, human dignity, inalienable rights, rule by the consent of the governed, balance of powers—are distinctively Christian in origin. That “we” is the 62 percent of Americans who still consider the U.S. a Christian nation.
Yet, sadly, both Newsweek and President Obama are on to something.
Post-Christian – Are We Really All Hindus Now?
After giving a nod to our Christian founding and the overwhelming percentage of Americans who identify themselves as “Christian,” Newsweek admits, “Of course, we are not a Hindu…nation.” Nevertheless, “recent poll data show that conceptually, at least, we are becoming more like Hindus and less like traditional Christians in the ways we think about God, our selves, each other, and eternity.” Though not stated in the article, our “conceptual” faith has led to post-Christian lifestyles and behaviors that are at variance with our professed faith.
Regular readers of “All Things Examined” will not find this particularly newsworthy. Periodically, I have referenced the findings of George Barna, and others, on the yawning gap between our faith profession and our actual beliefs and practices. According to a Barna survey, published in March 2009, the gap remains large: Although 76 percent of the adult populace professes Christianity, only 9 percent have a biblical worldview. (For 18- to 23-year-olds, it’s 0.5 percent!) Even among “born agains,” a biblical worldview is held by just 19 percent. What’s more, these figures have held steady for the past 13 years and show no signs of changing.
We cringe every time a high-profile Christian is involved in scandal or corruption. Yet, as distressing as these moral failures are, they shouldn’t be surprising.
In a culture where only 34 percent of individuals believe in absolute moral truth, morality is personal, subjective, and utilitarian. Adultery is permissible in the life-long search for one’s “soul mate”; aborting an unplanned child is a heroic, if tragic, sacrifice for “it,” my loved ones, for me; dishing the dirt on our neighbor is offering neighborly advice to our neighbors; persuading unqualified individuals to lie on a loan application is a merciful measure to help get families into homes.
Post-Christian -- From Creeds to Needs
Here’s the greatest evidence for our post-Christian condition. While the religious foundation of our country is as it has always been, Christian, in the short span of a few decades, we have moved from a religion of confessional creeds to the spiritualization of personal needs, where the question is no longer, “Is it true?” but, “Does it work?”
This has led to a smorgasbord faith that, as Boston University’s Stephen Prothero writes, “is very much in the spirit of Hinduism.” Professor Prothero explains, “If going to yoga works, great—and if going to Catholic mass works, great. And if going to Catholic mass plus the yoga plus the Buddhist retreat works, that’s great, too.”
I suppose if attending mass, doing yoga, retreating with the Buddhists, and viewing some Internet porn works, that’d be great, as well. And if that doesn’t work, there’s always Prozac. With only our felt needs to guide us, who’s to argue?
Yet the restless quest to satisfy our personal needs can never fill our universal need: an abiding relationship with the Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. In contrast to the “food court” religion of cultural Hinduism, Christianity is a one-stop source of Truth—a Truth that addresses man’s real need, for a Savior and for a way to live that is in harmony with the way things really are.
Christian teachings on the weighty issues of origins, morality, human nature, and ultimate ends form a belief system that is comprehensive in scope, coherent in logic, and livable in practice. It is the only belief system imparting eternal significance to our existence, while enabling us to experience peace, joy, and security even when our felt-needs go unmet. That’s because Christianity is for others—it is what we do for others because of what God has done for us.
For that reason, Christians must not yield to the social taboo of vocalizing one’s faith out of deference to the religious sensibilities of others. If, indeed, Christianity offers the best answers for the mysteries of life, it would be insensitive, even uncaring, toward our neighbors to shrink back from speaking a word of truth into their lives.
Post-Christian Wake-up Call
Contrary to the post-Christian principles of modern social etiquette, the Christian faith is both public and “practiced” with propositional truths that have application to every dimension of the human experience. As the great theologian and statesman Abraham Kuyper once stated, “There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry: 'Mine!’”
Yet our failure to see Christianity as worldview—a unified body of truth that speaks to every sphere of culture, be it art, literature, science, politics, education, law, or the marketplace—has created a false distinction between the sacred and secular, that is responsible for the troubling gap that exists between our profession and our practice.
Thus, now more than ever, it is important that Christians understand the worldview implications of their faith, and apply biblical principles to all of life. To that end, the Chuck Colson Center for Christian Worldview has launched an online worldview training ministry. The Center is a “research, study, and networking center for growing in a Christian worldview” with “opportunities for personal mentoring, ongoing and customized study and training, and daily email newsletters and devotionals.” The Center houses a considerable library of articles, links and teaching resources—audio and video, as well as, text—to help you strengthen and tone your worldview muscles.
Now that is something you really “need to know now!” in our post-Christian culture.
Compliments of Regis Nicoll. This article first appeared on BreakPoint at www.breakpoint.org.
Regis Nicoll is a Centurion of Prison Fellowship’s Wilberforce Forum. He is a columnist for Breakpoint, Salvo Magazine, and Crosswalk and writes for Prison Fellowship’s blog, The Point. He also publishes a free weekly commentary addressing the pressing issues of the day.
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