Tuesday, February 08, 2005

Christianity: Secularists, Intolerance, Pluralism, and America

AJM asks:

"Why . . . do so many elite Secularists bemoan the intolerant fundamentalism of Christians? Could it be because they have a hard time holding in seeming tension both Christ's pluralist inclinations and His absolute truth claims ('I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father but through me.')?"

A first, simple answer: yes. Secularists--whether elite or not--by definition are atheists (or, in some cases, agnostic, but I won't treat that here). They regard the idea that Christ was man and God as ridiculous, as they regard the idea of God as ridiculous. So, it goes, the idea that Christians believe, or are convicted of, anything based on Biblical truth is ridiculous, since Secularists don’t regard the Bible as anything more than a book created by men. So any "absolute truths" flowing from the Bible are dismissed.

It follows then that Secularists despise Christian, Bible-based ideas that seem "intolerant" more than anything else they disdain about believers in an invisible intelligent being. They are particularly offended by the ideas of traditional marriage, opposition to homosexuality, or preserving innocent human life from conception on because these ideas, at least on their face, undermine "progressive," "modern" culture.

Most importantly, they never bother to ask WHY Christians–fundamentalist, moderate, or liberal–believe what they do. So they’ll never understand how one seemingly intolerant idea squares with another, seemingly pluralistic one. Or the basis for either.

For some Secularists, however, there is a tendency to forgive all of what’s "good" in the Bible as long as what is unappealing is put aside. It’s easy to feel comfortable with the idea of loving your neighbors and enemies (although not easy to do). It’s easy to feel at home with the idea of forgiveness. It makes a person feel good to love peace and human good-will. Many Secularists would even say, and some do: Would Jesus do THAT? Replace THAT with "attack Iraq" and you get a persistent 2-year-old outcry vocalized by Secularists and liberal Christians alike.

But it’s much harder to feel at home with "homosexuality is a sin." In fact, many Christians do not believe–or are not convicted of–this. But most, if not all, fundamentalist Christians do. What Secularists don’t fully understand is that this is a point of contention within the church as well as between the church and the secular world. Christianity is not easy. It can be incredibly complicated, non-intuitive, and frustrating.

But it’s OK to dispute these things. It always will be. Christians disagree fervently with one another on numerous topics of great political and social weight.

The problem, however, with many Secularists, is that they never even get to what Jesus would do or wouldn’t do–the "good" undisputed stuff–because they associate the whole ball of wax with these politically hot topics. They never get to Jesus’ pluralist teachings or the lessons therein.

If Secularists chose to do so, they could consider the Bible as wholly man-made and still take good lessons for life from it. They could even consider it mythology. But they throw out the baby with the bath water by dismissing all religion as naive, overly optimistic, or simple-minded. And they lose a fundamentally healthy perspective on human society–both in America and abroad.

Most importantly, by dismissing Christianity and other religions whose truth claims may approximate those of Christianity, Secularists miss great ideas. Call them "truths." Call them whatever you want. But they are without doubt important and influential.

One example is the idea of America. As AJM hinted, the fundamental freedoms we enjoy in this country are the products of men who were, by and large, practicing, serious Christians. Their ancestors escaped societies in which they could not practice their brands of Christianity. (Christianity in that way called them to America.) They regarded the notion of justice as God-driven. They regarded the notion of equality among men as God-given. They regarded the idea of freedom as a blessing bestowed by God that must be seized and enlivened in a republican form of government with built-in checks on power and accessibility to all who are willing to participate and work hard.

This exemplifies what AJM was talking about when he mentioned Christianity's tolerance of other worldviews. In the First Amendment, created by Christians, we find the freedom to practice whatever religion one sees fit (within other Constitutional boundaries), and the freedom to be free of state-sponsored religion (also within Consitutional boundaries).

Because of their belief in God and His ideals the Founders transcended, or gave up, themselves. This was for the sake of all Americans, and–I would argue–for all the citizens of the world who are lucky enough to experience the good of America.

I consider this kind of transcendence--or loss--of self one of the most incisive lessons of Christianity.

But even if Christianity weren’t the truth, believing in and practicing the tenets, the pluralistic ideals, of Christ, is good for everyone anyway. That’s where Secularists miss the boat. Many would rather approach life as if humans were the alpha and omega. They are so attached to "self" that they cannot bare the idea of a greater power (other than Nature, but that’s for another entry), or even of a greater good.


Blogger ajmac said...

Good observations. Christianity has much to offer even those who disbelieve its truth claims.

Self-centerdness is never admired in any culture, time, or place. It is, in fact, the universal vice.

3:26 PM  

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