Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Exploring a Parallel Universe - Christianity Today Magazine

Exploring a Parallel Universe - Christianity Today Magazine

This is such a good article. I really identify with what the author is saying - although I wish I had a strong dialogue with people who believe differently. Often people are aware that I'm a Christian, and kind of shut up about certain things around me. Either that or, unaware, they talk as if I believe the same as they do.

It's weird how there's a kind of unspoken secular orthodoxy in New Zealand (and probably the rest of the Western world) today. It's almost as if there's an anti-apostle's-creed:

  • God is an idea, not a person. (Nicely takes out the need for relationship or accountability to that idea, but you still get to be spiritual)

  • Anyone can believe what they want, as long as they don't try and impose those beliefs on others (sounds nice in theory, but what about, say, parents and children? Law enforcement? The media? It all depends on shared beliefs)

  • Gays should be able to get married, whatever, I don't care. (The conservative argument about how this affects the status of real marriage doesn't hold much sway, except among conservative Christians)

  • Fundamentalism of all kinds is dangerous - especially among Americans in the red states. (This makes us liberal kiwis feel very clever, because the obvious answer is that Osama bin Laden is a dangerous fundamentalist; but it's just as trendy to say so is George W Bush)

And the last point takes you back to the first. Specifics divide, let's just believe in the idea of God rather than worry about who His Son is, or who His prophet is...

Trouble is, that kind of belief system only relies on what's already inside us humans - some good, some bad. And that's how some people like it; I can relate to that, I went through a period of wanting to be a secular humanist for a while. It seemed simpler than being a Christian. Maybe it is...

But the truth is, real Christianity is via revelation from a real and living God. SomeOne with a will, someOne different from me, a Person who is separate. That's what holy means.

Anyway, I'm ranting. Back to the article - my favourite quotes:

"Visiting another city a few months ago, I met with three gay men who consider themselves Christians, attend church regularly, and take their faith seriously. They view the political landscape through the same lens as my reading group friends, though with a far more acute sense of alarm. "We feel like we're in the same situation as the Jews in the early days of Hitler's regime," said one. "We're trying to discern whether it's 1933 or 1939. Should we all flee to Canada now? It's obvious the country doesn't want us, and I believe most evangelicals would like to see us exterminated."

I responded with sheer incredulity. "How can you think such a thing! Homosexuals have more rights in this country than ever. And I don't know a single Christian who wants to have you exterminated." The three cited legislative efforts in several states to roll back rights granted homosexuals and gave me several pages of inflammatory rhetoric against homosexuals by prominent evangelical political activists.

I went away from that discussion with my head spinning, just as sometimes happens at the university reading group. How can people who inhabit the same society have such different perceptions? More ominously, what have we evangelicals done to make Good News—the very meaning of the word evangelical—sound like such a threat?"


"Josh asked me to recommend some books by C. S. Lewis or someone else who could explain the faith in a way that he could understand. "My sister sends me Christian books, but they're totally unconvincing," he said. "They seem written for people who already believe them." I happily complied.

Reflecting on our conversation, I remembered a remark by Lewis, who drew a distinction between communicating with a society that hears the gospel for the first time and one that has embraced and then largely rejected it. A person must court a virgin differently than a divorcée, said Lewis. One welcomes the charming words; the other needs a demonstration of love to overcome inbuilt skepticism."

Virgin vs. divorcee. How true that is. I guess most people I've met who subscribe to the unwritten anti-apostle's-creed have had their own personal experience with religion. We usually don't arrive at conclusions for no reason. What's important, though, is that our minds are flexible and able to take on more truth as it comes to us.


Larry Ellis said...

I really would like the source of this analogy of the virgin/divorcee. If anyone knows that please send me the information.

Simon said...

Hi Larry, sorry I can't help much, as in the original article the author (Philip Yancey) just said "I remembered a remark by Lewis". However there's a discussion forum at the foot of the original article. Hope this helps.

Jack Yan said...

Very interesting, Simon, and I like the analogy, too. The belief by gays that they are being persecuted might come from the politicization of their issues, with a willing and cooperative media—and sadly, there’s money to be had in doing so. I am not blaming gay groups—often it’s “right-wing” groups that are just as guilty. This perhaps happens more Stateside than it does here, where everything seems to be under a political bent—from race relations to sexuality. Though follow the trail more, and it leads to dollars: you sell more air time and newspaper ads if you make it controversial and exaggerated.
   As you will have seen from another group we are both on, and perhaps even a few of my blogs, earlier media simply didn’t cover the inflammatory rhetoric, dismissing them as rantings of madmen (in some cases they are). I still submit there was more tolerance with how we dealt with minority issues—though it’s equally fair to say there was more ignorance. At the end of the day there was more integrity: reporting rantings was bad form then, but is good financial sense now.
   This sense of responsibility ensured that everyone felt reasonably good about themselves.
   Today’s pessimism has come from these forces, but they have led to a lack of faith and acceptance—and I do not restrict my ‘faith’ argument to religion, but personal faith in ourselves. In the last 30 years, I’ve seen people become less bold, and more accepting of the status quo. ‘Protests’ are very subtle, often taking the form of people joining groups where others do the work, to wit, the support of the Green Party among the young. Let Sue Bradford get out there and get arrested, and let Nandor smoke pot. These get headlines—just as the extreme right-wing manages to.
   This has persuaded gays that if they are to be visible in society they either (a) stay in the closet or (b) target being outside the mainstream—the exception being the more militant speakers, who get the headlines (assuming they exist today). Hence Hudson and Halls aired during prime time 30 years ago, but today’s “gay shows” are late-night—in New Zealand that includes the progressive shifting of Will and Grace to later and later slots. The gay community’s freedom has been lost.
   That money argument I make extends further and adds to prejudice: why not target the mainstream, now that we can quantify exactly how much the gay market is valued? It is the opposite to the initial flushes of the gay community—after the Homosexual Law Reform Act in New Zealand, and after a push (perhaps by gay groups?) that homosexuals were more likely to have higher disposable income. For a while, commerce operated in demographic ignorance, thinking gays were a viable target market. To an extent, they still are. But quantified, it makes less sense to target that market. (Yet it does make sense to target monied southern Chinese, which is why the ANZ has begun an ad campaign in Cantonese. Why not Mandarin? Because while Mandarin speakers outnumber Cantonese speakers, Cantonese speakers usually have better credit.)
   As I said in the other group, I am sure gays don’t need a heterosexual like me to defend their rights, just as I don’t expect the majority race to defend my rights. But I do believe sometimes we need to work for it, rather than perceive people are out to get us. In my case it is getting visible myself in the mainstream, in order to change perceptions. It might just be working. When those perceptions are changed, then the way each group is targeted might just become fairer, relying less on exclusion.
   Coming back to your final paragraphs, the “Christian books written for believers” idea could come from a rejection of Christianity based on the above forces. At the least, they are predisposed against it thanks to this.
   I consider myself somewhere on the continuum between a spiritualist and a liberal Christian—in that I believe that one can be saved through Christ if one chooses. So if one has a Christian message—or at least one that has humanist values that have parallels in Christianity—what can be done?
   The solution may be to reintroduce a concept of responsibility. The media realize, for instance, that they need to change—falling newspaper circulation figures are cause for alarm. Therefore, their solution is to put integrity back in the news—because cynical consumers have a BS meter built in to their minds, and have been rejecting the mainstream media (MSM) in favour of either online media, blogs or media outlets that they perceive to be balanced.
   When that happens, the voices that are reported may have more substance rather than sound bites, heading back to a more “educated” form of reporting.
   But this must begin at the individual level. We get what we deserve—or what we unwillingly pray for. If we don’t demand newspapers change, for instance, or if we keep feeding the tabloid machine, then we only have ourselves to blame when they report on the loud-mouthed fringes of society, one which limits the quieter, tolerant members of society, regardless of creed, sexuality or race.