Last week I wrote two posts about some problems I’ve observed. One was about neo-conservatism in U.S. politics, one was about Christians in general. Some people liked one post a lot more than they liked the other, which is curious to me, because I felt I was writing about the same thing: a general self-righteous uselessness among those who claim the name of Christ.
Yesterday I posted a speech by the President-elect about religion. In it, he talked about his own, and about how he perceived was the best way to reconcile his belief system against his role in politics. And what it boils down to is fairly simple:
You can have faith without reason — but you cannot lead without it.
For a disappointing majority of Christians, their faith is not a rational one. Many of us believe what we do because of routine, because of emotional experiences or because we were raised that way. When pressed to defend our faith, we have no more useful answers than someone defending their favorite sports team — people don’t like the Leafs or the Habs, the Giants or the Packers for intellectual reasons. They may say they have some, but when it comes down to it, its just a stubborn belief that they are right.
For a disappointing majority of Christians, a stubborn belief that they are right about their faith is sufficient to get them through life. Sure they may occasionally get into a debate with someone about it, but they aren’t likely to persuade or be persuaded. At best, it’ll escalate to an emotional yelling match between two uninformed, irrational believers.
But that’s OK, because afterward they’ll go home, and continue to live their routine out until they die, having had little-to-no impact on the world around them.
However, should a Christian decide to go out into the world around them (Matthew 28:19-20), and try to lead or try to reach, they’ll find fairly quickly that an unquestioned, irrational faith is useless to anyone who doesn’t share it. They can shout what they believe at the top of their lungs, but without reason behind it, they’re no more useful to the world than a crazy person standing on a street corner predicting the apocalypse. In fact, you need look no further than a few influential sites on the Internet to discover that Christians are generally seen as ignorant and backward.
We have allowed the passionately stupid to rise as leaders within our ranks, simply because the volume of their ranting seems to hold conviction.
An irrational, thoughtless faith may be useful within our community, but if we want to lead the world with it, we’re going to have to answer with more than “do this or you’ll go to hell!” We’re going to have to provide some reason behind the principles we believe in.
This may seem a little scary — and that’s OK, because it is. The reality of life is that not everyone will choose Christ (Matthew 22:14). We have to accept the fact that not everyone will decide to believe what we do. But if we desire to be in leadership — if we want our countries to behave as Christian nations — we have to be able to lead those who don’t share our beliefs. If we can assume that the Bible contains principles useful for instruction and useful for government and leadership (and it does) then we need to discover the universally applicable reasons behind those principles.
We cannot lead our countries (our employees, our families) without reasons behind our convictions. It is not enough to say “the Bible says so!”
The good news is, I can’t think of an example of a Biblical mandate that doesn’t have a rational explanation behind it:
The Bible says not to steal… because stealing is corrosive to a community.
The Bible says not to commit adultery… because adultery destroys families.
The Bible says not to murder… because murder kills people, duh!
But it goes beyond the obvious. In the Old Testament, God’s people were apparently inexplicably commanded not to eat pork (Deuteronomy 14:8). Maybe this seemed like an irrational commandment, until you realize that pork is the hardest kind of meat to make sanitary. Is it possible that God gave that instruction to His children to protect them from disease and infection? In the Old Testament, God commands his armies that to defecate in their camps would make those camps ceremonially unclean. Is it possible that God told His kids that so they wouldn’t poop where they slept and ate?
In fact, I challenge you to find a single instruction in the Bible for which you cannot find a principle with sound reasoning for society at large – Christian or non.
See, God doesn’t expect us to follow stupidly, or blindly. He, in His grace, has arranged a path to salvation that can be achieved without any kind of intellectual challenge. But with equal grace has given us a Way that withstands the examination of all our intellect.
Would it be ideal if, instead of leading non-Christians, we could convert them all to our belief system, so that they’d do exactly what we tell them without question? Maybe, maybe not. But the Bible says that won’t happen anyway. So if we desire leadership — if we desire for Christian principles to be applied to the government of our countries — we’re going to have understand why those principles are valuable, and be able to communicate the reasoning behind them.
Reason transcends religion and irreligion. Fortunately, our God is a logical one, and our faith a reasonable one. (Acts 17:2-3)
This means, you’re going to have to question your faith — other people certainly will! You are going to have to work out your own salvation with fear and trembling! Its not enough to believe irrationally! If you want to teach, you have to understand!
This means that if you’re opposed to gay marriage, you’re not only going to have to find a part of the Bible that teaches against it, but you’re going to have to understand why it does.
This means that if you think we’re supposed to be at war with Iraq, you’re going to have to find a Biblical reason for it AND you’re going to have to be able to explain the logic behind that mandate.
If you’re for the death penalty, you can’t just say “an eye for an eye,” you’ll have to explain why that works — and why it works better than the alternatives.
And if its a matter of religion for you that every American is entitled to have a gun in their house, not only should you find a verse that says something along those lines, but you’re going to have to understand that verse well enough that you can communicate the principle apart from the religion.
And if you find those things challenging, then you begin to understand how your faith might be useless to the world around you. How being a conservative does not guarantee that you are the right person to be in government. How saying you’re on a mission from God might not hold any water for the people outside your church body — in fact, it might make you look a little crazy if you follow a God that cannot withstand even a little intellectual cross-examination.
Fortunately, that’s not the God we follow. That may be the God we’ve communicated for the past few decades, but that’s not who He is. Its my firm belief that when God said He created us in his image, that doesn’t mean we necessarily physically look like Him. It means that He gave us, above all other creatures on the planet, an ability to think, to communicate, to investigate and to understand. We are more than just the sum of our parts because God wanted people He could walk with, talk to, and reason with.
If you choose not to reason, and prefer to follow blindly, that’s OK. He’ll accept your child-like devotion, as perhaps being the best you can offer. But if you want other people to follow what you believe, you’re going to have to communicate a God who is relevant to their lives — who’s teaching is useful and practical, that stands up to examination, and in that investigation, reveals itself to be divine.
I am discovering that this is a difficult challenge. It actually means that we, as Christians, have to question the things we shout at people. It means that no part of our faith should be taught to others until it has been understood in our own lives. It may mean that some of the principles that we have come to accept as religious (or near-religious) guidance are not actually in the Bible at all (I’m looking at you, capitalism!)
It definitely means that we are not going to be really effective in leading in our communities, countries and in our world, until we have sought God’s heart — not just His Word. It may even mean that our faith isn’t useful to others until its been tested.
It also means that we’ll never, ever make it. That God’s work will always be completed by God, and not us. No matter how effective we are at communicating what we believe, it will never be us who causes life change. But we are responsible for planting seeds, for demonstrating His love and leadership. If we sow seeds of discord, of fear, of hatred or intolerance, than that is the God we are communicating to our world. And we fail as His ambassadors.