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Friday, October 17, 2014

We Shouldn't Let The Pendulum Hit Us On The Way Out

A most revealing comment about how much of Conservative Christianity sees itself is made by Tim Keller. In his book, Center Church, Keller makes the following statement:
First, We have entered a post-Christian or post-Christiandom age. For centuries in the Western world, the Christian Church had a privileged place, but this is no longer true. Rather than being a force at the center of culture, Christianity has moved to the margins. 1

This quote is important because it sets the table for the article being reviewed here. The article being reviewed was written by David Robertson (click here for the article). We are reviewing it because Robertson's article is describing a new King Of The Hill wannabe that is vying to take Christianity's privileged place in society. We should note here that reviewing this article is problematic because Robertson is writing observations of what is happening 'across the pond' in Scotland and I have little to no exposure with which to either confirm or challenge what he is saying. However, points can still be made in reviewing this article.

Robertson is sounding the general quarters alarm over secularism. However, the secularism he is warning us about is not the old comfortable shoe that many of us are use to. That secularism is defined in the beginning of his post as: the belief that the state, morals, education, etc should be independent of religion. (Chambers).  And Robertson mildly complains about the Christian acceptance of secularism while saying: most Christians are secularists in the sense that most secular societies describe secularism, when they state that they are simply about the separation of church and state. Most of us are happy to live in a secular society – one that is not run by the Church. Ironically, this definition of secularism is Karl Marx's definition of the abolishment of religion (click here).

The new secularism Robertson is warning us against is targeting Christianity for destruction. Because of that, Robertson makes the following accusations against this secularism: 

  1. The New Secularism is being used as a disguise for a militant anti-religious philosophy
  2. The New Secularism is irrational and illogical
  3. The New Secularism is obsessed with sex and sexuality
  4. The New Secularism is increasingly militant, intolerant and aggressive
Now again, this blog cannot speak to what Robertson has observed. But here, there now seems to be more attacks on Conservative Christianity than before. And when one reads the blog attacks he has received, one can understand his statement. But we should note two things here. First, some of his sample data used to support this point is coming from blogs.  For whatever reason, blogs bring out the worse in people regardless of their religion or lack thereof. So the question becomes whether the new secular blogposts attacking him really reflect on secularism or on something else like Western culture or humanity. 

But there is another point here. Is the animosity against Christianity which he has witnessed a first strike or a response to how Christians have represented Christ in the past? At this point, Robertson's reaction to the new secularism's animosity against Christianity is much like the West' reaction against terrorism. The story seems to always start with the injustices we've suffered without giving much thought to whether our gang has already caused others to suffer. Concerning terrorism, before we isolate our focus on 9-11, we should look at the sanction years in Iraq, which we both designed and enforced, and how they contributed to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Iraqi children. We should look at how we sponsored Saddam Hussein in Iraq until he invaded a rich friend. This sponsorship included providing him with materials to make WMDs. We could even go all the way back to 1953 when we, along with the British, orchestrated a coup to replace a democratically elected government with a tyrant.

So with us Christians, we need to look back and see how Christians acted shamelessly before rushing to judge the New Secularists. This especially applies to Christians with ecclesiastical, financial, or political power.

This leads to Robertson's next point where he accuses the new secularism of not being in touch with reality as it accuses Christianity of being responsible for Islamic extremism. The murder of a British soldier, Lee Rigby, by 2 Islamic extremists introduces this point. Certainly, it is understandable for Robertson not to be able to connect the dots between Christianity and Islamic extremism. And this blog could not determine if there is any such connection between Christianity and Rigby's murderers. But what do we think when we look at Israel and its brutal occupation of the Palestinian territories (a state according to a couple of nations in the UN)? And when will we critically look at American and other Western policies supported by Conservative Christians in the name of patriotism? Perhaps we would hesitate calling the New Secularism 'irrational' for at least attributing Islamic extremism to Christianity.

To say Christianity is partially responsible for Islamic extremism is not to take away the responsibility of committing terror by the terrorists. But we have to look at the conditions that spawned the terrorism. And this is Noam Chomsky's point (expanded view in video, condensed view in article). Chomsky's point is that as we continually respond to the problems in the Middle East with overwhelming violence, then the response from our opponents will attempt to be at least just as violent. So as we continue to use violence to solve our problems, and as we continue to support dictators, as we did for a while with Saddam Hussein and as we do now with the Saudi Royal family, there will be a push back that attempts to keep up with the violence we use. And, again, as much as Christians support governments that use harsh violence on Muslims according to what fits our policies, then we can say that Christianity did contribute to the existence of Islamic extremism. And the attempt to make that connection is not irrational. In fact, the attempt to deny the connection just might be an instance of externalizing evil.

As for the New Secularism's enthusiastic focus on sex, they are not alone, others emphasize sex as well. But what has caused Robertson to make this charge is the push for equality for homosexuals. He complains that those who do not fall in line with the new sexual equality party line will be viciously attacked verbally. That is certainly becoming more and more true here in the states. But to just look at what how the New Secularists are treating those holding to traditional Christian values ignores the context for the animosity. 

I don't know about Scotland, but I remember a time in my life when homosexuality was treated as a crime. Now, let's compare Robertson's complaint to that. As in Robertson's first complaint, he doesn't consider what preceded the New Secularism's persecution of traditional Christian values on sex. And though we Christians don't deserve to be slandered or verbally abused to holding firm to Biblical sexual standards, we should take note of how past Christians have tried to use laws to persecute homosexuals--at least we have in America. 

Could it be that the strong reaction to our holding firm to Biblical standards on sex is a result of how we tried to have our way with prohibiting homosexuals from loving whom they choose in society. And we should recognize the differences between using Church discipline on church members who don't hold to Biblical Standards from using civil law on everyone in society to enforce the same standards.

Robertson's last charge is how the New Secularism is intolerant and becoming aggressive. He gives little evidence for this except to quote an educator who said that religion in the future should be a 'choice' that is 'freely followed' so long as it does not have an 'impact' on others. Robertson reacts rights way by telling us how his religion has an impact on others and thus he could not follow the guidelines. However, Robertson's reaction to this statement is premature in that what is meant by 'impact' is not well-defined. And thus we don't what that means. In addition, these were the words of a single educator rather than a group. There is practically no evidence given here that tells us what the New Secularists want. Just a single quote from a single educator. 

There are problems with Robertson's article here. The first problem is that we are given no data telling us of the popularity of the New Secularists.  All we are given are some anecdotes. And thus it is difficult to see if the actual threat of the New Secularists matches the possible threat based on their beliefs and actions. 

Another problem, which was already mentioned, is that attitudes/actions of the New Secularists are mentioned outside of any context and thus making it look like what the New Secularists are doing constitutes a first strike on Christianity or a reaction to Christian leadership from the past is difficult at best. 

Finally, and this is where the title comes in, if many of the actions which the New Secularists have exhibited are reactions to past Christian abuse of power, then protesting the New Secularist positions shows an inability to recognize the privileged status in society that Robertson's Christianity has had. And if Christianity had a privileged status, then the old secularism, see the above definition, never existed. But furthermore, if we do recognize the advances advocated by the New Secularists as taking place, what we are really witnessing is nothing more than a pendulum swing where the New Secularists are replacing Christians as having power. And if that is the case, the pendulum swing that favors the New Secularists just might, in many cases, reflect the past when the pendulum swing favored Christianity. So before anxiously lamenting the changing of the guard, we need to seriously reflect on and even contritely confess the past Christian abuse of privilege. At least that is how things stand on this side of the pond.


References

  1. Center Church by Tim Keller, pg 259

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