In Rise of the Nones: Understanding and Reaching the Religiously Unaffiliated, James Emery White details how the western world became thoroughly secularized. White points to the following characters and events as leading to key shifts in thinking at the time …
- Copernicus – “The Cosmological Attack” stated that the universe is heliocentric as opposed to Earth-centered.
- Darwin – “The Biological Attack” stated that the origin of mankind came about by natural selection.
- Freud – “The Psychological Attack” stated that God is merely a projection of human desire.
White said the combination of such thoughts was something of a “perfect storm” for an attack on Christian faith.
If it’s true that a combination of events and ideas can derail us from considering God and the authority of his Word, it would stand to reason that another combination of events can swing the pendulum back the other direction. In fact, if you study the history of spiritual Great Awakenings in our country, you notice some common threads. First, there is some sort of collective social despair due to recognition of moral indecency. This is followed by a higher standard for self and social institutions. Certain articulate leaders begin to encourage a repentance of the old and present a vision for something better, leveraging technology and inspiring communities in the process. This leads to a new appreciation of grace and subsequent joy follows.
I’m not sure the following events qualify as Copernicus, Darwin, and Freud, but arguably the three largest news items of the past month share something in common – they point out the fallacy of humanist (i.e. man is the top of chain, not God) thinking.
The NBC Nightly News anchor acknowledges that he lied about a helicopter journey in Iraq. Then he made an apology that was perceived by many as weak. Military personnel were offended. The American public was offended. Stories kept popping up about other items Williams had drastically exaggerated or blatantly lied about. Damage control took over. Several weeks later, NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams has become NBC Nightly News. The celebrity anchor is gone.
So what? Everyone has been guilty of lying at some point. Why should Williams be held to a higher standard? Well, Brian Williams, the man, should not be unfairly ridiculed. However, Brian Williams the news anchor probably should, because he’s supposed to be hosting THE NEWS. By definition, the news is supposed to be factual reporting, not fiction. When you present fiction as news on a national level, this is called propaganda. It’s the dissemination of false information to the country, and, left unchecked, it’s the behavior that ran rampant in the early twentieth century which culminated in two World Wars.
Certainly, Communist countries were subjected to this as the government sought to control the way people thought. But the temptation is there in the capitalist West as well. “Media” here is ultimately a business, a commodity to be sold. If you’re not producing something that people want to buy, you won’t stay in business. Combine that capitalistic mindset with the idea that media, almost by necessity tends to lean towards sensationalism. For instance, you would never report that everything was status quo within Christian churches, you only report when there is a “newsworthy” scandal. Consequently, people are conditioned to only see the bad in the world, but think that it is an accurate snapshot of reality.
So….when we find out that the news really isn’t the truth, that’s alarming. It’s disconcerting in the same way that discovering you can’t trust everything in your classroom textbooks is. “Facts” aren’t always real facts. The news isn’t just the news, but sometimes just biased lies and propaganda used to sell a product.
“For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear.” (2 Tim. 4:3)
SOCIETAL TAKEAWAY: We can’t fully trust what the media reports.
ISIS Beheads 21 Coptic Christians in Libya
For the past six months, Americans haven’t exactly known to what extent ISIS is a threat. With the recent slaughter, it’s now clear that the militant Islamic State is deeply entrenched in Syria, Iraq, Libya and beyond.
This comes on the heels of President Obama having just taken a great deal of criticism for his comments at the National Prayer Breakfast Address. Obama compared the terrorist acts of the Islamic State to those committed in the history of Christianity – e.g. the Crusades, the Spanish Inquisition, the Salem Witch Trials. Historians didn’t like it. While there are wicked acts in the history of Christianity, and Christians need to own that, it’s simply false to say that they’re on the same scale as acts done in the name of Allah or those done in the name of “no god.” For instance, Henry Kamen’s scholarship on the Spanish Inquisition has proven that significantly more people were killed on 9/11 than in the entire 350 years of the Inquisition! That both were sinful is without doubt. Suggesting that they are on the same scale of social impact, however, is just bad history. To our credit, Americans have picked up on this. Many are not buying the comparison.
Even fewer are buying the comments of State Department Deputy Spokesman Marie Harf, who said that Islamic jihadists can only be dealt with by creating more job opportunities and education programs. Americans, including Hardball host Chris Matthews, on whose program the comments were made, are collectively gasping, “What?!?!”
This is a significant shift. For a long time, the western world has been saying things about religions like, “They’re all basically the same, they just use different terminology” and “If it works for you, great, but don’t push your beliefs on others.” Obama has been the embodiment of that type of ideology. But the evidence in front of Americans is now telling them otherwise. Where is the Christian Al-Qaeda? Where is the Christian ISIS? Who is the Christian Bin Laden? The clear indications are that all religions are NOT fundamentally the same, but actually quite different.
So we’re left with a deeply spiritual conundrum. If we try to stamp out religion entirely, we end up with the mass slaughters brought about by Communism (Mao, Stalin, Hitler, Tojo, Pol Pot, etc.), the failed godless experiment of the twentieth century. Doesn’t work. So, the next option might be to say that all religions are basically the same. We’re now clearly finding out that’s not true either. Rather, we’re collectively becoming convinced that there is something deeply spiritual about mankind, and there is, in fact, such a thing as a right and wrong spirituality.
“For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” (Eph. 6:12)
SOCIETAL TAKEAWAY: All religions aren’t the same. Some are better for the world than others.
Fifty Shades of Grey
Last but not least. The film adaptation of E.L. James best-selling book opened this week with record-breaking numbers. That’s not really newsworthy. That was to be expected given the success of the books. What indicates something of a societal shift is the negative backlash that the movie has received – movie critics are generally some of the more liberal voices in society. So the fact that Fifty Shades currently has a 4.1 (out of 10) IMDb score, a 46/100 Metacritic score, and a 26% Rotten Tomatoes score, this is all perhaps a bit unexpected. And this is with several critics suggesting that the film is arguably better than the book. One of the critics who actually gave the movie a positive score said, “The film never pretends to be other than what it really is: soft-core porn for the ladies, diluted with an ‘R’ rating.” (Sara Stewart, New York Post)
I haven’t read the books or seen the movie, so I’m going to be careful about sweeping generalizations. But many secular groups and prominent writers have lamented the distorted view of sex and romance that the movie presents. Make no mistake, that too is a MAJOR societal shift.
For many years, sex was considered a rather undefined act between two consenting adults. While something may not be my personal preference, I wasn’t free to tell anyone else what is/is not appropriate. The basic societal stance was, as Jerry Seinfeld and his friends, fearful of sounding closed-minded, famously quipped, “Not that there’s anything wrong with that.”
But now, lots of people are saying there is something wrong with Fifty Shades of Grey. Secular mental health professionals are saying this glamorizes and promotes abuse. Large media groups are acknowledging this is dangerous. Even the stars of the film struggled to verbalize positives that can be taken from the movie.
So here’s the point. In the wake of this movie, people are now saying that sex, even consensual sex between adults, can, in fact, be wrong. The American public hasn’t said that much since the 1960s.
Sara Stewart’s “porn for the ladies” comment is a scary one. That sounds like anything but sexual liberation. I’m not even going to get into how much secular research has suggested that porn has crippled young men. It’s more of an imprisonment that tortures addicted victims. And the Apostle Paul tells us that it’s a sad day when “even women” have distorted God’s design for sex.
“Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural sexual relations for unnatural ones.” (Rom. 1:26)
SOCIETAL TAKEAWAY: Consenting adults does not equate to healthy sexual behavior.
So what we’re seeing right now is a bit of a “perfect storm” that could potentially open a world to spiritual reformation – renewed clarity about the bias of information distributors, renewed understanding in the uniqueness of Christianity against other religions, and renewed ethics about the design and purpose of human sexuality.
Remember what I mentioned earlier are the points historians have traced in the Great Awakenings?
1) Recognition of moral indecency.
2) Higher standards for “truth” in social institutions.
3) Leaders encouraging a turn from false, harmful ways to a vision of something better.
4) The grace of God.
All I’m asking now is that you say a prayer that God might reveal his grace and goodness to mankind – a better way.
Please pray with me. Yes, please pray, don’t just read along 🙂
Heavenly Father, so much has happened recently that leads us to lose confidence in humanity and therefore lose confidence in ourselves. While such things are discouraging, we also realize that you often use such lows to prepare human hearts for the message of greater truth. Make us bold, humble messengers of this truth. Open the hearts and minds of the world around us to see the good news of your Son Jesus – an honest, self-sacrificial, pure alternative to our fallen race, who loved us enough to take the punishment for our sins so that we could receive his eternal glory. This is a better truth for the world that can shape a better reality. Help us live it out.
Show us grace. And help us show grace. Amen.