The complexities of life are, of course, legion – no less are the difficulties of our individual and corporate spiritual journeys (as the two cannot be separated).
Still, it seems to me that, of all the difficulties presented to the Christian practice by modern society, two stand out as being, by far, the most formidable.
First is what I loosely call “Enlightenment Materialism”. This is the view that religion offers little to nothing of value to life. It can be seen, of course, in modern atheism, which tends to assert that there is no truth the idea of God. But it is just as prevalent in post-modernism, which asserts that religion is simply a matter of personal choice, and, therefore, that there is no objective value to the thing chosen.
If the first difficulty is best represented by those who are ostensibly not religious (though the idea is quite prevalent among believers), the second finds its quintessential form in the church. That is, it is the idea that Christianity can be reduced to a particular set of values – not all of which are so much Biblical as part of church culture.
Christianity has been so successful, in part, because it does not come with a culture. While one can point to a particular lifestyle attached to almost every religion in history, no such thing can rightly be done in the case of Christianity. It was born in an extremely multicultural environment, and is the ultimate example of a life-approach spread across time, space, and culture.
All this is to say that it seems we are seeing the collision of these two problems: the rejection of “biblical truths” by the atheist are, more often than not, never biblical at all. The threat of materialism is largely in that it doesn’t generally have to contend with Christianity, but only the relic of church culture – of temporal ideas which so often (even in the minds of Christians) become inseparable from the actual message of the gospel.
It seems obvious that fear of “the religious right” is as much a fuel for the current shift toward atheism as any argument made by proponents of secularism. It seems to have occurred to few, on any deep level, that the statement of this group is not synonymous with Christianity.
I feel that it is important for a more thoughtful group of individuals, vaguely and inaccurately labeled “moderates”, to be vocal about their beliefs. To remind the extremists on both sides that a lack of volatility does not mean a lack of conviction. Generally, it means different convictions.
That I must contend with the claim, from atheists and Christians alike, that believing in methodological naturalism in science somehow contradicts a Christian view, or that a lack of literalism in one’s interpretation of the Bible amounts to a lack of faith, is simply astounding. It is far too difficult for the modern American to separate the message of Christ from a set of political and social jargon – most of which is judgmental and reactionary.
Rather, it should be obvious that an ancient set of beliefs – which completely transformed western culture, brought radical ideas into favor so strongly that even the atheists among us hardly think to question them, and has been both accepted and rejected countless times throughout western history – would be impossible to nail down, even roughly, to a particular social movement or political philosophy.
Insisting, then, that one’s own practice – one’s church, traditions (or conspicuous lack of traditions), politics, and sympathies – are somehow more “Christian” than those of other branches in the great history of Christ’s message does far more than cause bickering. It binds our faith to something that is inherently worldly, and presents to ourselves and others a deeply distorted view of the risen Christ.
It is, in short, mistaking the world for the divine, and I don’t see how this can be without consequences.