Is there such a thing as Post-Christian?
Back in 1964 (yes, we must enter the WABAC Machine from Sherman and Mr. Peabody), there was a musical duo Peter and Gordon who were a part of the British Invasion of the early 1960’s. Their fame came after their song, A World Without Love rocketed to the number one chart position in both England and the United States.
It wasn’t necessarily the message of the song A World Without Love that “struck a chord” (this is where the “Unrepentant Pun Alert” should go) with the musical populace, but the gently flowing music and pleasant harmonies of Peter and Gordon. The song lamented a complete rejection of any desire to live in a world where love doesn’t exist.
Now as quickly as I just referenced 1964 and a song over fifty years old, I will now reverse course and take us screaming into the proverbial future! I read a tremendous amount of Science Fiction. Very few of these stories contain any reference to the Judeo-Christian God, yet they all find within their plot arcs the concept of love.
Of course, this doesn’t surprise me. I’m not really expecting them to mention God but I have been conditioned to expect some kind of mention or obsession with love. I enter the story understanding I am entering a humanistic, naturalistic and even atheistic worldview, so I am prepared for the onslaught of a philosophy which runs counter to my worldview.
Whether I am watching Luke Skywalker in Star Wars, Jean Luc Picard or James Tiberius Kirk in the various iterations of Star Trek or merely being wildly amused by Guardians of the
Galaxy, I find it interesting that all references to “God” or any supreme being has been scrubbed from these stories, yet the concept of love, its pursuit and sometimes its attainment is included and even celebrated. Why is that?
A book I initially read many years ago but have reviewed recently, is Meaning by Michael Polanyi and Harry Prosch. One of the most striking statements these authors make in this book is “That freedom of thought is rendered pointless and must disappear wherever reason and morality are deprived of their status as a force in their own right.” They continue:
When a judge in a court of law can no longer appeal to law and justice; when neither a witness, nor the newspapers, nor even a scientist reporting on his experiments can speak the truth as he knows it; when in public life there is no moral principle commanding respect; when revelations of religion and of art are denied any substance; then there are no grounds left on which any individual may justly make a stand against the rules of the day. Such is the simple logic of totalitarianism. A nihilistic regime will have to undertake the day-to-day direction of all activities which are otherwise guided by the intellectual and moral principles that nihilism declares empty and void. Principles must be replaced by the decrees of an all-embracing party line.
Polanyi and Prosch have made an incredible observation: science, culture and government do not have the ability to provide meaning and fulfillment to the human existence! One of the reasons I leave many movies thoroughly entertained but completely unfulfilled has more to do with life’s meaning and purpose than whether or not the movie’s star happened to win and live to see another sequel. Even more stark is the concepts of love found in Hollywood productions are often an odd mix of humanistic desires (“What’s in it for me?”) and compassionate empathy (“What can I do for you?”).
Even when we find ourselves experiencing all the emotions and angst of the characters on the screen, our brains are making moment-by-moment judgments regarding what is right and wrong, what is just and fair and what is real and true. This is why we cheer when the “bad guy” gets atomized because he was thrown into a particle accelerator by the movie’s protagonist!
This is also why we recognize physical attraction between the characters, why we connect and become invested in the relationships we see building within the plot. Even though we are entering a world, or a universe, in which there is obviously no God and even fewer moral compunctions, we still expect there to be a “right” and a “wrong.”
Yet if the movie producers want to sell the movie, the “bad guy” must lose and the “good guy” must win; unless, of course, you’re John Wayne in The Cowboys—yet John’s entourage won on his behalf!
Here’s the opening “bottom line” to this series of discussions: if there is truly no God, if absolutes do not really “morally” exist, if “love” is something which can be defined moment-by-moment pragmatically, then why is there a winner and a loser? Why doesn’t everyone just kill a bunch of people and then everyone just go home and enjoy themselves? Why do people place so much importance on the concept of love?
Why do we insist on reflecting the characteristics—and love—of a non-existent God?
Back in 1958 Eugene Burdick and William Lederer wrote the book The Ugly American. It told the story of the hapless efforts of the United States in a fictional country in Southeast Asia (widely regarded to represent the US efforts in Vietnam) in the attempts of America to fulfill its quest to “contain” Communism and therefore continue to implement Truman’s famous doctrine.
Originally, the desire of the authors was to write a factual study, but the publishers persuaded them to transition to a work of fiction. In doing this they were afforded greater creativity and even more freedom to both apply their version of “truth” as well as greatly expanding the means by which their work could be disseminated among various competing ideologies. In other words, the work became a tool for those who espoused a decidedly anti-American and anti-Western philosophy.
Sadly, Burdick and Lederer accurately portrayed the reality of the American efforts in this region of the world. Neil Sheehan in his book A Bright Shining Lie further highlights the incredible incompetence spawned by unchecked bureaucracy during the Vietnam War. The cold reality dogging American efforts was reflected in the words of the Apostle Paul, our “good was evil spoken of.”
In many ways, Christians today are far too often and too easily viewed as ugly. In my own denomination, there seems to be this almost puerile obsession with the habits of those outside of Christianity yet all the while they are oblivious to the ugly and insidious nature of the accepted behaviors within Christianity. What is sad is many of these unattractive attitudes and practices come from those who are regarded as leaders and pastors.
Many of the problems arise from the assumptions made of those professing the name of Christ. A whole industry has been built to fortify an almost revisionist-style history portraying the United States as a country began with solely Christian values. While the underlying philosophy of our founding fathers was a definitely a Judeo-Christian paradigm, we were not and are not now a Christian nation.
There were many of our founders and leaders who were familiar with Christian nomenclature and philosophy—some even reared by strongly Christian parents—yet for every reference point given to “prove” the evangelical bent of these men there are equally as many proofs countering those claims. Even though evangelical Christianity did not infuse every one of our founders, there were many genuine Christians among our founders.
So should those who are Christian handicap themselves by not referring to the importance of Christianity on the formation of this country? Not at all; yet Christians cannot continue with their arrogant attitudes and patronizing actions if they (including myself) truly desire to reach those who do not have a relationship with Jesus Christ.
I wouldn’t want you to think I am immune from such silliness either. Far too often I “catch” myself thinking some incredibly stuffy thought and then something inside me (I believe it is the Holy Spirit who resides in all who have a relationship with Christ) points out my foolishness. My plan is to write a “series” (I usually can’t stand multi-part anything; I’m making attempts at maturity here so bear with me . . . . .) dealing with the subject began in this post.
My desire is the same as the United States Senator Adlai Stevenson: “Today, I come to you with the task of speaking; your task is that of listening. Let us hope we all end at the same time.”
Hey, it’s a hope!