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?
Those familiar with American television most likely are also familiar with the television series CSI which appears on the CBS television network. The show premiered in October 2000 and has enjoyed incredible ratings success ever since.
One of the most recognizable aspects of the show is its theme song Who Are You performed by The Who, a powerful rock band which formed in London, England in 1964.
The Who, by any measurable standard, is considered one of the quintessential rock bands of the 20th century. Even using the term quintessential adds to the already loaded measurement of this group. The Greeks acknowledged there were four essences in their observation of humanity: earth, fire, air and water. Yet to describe something as possessing a quintessence acknowledges an experience which is beyond our observable senses. This is a great description of the music of The Who.
The song Who Are You begs the question of comparative meaning of one woman compared to any other. The singer bemoans his inability to ever again find satisfaction in any other love after such an existential experience. The song as a whole depicts the devastation left behind in the wake of such immeasurable love.
I realize there are real people (not that Roger Daltrey isn’t real, but we must recognize the song is a performance for an audience) who longingly wish for an experience of love like Daltrey describes. While the song is directed outwardly (who are you?), it accurately communicates the raw despair we feel as people when we have lost something we did not know we had; when we have not realized the value of the relationship we have been given.
In our culture, our society, living in the world in 2015, the question isn’t really “Who are you?” nearly as much as it is “Who are we?”
Some of you who are perhaps much more introspective may think, “I do not really struggle with this question in my life.” Yet if we really examine our lives and our lifestyle, we do struggle with who we are!
For the vast majority, we define ourselves through comparison with others things or people. While we may be suave enough to not directly reference another person, our self-definition is shaped through our desires and interaction with others. There are many people who define themselves by external things—clothes, cars, houses, jobs and jewelry! Yet do we really grasp the fact we are defining ourselves by the temporary and the transient rather than the eternal and the permanent?
At no moment in time do we as a people gain an immediate, visceral understanding of our situation than when we are sitting at a funeral. At that moment we find ourselves struggling with a deep longing for the eternal; we crave, hunger and long for another moment or a touch from the person who has died. We find ourselves wishing we could have told them again (to reassure ourselves more than the one who has passed) how much we loved them and enjoyed their presence. All of the “things” in this world become meaningless and worthless because we would trade everything for another brief moment or touch.
It is then we wonder who we really are. We are sobered by the fact life is so short. We long for the relationship which at that moment we may have felt we have squandered foolishly. What is it that gives us value and meaning? Is it the material goods of this world? Is it a designer’s name written on our clothes and jewelry?
At that moment when the world has seemingly stopped and we struggle to breathe again, we come to the shocking conclusion it is not reality which gives us meaning but rather relationships! A person who knew us, who understood our idiosyncrasies and our obsessions, they were familiar with our pettiness and shallowness, yet they extended friendship and love to us anyway.
In that same moment, we struggle with the longing for eternity, for a time without time, where what is begun will never end. It is in times exactly like these the philosopher and theologian C. S. Lewis observed, “God often whispers during the times of enjoyment, but He shouts through the times of difficulty.”
I realize there may be some who read this and have no concept of the experiences I am describing; yet there are others who have experienced these very same feelings and they continue to resonate in your life.
What gives humanity value is not what we do (pragmatism) nor what we wear or own (mercantilism, commercialism) and it’s not even what we think (philosophy); what gives us value is who we are.
The Bible says we are “made in the image of God.” Because God has shared some of His characteristics with us, we have value. God then chose to demonstrate His care for us and our intrinsic value by sending His very Son to give each of us the opportunity to live with Him forever, eternally.
The very thing we long for—eternity and unbroken relationships—is available to us because “God loved this world so very much.” And for us to realize our true value we merely have to accept the gift He freely gives!
There is nothing past this life. There is neither heaven nor hell. Whatever we put into this life is all we will get back; we answer to none other than ourselves.
Life then becomes a series of experiences; occurrences which may or may not fall under our control. We vacillate between conqueror and victim depending on the circumstance. If we plan well, things should go well unless events transpire beyond our ability to see or plan. If we find ourselves in situations we find inherently unpleasant, we either become another statistical anomaly subject to actuaries and their tables or we must rely on humanly devised coping mechanisms: personal, pharmaceutical, psychological or other remedies of self-medication.
Now since we have developed over the course of countless tens, if not hundreds, of millennia (remember, we’re still pretending here) and the ever evolving ability to rationalize our environment and milieu to some balance point so we can function normally (defining “normal” as a comparative Bell curve of society, longing to be included into the ever-present sixty-eighth percentile), we have no other longings or desires beyond the moment, the “now,” the “what is.”
If all of this is indeed true (yep, still pretending here) should we not see less stressors in our world, less discomfort at one’s death (since death is nothing more than the evolutionary outworking in our midst) and more equilibrium in society as a whole? Would not crime become self-regulating since evolution would have naturally de-selected those whose motives were not more toward equilibrium and balance? Would we not see a greater emphasis on relationships knowing they alone give intrinsic value to life?
Yet none of these musings are true; none of them have any basis in reality. They cannot since we are merely “pretending.”
Our world desperately pretends there is nothing other than the “now.” Society screams individualism yet demands compliance to the accepted norms. While no long-term, objective, evidence exists for the evolutionary model, it remains the “holy grail” of science; all the while its very existence is morally and logically self-defeating. As one writer claimed almost 2000 years ago, while they “profess themselves to be wise they [become] fools.”
Every single person in this world longs for the eternal: more time, more life, or simply just “more.” The time we have alive is fleeting and never long enough. The desire to live is paramount, yet to believe we only desire to avoid death for the sake of more and greater experience is as simplistic as it is puerile. It is not the experience of things but of relationships which make our “time” possess its intrinsic value. Time has meaning because of the relationships we have with others.
If what we “pretend” to have is true, why do we still long for “more” beyond what we have and will be given? Would not “natural selection” and “survival of the fittest” have long ago removed those who think such things from humanity’s midst due to the weakness of such characteristics?
I do not advocate religion. I do not advocate following a set of rules. What I do advocate is a relationship extending beyond this life into eternity. Jesus Christ invites people “Come to Me,” not “Come to those who claim to follow Me.”
When we trust in what He has done, what He has taught and what He promises, we are not changing merely our minds but we embark on a relationship which changes who we are!
No one can keep pretending forever.
Who would want to?