Thoughts about faith

The Great Secularization of America

Christmas is always a touchy time of year. It’s America’s favorite holiday but also fraught with political correctness. Afraid of offending customers, retailers long ago changed the season’s greetings from “Merry Christmas” to “Happy Holidays.” Nativities and other public displays of the Christian celebration of Christmas were banned from public display. The holiday tunes played in the background at stores were cleansed to remove the more religious ones.

Christmas in America is big business. Estimates put annual retail sales during the Christmas season at 30%. That is almost one third of annual sales done in a little over a month. We have Black Friday and Cyber Monday and a plethora of sales and daily specials. No parent wants their children to wake up Christmas morning to a tree not laden with presents. We go into debt and run around like chickens with their heads cutoff looking for presents, buying wrapping paper, getting holiday meal fixings, and whatever else needed to fulfill the expectations of the holidays. It is a month plus dance that is over all too quickly as children rip through unopened presents. What took hours to shop for an wrap are opened in a matter of seconds.
I read an interesting article in USA Today by Tom Krattenmaker. The title of his article is “Jesus doesn’t need Christianity. His example is powerful without any religion at all.” The crux of his article is that Jesus is a great moral example and if we just separate him from the religious beliefs about him, then we have something honorable we can all celebrate. Just separate Jesus from his claim to be the divine Son of God and view him as a philosopher and teacher and bingo – problem solved.

Of all the world’s major religions, Jesus is unique. He alone claimed to be God. Mohammed only claimed to be a prophet. Confucius and Buddha were teachers not gods. None of these men predicated their own death and resurrection and rose from the dead. If you take the divinity from Jesus and he’s just another holy man, guru, sage, with insights we can benefit from. To quote Krattenmaker,

“If secular people can focus on the values and teachings of Jesus without getting tripped up by the religious context — which comes naturally for some, not so easily for others — they might find a surprisingly relevant source of guidance and uplift.”

Does that sound much different than this description of Buddha by Barbara O’Brien?

“The Buddha who lived 2,600 years ago was not a god. He was an ordinary person, named Siddhartha Gautama, whose profound insights inspired the world.”
You could almost rewrite her description of Buddha so it reads:

“The Christ who lived 2018 years ago was not a god. He was an ordinary person, named Jesus of Nazareth, whose profound insights inspired the world.”
For years secularists and atheists have sought to eliminate Jesus but failed. Atheistic dictators from Stalin and the communists in China have sought to eliminate all religion including Christianity yet underground churches have sprung up all over their lands. Since that strategy has failed, “if you can’t beat ’em, redefine them.” The problem isn’t Jesus, it’s relgion and the religious beliefs about him. That’s what causes division and offense. So simple. Secularize Jesus and focus on his moral teachings and now you have a Jesus we can all celebrate. As Krattenmaker put it:

“Just as the person of Jesus came before Christianity, so might the figure of Jesus — philosopher, teacher, moral exemplar — outlast American Christendom.”
Of course Kratternmaker is wrong. Jesus IS Christianity. He did not come before it. God’s plan of redemption and sacrifice began long before Jesus’ advent in the life of the nation of Israel. Jesus’ incarnation was the continuation and culmination of God’s plan of redemption. To say Jesus came before Christianity is like saying Martin Luther King Jr came before Civil Rights. Christianity was not founded by the followers of Jesus after his death. Jesus discipled them to carry on and spread the faith after his resurrection. Christianity is not a man-made religion started after Jesus’ death. Jesus started Christianity.

It’s true America is in it’s post-Christian era. While belief in “God” is still prevalent, what “God” means to people is all over the map. A century ago when people said “God” they meant the Judeo-Christian God. Not “God” can mean anything and everything. Even among church goers faith is down. Many attend out of a sense of tradition more than a sense of conviction.
Christian author Josh McDowell wrote a classic book titled “Evidence That Demands a Verdict.” In it he says you have three choices when it comes to Jesus: He is either Lord, liar, or lunatic. Jesus claimed to be God, a claim which caused the Jewish leaders to label him a blasphemer and seek his death. They did not view him as a harmless moral teacher. They viewed him as a liar who blasphemed by claiming to be God. To the Romans he was a harmless lunatic crucified ultimately because the Roman governor Pilate feared unrest and how it would affect his career even though he believed Jesus to be innocent of anything deserving death. His disciples and millions or billions since viewed him as Lord. God incarnated. You cannot reduce Jesus to a mere man who had inspiring insights. If he is not God then he is either a liar or a lunatic. Are liars and lunatics the source of inspiring insights?

There may be a post-Christian place for Jesus in America but if so it will be the latest chapter in the great secularization of America. We’ve tried to eliminate Jesus, marginalize Jesus, but those efforts have failed. So now we will embrace him but not the real Jesus but a homogenized Jesus who gives no offense. We are seeking harmony by blending the moral teachings of the world’s religions to something we can all embrace. Religion is being replaced by philosophy and personal truth. Absolute truth is strictly forbidden. Embrace the moral teachings of Jesus and that’s okay. To claim, as Jesus did, that he is “the way, the truth, and the life and no one comes to the Father but through {him} me” and now you are offensive and intolerant.
I do agree with a sentiment expressed by James S. Robbins, in another USA Today op-ed piece. He writes:

“Americans have a right to celebrate holidays in whatever manner they wish, and not to be shamed and bullied by the PC police. People are only driven further apart when they are forced to walk on eggshells out of fear that some sullen victim-in-waiting will take exaggerated offense at their innocent, heartfelt expressions of good cheer.”
He goes on to say:

“People should say Merry Christmas — or Happy Hanukkah, Happy Diwali, Eid Mubarak, or any other holiday greeting proudly and happily, and hope others will take it in the festive spirit it is offered. Americans can — and should — be kind and joyful for each other, no matter what they believe.”

Isn’t that true diversity? We preach the value of diversity and how our differences make us stronger yet when it comes to Christianity that is one diversity we don’t see as worthy of inclusion. We celebrate some types of diversity while attempting to homogenize others. Sadly some Christians will seek the path of least resistance and embrace this watered down, homogenized Christianity. The true followers of Jesus will not hesitate to say Merry Christmas and celebrate a risen Lord rather than an easter bunny. This is the wake up call the church in America has needed. Too long now American Christianity has been easy. It has not cost us much. It’s when our faith comes at a price that we find out how real it is.
Without Jesus there is no Christendom. Strip Him of his divinity and you are left with a liar or a lunatic. America turns her back on God to her own peril. While humanity possesses more knowledge than ever before in history. our knowledge has proven to be foolishness as we are rejecting our Creator. As the Bible says, “There is a way that seems right unto man, but in the end leads to destruction.”

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