Christianity, along with other faith traditions, is at a crossroads in American life. Many sociologists see the road leading us to a European secularism, where mostly-empty churches are monuments to the hollowed-out faith of the masses, and serve as reminders of a quaint, naïve, and even backward world-view which requires “God” to prop up insecure individuals or oppressive governments.
Is that where we are headed? I pray not.
I still believe in the Church, and more than ever I believe we need an active, vibrant faith community to give strength, character, and integrity to our nation. While Christianity is the largest segment, it is only one component of that community – and an active religious community with a healthy inter-faith dialogue is essential to our longevity.
In fact, while religion has great destructive power, it may, ironically, be the only force actually capable of saving us.
Atheists, just because they don’t believe in God, are not necessarily immoral or amoral, and being a religious person hardly insulates one from failure and finitude. As one of the growing voices of atheism contends, it’s entirely possible to be “good without God.” I believe that. Some of the loud voices that inveigh against organized religion, however, are eager to convince the world that the Church (as with all other religious institutions), due to some egregious failures, is irredeemable.
I believe, on the contrary, that it is hard to discount the Church’s beneficial influence in teaching community values and moral character and promoting compassion and understanding, in human history. I tire of the argument, maybe espoused most loudly by the late Christopher Hitchens, that “religion ruins everything.” I am sorry Mr. Hitchens had never seen a church taking care of the poor, providing beds for the homeless, organizing to march against injustice or raise money to build a hospital, counseling center, or university. I find it unimaginable that he never encountered any of the millions upon millions of individuals who practice simple acts of kindness in their lives because The love of Christ urges us on… (2 Cor. 5.14).
Really, Mr. Hitchens… religion ruins everything? Such misinformed and childishly petulant generalizations should be beyond educated and civilized people.
Come to think of it… I suppose one could make an argument that the value of science as a means of bettering our lives outweighs all the evil it has imposed on us – but 75 million people, killed in wars in the 20th century, whose deaths were largely facilitated by the technological advance of weaponry, might be a strong counter argument. The specter of nuclear annihilation has given rise to a global angst since the Manhattan project claimed control over atomic fission, and global nuclear war remains the greatest threat to the destruction of the human race. Dirty bombs, biological weapons, and cyber warfare are hardly a testimony to the betterment of our world at the hands of science.
All scientists are not immoral, of course, and neither is “science” as an institution. The same is true of the Church which has a history that is worth sharing and celebrating, even while we commit (along with scientists and atheists), to learn from our mistakes. Creating community, teaching mutual respect and the value of life, and encouraging a posture of awe and humility are among the Church’s central tenets.
Christianity is at a crossroads, and I’m committed to help Christians see our way through that intersection and to the bright journey that awaits us on the other side.