Posts tagged with: Religion/Belief

In his new book, Bad Religion: How We Became a Nation of HereticsNew York Times columnist Ross Douthat explores the present decline—economic recession, a divisive, stagnant political climate and a deteriorating moral structure—of American civilization. Rather than citing religious excess or wide scale secularization as the problem, Douthat points his finger at what he calls “bad religion,” or, four basic heresies that present faux-Gospels contrary to the Christian faith.

Douthat’s solution, presented in the book’s conclusion, comes in the form of Christian orthodoxy, what one might call Good Religion. Without delving too far into critique, readers of all ecumenical stripes—even those without any—can profit from a quick examination of Douthat’s four points essential for traditional Christianity to reclaim a respected voice in the American public square.

First, Douthat calls for Christian engagement in the sphere of politics that is “political without being partisan,” marked by a “clear Christian difference.” He allows room for political disagreement while professing the necessity of Christian principles to mark the Christian ballot or campaign.

Second, Douthat endorses a Christianity that is “ecumenical but also confessional.” Douthat desires broader Christian discourse and unity, but vibrant doctrinal debate and a steadfast upholding of characteristic theological standards.

Third, Douthat calls for Christians to cut against the grain of contemporary society with a faith that is “moralistic but also holistic.” To present the Bible’s ethical system as a desirable path for a life, rather than a condescending rulebook, he says, is the great challenge for the Church of today.

Finally, Christian orthodoxy must be “oriented toward sanctity and beauty.” Christians occupy too sparse a share of today’s aesthetic landscape, he argues, calling for more distinctly Christian art the mirrors the novels of Marilynne Robinson or the poetry of Christian Wiman.

Douthat’s book will no doubt stimulate much discussion about Christianity’s place in politics, ethics and art. And voices like Douthat’s are an integral part of the debate. With any providence, both the Church and society will benefit greatly from a wider appreciation of Douthat’s hope:

 “My hope throughout has been to persuade even the most skeptical reader that traditional Christian faith might have more to offer this country than either its flawed defenders or its fashionable enemies would lead one to believe.”

Blog author: dpahman
Tuesday, May 1, 2012
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Portrait of a Child Prince, Wikimedia Commons

“Anyone concerned with the future,” wrote Sergius Bulgakov,

is most anxious about the younger generation. But to be spiritually dependent on it, to truckle to its opinions and take it as a standard, testifies to a society’s spiritual weakness. In any case, an entire historical period and the whole spiritual tenor of intelligentsia heroism are symbolized by the fact that the ideal of the Christian saint, the ascetic, has been replaced here by the revolutionary student.”

Bulgakov is writing in 1909 about the young, sectarian intellectuals of Russian society, who according to Nicholas Berdyaev were “artificially isolated from national life.” They had taken upon themselves a sort of megalomania, assuming to be the heroic saviors of Russia, a sort of atheistic incarnation of Providence. The student, full of passion and idealism, had become the Übermensch for educated Russians, only barely subdued by the failed revolution of 1905. To Bulgakov, this idealizing of the youth amounted to a “spiritual pedocracy.” Russian society looked to the youth—the least experienced and therefore least wise—for spiritual leadership. Are we making the same mistake in America today? (more…)

Susan Jacoby and Dinesh D’Souza met here in Grand Rapids at Fountain Street Church on Thursday, April 26, to debate the merits of religion in public discourse. The debate, co-sponsored by The Intercollegiate Studies Institute and the Hauenstein Center for Presidential Studies, was titled, “Is Christianity Good for American Politics?”

Susan Jacoby is program director at The Center for Inquiry and author of The Age of American Unreason and Alger Hiss and The Battle for History. She argued for the total removal of religious matters from the public square to avoid any tendency toward establishment of a particular religion.

Dinesh D’Souza is president of The King’s College in New York and author of What’s so Great About Christianity? His argument repeatedly returned to the difference between recognition and establishment and the contested meaning of the phrase “separation of church and state.”

Here’s a sample from their exchange:

Jacoby: The first amendment was intended to protect religion from government … Our whole tradition prohibits supporting an establishment of tradition. What would happen in this society, if the government were forced to consider every religion? It would require absolutely equal treatment … We are not allowed to make judgments about which religions to favor or not.

Dinesh: You can’t simply chant separation of church and state and declare the matter settled. What we’re trying to figure out is why we have a prejudice against religious figures who have had an historical, moral, political, and even lawful impact, while we don’t have that prejudice against secular figures similarly situated. You keep chanting the same phrase from the constitution, when it is the meaning of that phrase that is up for discussion … My question is the meaning of the word establishment.

Joe Carter recently posted a summary of a new study conducted jointly by Public Religion Research Institute and Georgetown University’s Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs that shows that college-aged Millennials (18-24 year olds) “report significant levels of movement from the religious affiliation of their childhood, mostly toward identifying as religiously unaffiliated.” He also noted the tendency of college-aged Millennials to be more politically liberal.

Just yesterday, the same study was highlighted by Robert Jones of the Washington Post, who wrote,

According to a newly released survey, even before they move out of their childhood homes, many younger Millennials have already moved away from the religion in which they were raised, mostly joining the growing ranks of the religiously unaffiliated.

Jones goes on to say, “These findings have profound implications for the future of religious denominations that have, in the past, dominated American religious life.”

But is this true? I am not entirely convinced. (more…)

Earlier this week the Christian Post published an article with some statements from me about evangelical (and more broadly Christian) debates about the federal budget proposals. In the piece, “Evangelical Christians Agree, Disagree on Budget Priorities,” I said that

The Church, the Christian faith, is not to identify with a single political order, or structure, party or platform. It does show something of the dynamism and vitality of the Christian faith that, in the midst of what the world thinks are the most important things, like politics, in the midst of disagreements about those things, Christians come together and worship every Sunday and say the same Lord’s prayer and in many cases cite the same creed, engage in the same sacramental practices, and so on.

This conviction is one of the things that animated my thinking when I wrote Ecumenical Babel: Confusing Economic Ideology and the Church’s Social Witness.

One of the driving figures in the case made in that book is Paul Ramsey, who wrote that “the specific solution of urgent problems is the work of political prudence and worldly wisdom. In this there is room for legitimate disagreement among Christians and among other people as well in the public domain—which disagreement ought to be welcomed and not led one way toward specific conclusions.”

I was reminded of this perspective again when listening to the interview Gabe Lyons did with Chuck Colson back in 2007. At one point in the interview, Gabe asks Chuck about younger evangelicals’ disenchantment with the politicization of evangelical Christianity. One of the things Chuck says is,

I do a very unscientific poll myself whenever I talk to young people and I know exactly the kind of answers you’re getting. They’re turned off by what they regard as right wing politics. Which is unfortunate. I wrote a book about this called “Kingdoms and Conflicts,” recently re-released and updated by Zondervan as “God and Government.” It says Christians shouldn’t be [in the hip pocket] of any political party. It’s a mistake when we are looked upon as marrying an ideology.

On the danger of ideology, he continues: “The greatest enemy of the gospel is ideology. Ideology is a manmade formulation about [how] world [ought to] work. We don’t believe in that. We believe in the revelation of truth in Scripture.”

In returning to my comment cited above, I think we can see corporate worship as a kind of litmus test for what does and does not inspire us, ideologically, confessionally, and otherwise. Perhaps there are churches or parishes or even denominations and ecumenical bodies that we deem unfaithful, or at least distasteful, for the way they have integrated a social or political ideology into the corporate life of the church. But even so:

Would you be comfortable worshiping next to someone at church on Sunday morning whose political convictions are diametrically opposed to yours? If so, why? And if not, why not?

On Public Discourse, Acton Research Director Samuel Gregg addresses the “considerable fractures” that continue to divide conservative and libertarian positions on significant policy issues as well as on “deeper philosophical questions.” He pulls apart the “often tortuously drawn distinctions” surrounding the political labels and then offers some reasons why the “often unconscious but sometimes deliberate embrace of philosophical skepticism by some conservatives and libertarians should be challenged.”

Perceptive critics of skepticism have illustrated that the concern to be reasonable and avoid self-deception about reality is the starting point of any quest for philosophical truth: i.e., the very knowledge that skeptics believe we can’t know. What reason could skeptics therefore have for desiring to comprehend that, in the final analysis, all is unknowable, unless they are engaged in a quest for truth? In other words, skeptics draw their deduction that we should be philosophical skeptics from foundational assumptions they cannot doubt.

Also self-refuting is the common skeptic claim that reason is purely instrumental. For to defend this position, the skeptic’s reason necessarily engages in a non-instrumental task. He presumes it is good to know the truth of skepticism, and on grounds of reason rather than feelings. It is thus inconsistent for skeptics to assert that all philosophical viewpoints are arbitrary opinions. When skeptics posit that humans can only be motivated by sentiment rather than reason, they are not proposing this statement as their own impetuous preference. They claim to be making a rational judgment.

Read “Beyond Conservatism and Libertarianism” on Public Discourse by Samuel Gregg.

Blog author: jballor
Wednesday, April 25, 2012
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Chuck ColsonOn of Chuck Colson’s heroes was Abraham Kuyper, and when we set out to publish a translation of Kuyper’s three volumes on the topic of common grace, Chuck was happy to support the project.

Here’s what he said about the first selection from the larger translation project, Wisdom & Wonder: Common Grace in Science & Art:

Abraham Kuyper was a profound theologian, an encyclopedic thinker, and a deeply spiritual man who believed that it is the believer’s task ‘to know God in all his works.’ In a day when secular science is seeking to establish hegemony over all knowing, and when postmodern art is threatening to bring an end to art, Kuyper’s solid, Biblical insights can help to restore perspective and sanity to these two critical areas of creation.

(more…)

Acton On The AirChuck Colson’s long association with the Acton Institute began in 1993 in part because, as he said, he “couldn’t believe that a Catholic priest had set up shop in the Vatican of the Dutch Reformed Church,” and he had to come to Grand Rapids to see for himself the work that Rev. Robert A. Sirico had begun. He came, saw, and was impressed, and thus began a nearly 20-year friendship with the President of the Acton Institute, who joined host Al Kresta on Ave Maria Radio’s Kresta in the Afternoon to reflect on Colson’s life, his conversion, and his many contributions to both evangelical Christianity and the broader ecumenical movement.

The 10 minute interview is available via the audio player below:

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More on Colson:
New Video: Chuck Colson in ‘Like I Am’
Chuck Colson: A Life Redeemed

Acton On The AirAs we move deeper into the 2012 election cycle here in the United States, many people are beginning to pay closer attention to the issues and candidates, and for many Christians this naturally raises questions about how Christian principles should be applied to the economic issues that are of such concern in the electorate this year. Pastor Christopher Brooks, host of Christ and the City on FaithTalk 1500 in Detroit, Michigan, was kind enough to invite Acton’s President Rev. Robert A. Sirico on his show on Monday to shed some light on how Christians should approach economic issues. They also took some time to remember the life and work of Charles Colson.

You can listen to the 20 minute interview via the audio player below:

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On the Observer, the blog of the American Orthodox Institute, Rev. Johannes L. Jacobse looks back on the life and the legacy of Chuck Colson:

I heard him explain his experience in prison during one of his talks. It was the lowest point in his life where he had lost everything and began to question purpose, decisions, and direction. He was visited by a friend (former Minnesota Governor Al Quie) who shared with him how Jesus Christ came into the world to redeem man. Colson listened, cried out to God for help and, as his life would later prove, God heard him. His repentance was deep and lasting.

Prison opened his eyes not only to God, but the desperate conditions of other prisoners. He founded Prison Fellowship, an organization they helped prisoners while incarcerated, after they got out, and their families. The Russian Orthodox Church called on Prison Fellowship after Communism fell to help them build viable prison ministries in Russia.

Colson’s work grew to incorporate what he called teaching the Christian World View. He saw that decline in culture was moral in nature and that a return to the values and precepts of the Christian faith were the only hope for cultural renewal. This meant that he had to do the work of an evangelist. It also meant that a deep ignorance among Christians about their own history, the history of Western culture, and the viability of the Christian message in a relativist age needed to be addressed. That led to ecumenical outreach, and it was at one of his ecumenical events that I first met Colson.

I attended a conference with Christian leaders (cultural activists mostly) from all types of Christian communions; the first Orthodox priest ever invited to such a gathering. Most of us were not academics but more of what I call “rubber meets the road” types; people used to debate, interaction, dealing with crisis, and so forth. As such, the conference had a very practical, even edgy feel to it at times. All shared the conviction that the Christian faith has a public dimension and that we should not cede the public square to secularism. Christendom is, well, Christian and no amount of brow-beating, public scorn, the insecurity and impotence of liberal Christianity, or any other malady should stop us from boldly speaking out with intelligence and conviction.

It was there too that I first recognized how much that Orthodoxy has to give the culture. I saw that many Christians of other communions are waiting for us to step to the plate and make our contribution. They welcome us.

Read “Charles Colson: 1931-2012. May His Memory Be Eternal” on AOI’s Observer.