Archive for the ‘ Christians & Culture ’ Category

Whatever Happened to Sin, Guilt, & Shame?

I’m hardly the first or only person to comment on how we seem to have lost a sense of shame. There’s rarely, at least among the political leadership, the news media, and the entertainment segments of our society, any embarrassment over actions that used to bring public disgrace. The opposite now seems to be happening: outrageous, disgusting behavior is either ignored or rewarded.

Yet how can one feel shame if one has no sense of guilt over that behavior? Why has guilt gone the way of shame? Let’s trace it back to the loss of belief in sin and one’s accountability before God for one’s thoughts, attitudes, and actions. We used to be a society that had a set standard of right and wrong based on Biblical morality. While that’s not completely gone, we are now experimenting with what a society might be like if it jettisons Biblical morality entirely. We are seeing the wreckage all around.

One of the more obvious symptoms of a deceived heart is the outward acceptance of—no, make that the active push for—homosexuality. What was once considered deviant behavior is now encouraged. When anyone comes out of some kind of supposed closet, society applauds the “courage” it takes to make that public declaration of deviance. We are in the process of redefining right and wrong. Wrong is now intolerance of previously degenerate behavior. It’s the Christians who continue to hold to the former standard of morality who are now perceived as the real threat to societal harmony.

The most blatant example, of course, is same-sex marriage, an oxymoron of the highest caliber. The sad tale of Brendan Eich, who is now the former CEO of Mozilla simply because he made a contribution to the California effort back in 2008 to maintain the traditional concept of marriage as between one man and one woman, is the latest warning to those of us who are not going to bow before the new gods of immorality.

Mozilla

We used to be concerned about genuine threats to the safety of the nation, such as when underground communists were stealing nuclear secrets and placing their devotees in key positions within the government. That’s passé.

Traditional Marriage

Culture can change without the government’s aid. However, when the government is in on it as well, it provides a greater impetus for that change. The current administration has led the way. It began with the refusal to defend the Defense of Marriage Act and gradually morphed into outright promotion of same-sex marriage, linking it to the civil rights movement. We have an administration that picks and chooses which laws it will support. That puts us on the cusp of utter lawlessness:

The Law

Whether it’s the push for same-sex marriage, the attempt to force businesses to provide abortion services, or the desire to silence political opponents through the agency of the IRS, we are at a precarious place. The rule of law is on the verge of extinction because we have destroyed the Biblical concepts of sin, guilt, and shame. Only by restoring those will we restore what we have lost as a people.

Technology & Those Things That Matter Most

In order to stave off misunderstanding, before I get to my main point today, let me assure any and all readers that I really do like new technology. I mean, I’m using a computer right now, and there are still some who haven’t crossed that barrier. I’m not one of them.

TypewriterHow I wish I’d had a laptop back in 1981 when I was completing my master’s thesis. Try typing a 138-page paper in time for graduation, knowing that if you make a mistake along the way, it might require retyping multiple pages. In fact, when I turned in my thesis, a fact-checker found technical errors that had to be corrected within 48 hours or I wouldn’t be able to graduate. The errors required a complete redo of the thesis, which, in pre-computer days, meant I had to hire two typists to do the job quickly.

No, I’m not a Luddite (feel free to Google that, if necessary).

When I teach, I love using whatever technologies might be available to help get the message out. As a new professor, back in the late 1980s-early 1990s, I still didn’t have a personal computer. All my teaching was done via writing on white boards in the classroom. Later, I graduated to the overhead projector and thought I had stumbled across a slice of heaven. Then, when I finally was issued a laptop, in the late-1990s, I discovered the wonders of PowerPoint and my life has never been the same.

I don’t yet have a smart phone. Mine is just semi-smart; I get e-mail without attachments and I don’t want to pay for internet access. My main objection to moving into that realm is purely monetary, not some kind of fondness for former days when all phones could do was call someone. Skype has been a joy, allowing me to connect with family in other places, even halfway around the world.

So why did I go to this length to make it clear I’m not a technophobe?

CellphonesI’m concerned that, in the midst of all these marvelous advancements, we don’t lose either our humanity or our ability to pay attention to anything not techno-oriented. When I’m walking through campus, for instance, sometimes it seems as if all the students are in their own little world. Everyone is texting, talking on their cell, or lost in whatever realm they may be connected to with those wires leading to their ears.

I know this is not just a student issue, but that’s where I live. A few years ago, I took the drastic step of forbidding the use of any technology—laptops, cell phones, whatever—in my lower-level survey courses, the ones that are part of the general education portion of our curriculum. You see, I already have a problem getting students interested in basic American history courses to begin with. Most take them because they are required to take at least one history course of some kind. They don’t really want to be there, so why not spend the time more profitably (in their view) on Facebook, Twitter, or any of the other social networking sites?

So I decided to challenge them to see if it’s even possible for this current generation to set aside their devotion to their devices for a 50-minute period and concentrate on American history. Just 50 minutes. Is that too much to ask? For many, apparently it is. I won’t go to the next level and confiscate phones as they enter the classroom, but I will admit to some discouragement. The discouragement is not primarily that I am being disrespected as a teacher; it’s more that they are so unwilling to spend that small amount of time doing something as traditional as listening and taking notes.

My deeper concern is that they won’t be able to communicate in anything but shorthand (u no wht i meen) and won’t develop their powers of thought beyond soundbites. A people that illiterate—and I use that word advisedly—are like sheep to slaughter as they unthinkingly contribute to cultural degeneration and political foolishness.

Just so you know, I don’t have a stringent policy of forbidding cellphones and laptops in my upper-level history courses. For the most part, the students in those courses want to be there, and they seek to add to their knowledge and understanding. But I’m finding those kinds of students to be increasingly rare, at least in my personal experience.

Am I simply a curmudgeon who likes to complain about anything new? I hope not. I also hope I might be wrong in my analysis of what I now perceive as a societal malady. I see the great potential of technology and wouldn’t want to return to typewritten theses. Yet I wonder. What are we losing as we continue on this path?

ConversationA people absorbed in another world might not have time for other people who are staring them in the face. When I have meetings with individuals, whether a luncheon or just a conversation, I set aside my cellphone during that time. I won’t access it. I believe God wants me instead to devote my time to that other person, uninterrupted by the demands of texts, tweets, or Facebook messages. There is a time for that, but not when I’m supposed to be talking with someone personally, face-to-face.

Can we also be so absorbed by these media that we don’t have time for a face-to-face with the One who gave us the intellectual capacity to create the media in the first place?

All I’m saying is that we need to keep our priorities straight. We all need to examine ourselves regularly to ensure we aren’t crowding out of our lives those things that matter most.

A Monday Potpourri

My goal each day is to offer something worthy of your time. I mean, why stop by this blog otherwise? So I usually find some kind of theme, whether spiritual, cultural, or political on which to base my comments. But I freely admit it’s not always easy. Some mornings, as I sit down in front of this laptop, I feel like I have nothing to say to anyone. That’s not good for someone who is trying to maintain a daily commentary, is it?

Every once in a while, I just throw kind of a potpourri at you. Today feels like potpourri day. How about just enjoying some good cartoons together? We can start on the cultural side:

Asking for Olaf

Then we can go with the purely political:

Campaign Slogan

Perhaps a combination of the two:

Faculty Lounge

Future SAT

Spend More

Then there are those that might combine the spiritual, cultural, and political. After all, life is not so neatly compartmentalized as some would like to make it:

Liked Book Better

Noah

And do try to look upon Monday as a gift from God. Every day belongs to Him. Enjoy yourself in Him this day.

Evaluating Faith-Themed Films

Biblical themes are emanating from Hollywood in near-record proportions lately. It’s almost reminiscent of all those Biblical epics of the 1950s. This can be a good trend, or it can be simply trendy, depending on the motivation. It also can be damaging to a true depiction of the Scriptures if the image presented is off-base.

Noah MovieThat concern has raged to the surface with the opening of Noah, with Russell Crowe in the title role. I haven’t seen the film. I was planning to see it, and I read a pretty large number of reviews, both positive and negative. Lately, though, those reviews have turned rather sour, and the departures from Scripture appear to be so drastic that I’ve decided not to waste my time or money.

I realize the critique: how can you be honest with your assessment if you don’t see it? Well, I’ll be glad to watch it when it comes on television later, but I’m really not into giving director Darren Aronofsky any more profit. Snake skin transmitting evil? Fallen angels in the form of rock creatures who were punished by God for helping Adam and Eve? These rock creatures building the ark? Methuselah giving Noah an hallucinogenic drink to get the message to build the ark in the first place? The ongoing theme of plants and animals as more important than humans? Noah wanting to murder a newborn child because he believes all humankind should be destroyed? An evil man sneaking onto the ark without Noah’s knowledge? God portrayed more as a vindictive Gaia/Earth Mother than the actual God of the Old Testament?

Have I forgotten anything?

One reviewer commented that the movie is presenting the illusion that this is the actual story of Noah. It may use the Biblical Noah as a prop, but it bears little resemblance to what is found in the Book. Theatrical license and filling in the gaps in a story is one thing; changing the story completely is something else. Apparently, that is what Aronofsky has done.

So I’ll give this one a pass for now.

Son of GodThere are others, though, that are more faithful to Biblical themes. I did see Son of God, the spinoff from the television miniseries that garnered hefty ratings. The movie did well also, at least for a time, although it seems to have faded now. If I recall, it came in second the first week it screened. The actors were very fine; the story was true to the original script (the Bible itself), and any additions or alterations to what can be found in the text were not the kind that damaged the essential message.

The actor who portrayed Jesus did so with just the right spirit, in my view. Both righteousness and mercy could be seen in action and countenance. The crucifixion scene, while not as gritty as The Passion of the Christ, was nevertheless realistic—agonizingly so. Anyone seeing this film would have to think seriously about man’s sinful condition and God’s offer of forgiveness.

God's Not DeadAnother Christian-focused movie currently in theaters is God’s Not Dead. I’ve not yet seen it, but have viewed the trailer a couple of times. I freely admit I had some skepticism upon seeing the trailer the first time. I wondered if it was just preaching to the choir, so to speak. I also wondered if it might be a little too simplistic, especially with a title like that.

Yet the reviews I’ve read have been more positive than I expected. One even talked about how the film deftly handles complex philosophical reasoning about God’s existence. Friends who have seen it came away enthusiastic. Based on all this input, I hope to fit it into my schedule soon and be able to judge for myself.

Heaven Is For RealAnother one, due out this Easter, entitled Heaven Is for Real, is based on the real-life testimony of a small boy who, when he underwent surgery, says he experienced heaven. He came back from this experience with information about a miscarriage his mother had of which he had no knowledge previously. He also identified a picture of a grandfather he had never met in this life, but whom he says he spoke with in heaven.

I don’t know if the message will be close to the Biblical perspective or merely “spiritual” in some vague way, but I’m willing to give it a chance to prove itself. Casting Emmy-award winning actor Greg Kinnear as the father shows it’s not some low-budget feature, but a quality production.

My approach to these films is expressed well by one reviewer, John Hayward, at the Red State site:

Despite the constant media caricature of Christians as prune-faced scolds who can’t wait to protest any movie that gets a single word of Scripture wrong, they’re actually very good sports about creative interpretations of their faith, especially compared with certain religions that… aren’t.  Christian groups respond to movies they mildly disapprove of by expressing mild disapproval.  If they’re really bent out of shape, they might even tell other people not to go see the movie.  And they’ll embrace all sorts of creative embellishments if the serious themes and tenets of their faith are given a respectful hearing.

I give respectful hearings where respectful hearings are earned. I express disapproval when deviations from basic facts warrant such disapproval. Above all, I want to be as fair as possible in my analyses. Check out any of these movies that have sparked an interest and come to your own conclusions as to their relative value.

Scott Walker: Christian Public Servant

Scott WalkerScott Walker, governor of Wisconsin, has chalked up an amazing record. He first entered the national news cycle when he stood firm against unreasonable union demands in his state and won. Then he had to face a recall election. He won again. Wisconsin has prospered under his administration, with an unemployment level plunging below the national average, state coffers with a surplus, and tax money being returned to the citizens of the state. Further, he has been a staunch defender of life, signing bills restricting abortion and defunding Planned Parenthood.

In almost every way, Walker has been an outstanding governor, and a model for Republican public servants throughout the nation. His success also has made him a target of hatred on the extreme Left (a term becoming more redundant with each passing day). Walker, a dedicated Christian, raised the ire of the Freedom From Religion Foundation the other day by offering this short tweet:

Scott Walker Tweet

That Scripture simply affirms what Christians always have believed: “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” Pretty offensive, right? That foundation has demanded Walker remove the tweet from his account. Here’s part of the official response from the Freedom From Religion atheist leaders:

To say, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me,” seems more like a threat—or the utterance of a theocratic dictator—than a duly elected civil servant.

A theocratic dictator? Simply for thanking God for the strength to carry out his duties? Is this really where we are now as a nation? We’re seeing more and more the public manifestation of anger toward those who hold to Biblical beliefs, and there is no limit to how anything Christians say can be willfully twisted into something “hateful” or threatening. Let’s be clear: it’s not the Christians who are threatening anyone (except with the truth about their sinfulness). The threats are pretty much one-sided nowadays against those who remain firm in the faith.

To Walker’s credit, he refuses to take down the tweet. May there be more public servants who will follow his example.

The Preacher & the Presidents

Preacher & PresidentsIn preparation for my upcoming year of sabbatical when I will be doing some research at presidential libraries, I’ve been reading as much as I can about those who were spiritual advisors to presidents. The obvious first choice for study is Billy Graham. Recently, I finished a book that provided some really excellent and even profound insights into Graham’s relationships with presidents from Truman to George W. Bush. Elegantly written by journalists Nancy Gibbs and Michael Duffy, The Preacher and the Presidents: Billy Graham in the White House is a treasure chest of information about how Graham saw his role as pastor to presidents and how presidents utilized him in their administrations.

I learned more about Graham than I expected. Personally, I’ve followed Graham’s evangelistic career since the mid-1960s. I remember vividly the telecasts of some of his crusades while I was still in high school, as well as reading his early autobiography. He played a significant part in my budding faith at that time.

Later, I branched out into other avenues for growing in my spiritual walk, but he was always there in the background. In the 1980s, when Graham went to China for the first time, a couple I knew at the church I was attending was connected with that endeavor. They turned to me to write a paper on the value of a market economy and freedom. That paper then went with Graham to China as part of his mission to the Chinese leaders. I felt quite honored to take part in that, even in a small way.

Graham-ReaganReading the book, I came away with a deeper appreciation for just how influential Graham has been in American society throughout his long ministry. His connections with presidents were often instrumental in forwarding the Gospel, particularly in many communist nations. That occurred primarily during Reagan’s tenure. Reagan was a great supporter of Graham’s ministry; he had known him personally since the early 1950s. One comment in the book intrigued me: Graham described Reagan “as the president he was closest to—and the one he would have liked to have known better. Nancy Reagan said her husband’s relationship with Graham deepened when he became president. ‘Their relationship was beyond political,’ she said in 2006. ‘Billy would keep in touch with Ronnie on all levels.'”

There were pitfalls along the way for Graham as he learned how to handle his fame and influence with presidents. His closeness to Richard Nixon also tied him to Watergate, even though he was in no way involved in that scandal. It taught him to be more cautious in future dealings, yet he never shied away from offering pastoral counseling and comfort to any president—and any other person—who sought him out.

Over this next year, I’ll not only visit presidential libraries, but I’ll travel to Wheaton College to examine Billy Graham’s papers. I also hope to make a trek, along with a colleague on this project, to North Carolina to interview Graham family members and associates. While it would be wonderful to get to see Billy Graham and talk with him, that probably won’t happen. His age and infirmities make that unlikely.

Graham’s ministry has ended now, for all practical purposes. He knows he doesn’t have much more time on this earth, but that doesn’t bother him. He has the assurance of an eternity with the One he has served faithfully all these years. It will be a pleasant experience to spend time this year getting to “know” him better.

John Jay: Christian Statesman

John Jay 1How about a little wisdom from one of America’s Founders today? Most people are not too familiar with John Jay, but he was central to almost every major event of the Founding. Jay served in the Continental Congress, was one of the principal leaders in the debates leading to Independence, was elected president of Congress at one point, and was appointed one of the peace commissioners who negotiated the end of the American Revolution.

Afterwards, he, along with James Madison and Alexander Hamilton, authored some of the Federalist Papers, which today are still the best source for knowing how the Founders understood the nation’s new Constitution. Then, after Washington was inaugurated, he was chosen to be the first Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court.

Later, Jay resigned from that position because he was elected governor of New York. As governor, he saw the fulfillment of one of his lifelong goals: he signed a law leading to the eventual abolition of slavery in that state.

When Jay finally retired from public service, he became president of the American Bible Society. His Christian faith was the bedrock of his life. This is seen in a number of his writings. For instance, in a letter to Rev. Jedidiah Morse, he opined,

Providence has given to our people the choice of their rulers, and it is the duty, as well as the privilege and interest of our Christian nation to select and prefer Christians for their rulers.

Notice he considered America to be founded as a Christian nation—not artificially by legislative fiat, but as a matter of choice. The only way a nation can be truly Christian is if the people voluntarily consider Christianity to be the framework for their thinking, their culture, and their laws.

In that same letter to Morse, he commented on the Bible and how it fits into history:

It is to be regretted, but so I believe the fact to be, that except the Bible there is not a true history in the world. Whatever may be the virtue, discernment, and industry of the writers, I am persuaded that truth and error (though in different degrees) will imperceptibly become and remain mixed and blended until they shall be separated forever by the great and last refining fire.

As a historian, I can vouch for that. All histories are a mixture of truth and error, no matter how conscientious we may be. God’s Word, though, can be relied on as absolute truth.

Finally, here is Jay’s perception of the validity of Christianity:

I have long been of opinion that the evidence of the truth of Christianity requires only to be carefully examined to produce conviction in candid minds.

In other words, a clearheaded examination of the claims of the Christian faith should lead anyone with an open heart to the conclusion that it, and only it, is the true explanation of the condition of mankind, the nature of God, and the way to salvation.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if a majority of our elected leaders had the same views and character as John Jay? Well, that’s up to us. As Jay said, it is the duty, the privilege, and the interest of the voters to select Christians for their leaders. If we don’t have those kinds of leaders, the fault lies with us.