Friday, February 19, 2010

Are You?

Are you a religious person? If you are a white working or middle class British male, then there is a good chance you will have said no. In fact you are the least likely person to go to any church in the UK. My submission to you is that if you consider yourself not to be a man of faith, belief and worship then you are sadly deluded. Over the course of our lifetime we are offered all kinds of claims that seem reasonable: that there are multiple perspectives to life and its meaning, which explains the multiplicity of world religions; the diversity and tolerance of other life choices, such as religious beliefs and sexual proclivities, is the mark of a mature society; that judging others for their choices is wrong, in fact it is prejudice. It is best not be coerced into following the religious beliefs of the less sophisticated people from previous generations. Have you studied the scientific theories, such as evolution or big bang? Do you know the philosophical treaties that have shaped British cultural norms? Or have you received them in faith from school teachers, examination curriculums, parents and friends? Either way you are a man of faith and as a result you do worship.

Now we agree on that matter, your are welcome, let us determine which god represents your faith and the effect this has upon your soul. A god is something or someone that provides your life meaning and purpose. It gives you the motive to tackle each day, to work, to care and to endeavour. Toward this god you direct your emotion, treasure, time, energy and thoughts. To many their god is comfort. They invest all their worldly energy in hard work to accumulate the necessary wealth to be comfortable. In the short term that might be a large flat screen TV, holiday or decent car, in the longer term a house, paid for and furnished with comfortable things with the time and space to be comfortable. You may worship the god of husband. Whilst this god can be capricious it rewards you with emotional gratification. In the worst case that might result in sexual and physical abuse but that’s gods for you, they can be nasty and mean so we serve them and love them in the hope that eventually they will love you in return. Then there is the poplar god of success. This is the god for whom you sacrifice your today to achieve the fame, fortune or performance of tomorrow. Converts to this faith system are those who aspire to be the brightest, most motivated, fittest and attractive people or in other words, the vain. Vanity comes in many guises but it’s always egotistical and we are all susceptible. This is either a fragile ego that needs constant support or a robust ego that needs expression. Finally the joker in the pack, the one who trumps most other gods, that being the god of intellect and reason. This is a powerful god because it allows you to explain why others need gods and permits you to be your own little god. Many liberal Christians worship the god of reason. They explain how the Bible is a moral handrail that through allegory and metaphor helps us understand life, love and hope. The god of intellect allows one to take the reasonable text from any scripture, Koran, Bhagavad-Gita, the Bible and blend messages to prove that if we all just worked harder to get on, recycled and stopped eating meat there would be an outbreak of world peace. It belongs to the broad church humanism that sees solutions to the worlds problems through politics and human institutions.

One of the saving graces of living in the UK is its judicial process. Despite faults, if given a choice, I would choose to stand trial in the UK. Any system that has the ability to convict a senior police officer for corruption and to hold its politicians to account for taking liberties with their allowances, albeit not without a struggle, has credibility. We have a system that allows for all the evidence to be gathered, examined and thus gives us confidence that the outcome of trials is just. Our lives are trials during which we determine right from wrong, truth from lies, endure hardships, illness, pain frustrations and grief? You may have noticed that there are many people who claim that there is a heaven and a hell; it would surely make sense to have examined the evidence before dismissing their claim as freakish. Wouldn’t it be embarrassing to discover that your conclusions were inconsistent with the evidence and the physical hell is in fact as eternal, hot, stinky and painful as is claimed? If you do consider such claims the preserve of a freakish cult the problem may be that you have created a god as judge and jury who you manipulate and fashion according to your image and likeness? You have a god you enjoy, who approves of your choices, who doesn’t condemn you for thinking what you desperately desire to do with the fit woman in the office, who gives you permission to get drunk and flirty, who allows you to look at others and say well at least I am not as bad, selfish, neglectful, lazy, and opinionated as them. Your god is a god of spirit filled love into whose arms we will surely melt and live in the infinite universe that appeared by a chance chemical reaction from nothing. You like your god for he will not condemn you, stand in judgment over you or see to it you pay the penalty for your sin; put simply you have nothing to fear. Oh happy days for divorce lawyers, counselors, self help therapists, social welfare personnel and foster parents, all enjoying lucrative employment that stems from this cherished ‘freedom from fear’ and the sorry cycle of birth, freedom, abuse, neglect and death continues generation upon generation. Consider a couple with four children. Those children are encouraged to absorb cultural myths, received wisdom and assorted truth claims. Each child marries and has four from whom they teach nothing more than to believe the same multiple truths and social scientific theories, each of those have four and so on. In just four generations, that’s 100 years at 25 years per generation, there will be 1024 people who have been taught that reason and intellect is supreme, who have nothing to look forward to but a nagging doubt that beyond theories, speculation and conjecture their must be a more fundamental truth. Look no further to explain suicide rates in Western Europe than a belief that beyond our intellect and universe there is nothing but an empty void. However, if those two people have four children who are taught about the person and works of Jesus, who learn about the power of God and understand that the source of wisdom is God and those four each have four and so on, then within 100 years you have 1024 people who know God, that’s a small USA Baptist Church. Eternity is a long time and today is a great opportunity to examine whether the judge and jury you have appointed to oversee your trial is going to speak truth into your life.

Your ambivalence is unhealthy, selfish and it’s dangerous. Without truth the following generations are abandoned to the influences of those people who desire to exploit, oppress and control. There really are wicked, vindictive, hate filled people – evil is real. Wickedness manifests itself most clearly in religion. Religion seeks to control, regulate and replicate. It wants uniformity, orthodoxy and compliance in order that its power and sphere of influence can grow. It offers good advice to help you through the struggles of life such as illness, grief, failure and embarrassment and it provides answers to the difficulties that spring from relationships between family, friend and neighbours. It will answer the questions that stem from simply being a man, son, father, mother or sister and tip you straight to the pit of hell.

Here’s my appeal, take a look at the path you are on. Which signposts are you following? Apply your intellect, education, experience, talent and rational. Look across history at cultural leaders, eloquent speakers, influential diarists, spiritual leaders, scientists, generals and prophets. Now consider your own character, your proclivity for errors of judgment, mistakes, doubts, assuredness, arrogance, vanity and defensiveness. Consider your imagination, honesty and the desire to have it your way, the right way, dancing to your tune, for as you like to say, “this is my home, you are under my roof and you will obey my rules!” There you go, as I say, you are an opinionated, over-bearing, selfish and an uncaring bully and you can’t even see it! I am sorry, did I hurt your feelings again? That’s because you are proud; so proud that hearing the truth convicts, wounds and causes you to rise up in anger and defence, you my friend are guilty as charged. So, when you looked over history did you find someone who was sinless though tempted in every way just as we are? Did you find someone willing to give up all their power just to serve? Did you find someone who loved his enemies, who confused the brightest and the best? Who knowing you intimately, your faults, unpleasant thoughts, half truths and neglect was willing to take a beating for you, be humiliated for you, be mocked, ridiculed and die a slow, torturous death for you? If you didn’t then I humbly beg you to continue looking because he is the only show in town. The greatest men in history be they gurus or geniuses, cannot show you the physical scars on their bodies from your sin and have not laid down their lives for you. Death is approaching quicker than any of us dare imagine and if, despite all the evidence stacked against it, you remain dependent on your own reason for redemption then you are even more arrogant than even your vibrant imagination thought possible. Who is speaking truth into your life? Because if it’s not the one true God, the God of our fathers Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, the God who came into human history who lived without sin, who by dieing in our place, became sin, taking on all the filth and lies and pride from your life, so that you and I could share in his eternal Kingdom because he loves us, as a father loves his children, then it’s someone or something else and that my friend that someone or something is leading you on a path of destruction.

In Britain we need men (I’ll allow woman writers to speak for women) who know that what they believe is truth, who don’t want to share good advice, in a chauvinistic, patronizing way but good news as patriarchs, providers, cultivators and warriors. This requires the unfashionable virtues of diligence, commitment, humility, obedience and courage. However, it is easier to follow fashion, to conform to cultural consensus, to follow the behaviour and ideas of others. I want to be intelligent, successful, wealthy, popular and articulate, so I’ll choose a role model to meet my needs, or I don’t want to be like Islamists with strict codes, bizarre worship practices, so I’ll reject their example. This is a troubling way of developing a system of values and beliefs for inevitably you will adopt that which attracts you, in other words it will be prejudicial. Invariably, inevitably and repeatedly immigrants, those with different cultural values and standards, are the easiest, least intellectually demanding target when your system of beliefs fails you. Great Britain is not a melting pot, it does though have a diverse populous which could be a beacon of hope and truth. If only we could show our neighbours they are loved, who in turn shares that love with his neighbour, who in turn feeds widows and orphans, who in turn shows there is justice for the oppressed then that good news would travel. The French are trying, albeit in a cumbersome way, by banning burkhas. That’s treating symptoms when the cause is a religious system that demands women wear clothes to mask their beauty. Better to work on the hearts of the men. We do that by showing them real men. Men who know how to treat women with dignity, honour and respect, men who don’t fund a flourishing porn industry that supports and encourages the abuse of women, that leads to degrading objectification spreading from pole dancing clubs to the shelves of our news agencies and corrupts the minds of the young. Men who understand that the epitome of courage is sacrifice, that on the Cross we see the meaning of love and in the person and work of Jesus Christ we see the a man who is truly worth following.

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