Monday, August 17, 2009

Christian expectations, part one

I've begun to wonder just why we Christians expect certain things to come our way, or for the world to work in a certain way. This has become interesting enough to me that I'm planning on making a couple of posts (at least) on the subject.

Today I'd like to look at the attitude of the educational system toward Christian believers. This musing was spawned by conversations or things I've heard in the past couple of weeks, mainly from friends, about the way that teachers in high school and college treat people who identify themselves as Christians. Briefly, Christian believers are met with skepticism at best, and derision or outright hostility at worst. In fact, there are those in the Christian community who feel that there's an organized conspiracy against them. Why do we Christians feel this way?

I'd like to suggest to my brothers and sisters in the faith that this is really what we should expect. I'd further say that we're being naive if we expect anything else. Let's look at recent events (of the last twenty years, say) to see why this might be so.

In that time, we've had televangelist scandals--think Jim Bakker, Jimmy Swaggart, and all their ilk. We've had scandals involving very prominent clergymen--think Ted Haggard. We've had very public demonstrations of behavior that most people find repulsive--think Fred Phelps and the Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, Kansas. We've had self-identified Christian political figures admit to breaking their marriage vows and having affairs or dalliances--think everyone from Mark Sanford to John Edwards to Bill Clinton. We've had the on-going scandal of child sexual abuse in the Roman Catholic clergy, and the allegations of wide-spread cover-up. We've had religious cults and breakaway groups mandating bizarre practices to follow their own doctrines--think Branch Davidians, as well as Fundamentalist LDS groups and their polygamous marriages. Does anyone reading this think that this is the totality of Christian weirdness? Is it any wonder, after reading a litany of accounts like this, that many people see Christians as fools at the most generous, and as frauds and hypocrites less so?

Why are we surprised by the reception that our beliefs get in academia, after all the seeming whack-jobs that have been paraded across TV screens and newspaper headlines and blogs and web pages and emails and word of mouth? And that only scratches the surface. Many of us deny the validity of the theory of evolution, or a 4.5-billion-year-old planet Earth. Instead, we hold to a belief in young-Earth creationism, or Intelligent Design. All these doctrines are in direct contradiction of the results of scientific inquiry over hundreds of years; why shouldn't professors in college wonder about our sanity?

Let me just interject here my own belief on the whole subject of Intelligent Design. As a Christian, I definitely believe in the existence of a Creator, maker of heavens and Earth. That means that I believe that there is cosmic intelligence that has formed us all. What I reject is canonical "Intelligent Design." It's not a "theory," in any scientific sense I recognize. If anything, it's an interesting philosophical conjecture, and nothing more than that. Bluntly, it's crap science and crap religion. It's crap science because it's not scientific, but instead seeks to re-define "science" to conform to its own non-scientific ideas. It's crap religion because there is no "god," only a "designer," and a pretty vague one at that. One day I may write much more in detail about the shortcomings, in my personal view, of Intelligent Design (as it's currently defined). For now, let's just say that it's not something I subscribe to or am likely to find attractive.

Getting back to the subject at hand, there's a much deeper reason than all the scandal and hypocrisy and failure to live righteous lives, that causes us as Christians to be viewed with suspicion by the rest of the world. We were promised that we would encounter persecution--check out Matthew 24:9, for one citation. The guy we claim is our Lord and Master promised that it would be like this. In other words, things are as they are supposed to be. The world is doing exactly what it's expected to do.

That may be a hard message to hear, if you've been expecting to be welcomed as the bearer of "good news" by those you meet. Academia, the hotbed of restless minds testing new ideas (the role of the student) and experienced minds inculcating skills of critical thinking (the role of the teacher), is where you should expect this treatment to be most stark. As Christians, we need to see this as an opportunity to test our own mettle in the fire of hard intellectual confrontation. We should welcome the encounter, instead of feeling like we're penalized in some way.

There are other expectations on the part of Christians that I think need to be re-evaluated in the light of both reality and what we're told in that book we hold in such high esteem. In my next post, I'll look at another one, a big one, and see if it has any validity.

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