Archives For Religion

Last week I read an article entitled, “Why I’m Raising my Kids without Religion,” written by a gentleman named Serge Bielanko.  The author raised several objections to organized religion and concluded with the strong recommendation that all children should be raised without religion or belief in God.   I was amazed at how shallow his “reasons” were that are being offered as the motivation for abandoning traditional religion.

At the same time, it’s worth noting that there are some legitimate criticisms in the article that Christians would be wise to pay attention to.  We’ll consider those as well.

To begin with his objections to organized religion:

1.  “I have a lot of resistance to the idea of a nice tidy paradise of a kingdom after death.”

“Something never really clicked for me when it came to religious faith.”

The first objection for Bielanko is that he, personally, just doesn’t see it and doesn’t accept the idea of an afterlife.  For him, it just doesn’t “click.”

It’s a juvenile delusion to think that a thing I don’t understand must not be so.  Further, it’s a reflection of the “arrogance of now” when someone like Bielanko concludes that there must be no God because he doesn’t believe and doesn’t feel it in his bones.  Never mind that the best minds of the last 2000 years have wrestled with the question of the existence of God and that many great thinkers, while not traditional Christians, have concluded that the evidence of the natural universe points strongly to a creator.  It doesn’t work for Bielanko and therefore his conclusion is that no child should be brought up to believe in God.  Quite a leap, isn’t it?

Just for a quick mental exercise, imagine the ridicule I would be exposed to if I were to say, “I just find a lot of resistance inside to the idea of the evolution of species and something never really clicked for me when it comes to evolution.”

When you change the terms, it’s easy to see that my feeling about it has nothing at all to do with whether evolution is true.  Likewise, the emotional response of Mr. Bielanko, or any other human being, to the idea of God has nothing at all to do with whether there is or isn’t a God.

Psalm 10:4 – In the pride of his face the wicked does not seek him; all his thoughts are; There is no God.

Psalm 14:1 – The fool says in his heart, “There is no God.”  They are corrupt, they do abominable deeds, there is none who does good.”

Psalm 19:1-3 – The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.  Day to day pours out speech and night to night reveals knowledge.  There is no speech, nor are there words, whose voice is not heard.

Romans 1:20 – For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made.  So they are without excuse.

The believer in evolution and the believer in God point to the same evidence.  Each says, “Look at the world around you!”  The kind of evolution that changes one species to another is not observable in the present, but instead is offered as an explanation for how things came to be.  In the same way, the fact of a universe in existence powerfully points to a first cause – a Creator.

Of course, I believe that the evidence for God is more compelling, but my aim here is not to argue the merits of either assertion.  Rather, I am merely attempting to show that the truth or falsehood of either claim has no connection at all with my personal, emotional response to it.  So, Bielanko’s first argument is purely subjective and hardly a basis for suggesting that it would be better for all children to grow up without religion.

2.  “So much of it seemed so old, so outdated.”

This actually pops up several times in Bielanko’s short article.    He expresses his preference for an ultra-modern philosophy, calls traditional religion a crotchety, exhausted, violent brontosaurus, and asserts that religion is unscientific.

Again, his argument reflects the arrogance of the modern mind.  Religion is bad, he says, because it comes from antiquity and doesn’t conform to the modern zeitgeist.

The progressive mind seems to think that new is always better; that things have been developing throughout history to the acme of human existence that is the present.  And he lives with the confidence that tomorrow will always be better than today.

Just a quick look at history shows this is not the case.  Rather, good times and bad wax and wane.  There have been eras in the past where, culturally speaking, human beings enjoyed a great deal of liberty, enlightenment, and equality.  And there have been times where the light has been quenched, only to rise again in some other corner of the world.

Aside from that, every generation stands on the shoulders of the last one.  Our technology, our progress, and our understanding of the world didn’t begin in the last 50 years.  Rather, what is good about our time – if it is good – is more often the culmination and application of discoveries and understanding gained in the past.   We don’t mind using Edison’s energy or Einstein’s mathematics.   The system of government developed by the Greeks continues to be used today – mostly because, ancient as it is, we haven’t been able to come up with something better.  Euclid’s math still works even though his theories were first promulgated more than 2000 years ago.

So, “Old-fashioned” is an easy pejorative meant to excite a negative response, but it doesn’t necessarily follow that something is bad and useless just because it’s old.  Indeed, sometimes the old ways are actually better ways.  And some old things are foundational and it would be destructive to remove them.

Psalm 68:32-35 – “O kingdoms of earth, sing to God; sing praises to the Lord, to him who rides in the heavens, the ancient heavens; behold, he sends out his voice, his mighty voice.  Ascribe power to God, whose majesty is over Israel, and whose power is in the skies.  Awesome is God from his sanctuary; the God of Israel – he is the one who gives power and strength to his people.    Blessed be God!”

Proverbs 22:28 – Do not move the ancient landmark that your fathers have set.

Jeremiah 6:16 – Thus says the Lord:  Stand by the roads, and look, and ask for the ancient paths, where the good way is; and walk in it, and find rest for your souls.  But they said, We will not walk in it…

Micah 5:2 – But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose origin is from of old, from ancient days.

Daniel 7:9 – As I looked, thrones were placed, and the Ancient of days took his seat…

Even in the Old Testament, God was regarded as ancient.  In the days of Jeremiah, the law of God was already the “old path.”   But, contrary to our modern adoration for the new, old in those days meant solid, firm, and right.

3.  Religion is the source of violence in the world and if they were freed from the idea of a deity looking over their shoulder, people would spread love, peace, and goodwill rather than hate, violence, and intolerance.

Bielanko says, “people ought to be living right and treating each other with love and respect, because they really feel that way and not because they are following the words of some deity or particular religion.”

He asks, “What if we are all, by our very nature, just as good or bad as we allow ourselves to be?  What if our lives are not lightly dictated or even casually observed by a higher power with an all-seeing eye?”

He suggests, “Wouldn’t it be kind of cool if we knew there was no afterlife and therefore made the very best of the only life that we will ever likely know?”

And here is where he charges that religion is the source of violence:

“These days, the closer I get to my own inevitable demise (it’s coming/it always has been) the more I find myself enchanted by the more scientific approach to all of this. And I hope that my kids sense that in me before long, and at least consider what lies in my heart and drives my soul as much as they consider the thunderous booms of religion always thumping away all over the landscape; often in the guise of a crotchety, and yes, violent brontosaurus stumbling yard to yard, porch to porch, eating the stale bread people habitually throw out for him, day after day, year after year, century after century, until he’s bloated and gassy and tired to the point of exhaustion.”

When he suggests that people ought to live right and treat each other with love and respect regardless of the words of some deity, he is already in trouble.  If there is no God, who is Bielanko to assert anything about “ought?”  What “ought” is there?  For that matter, who gets to define the “right” way to treat one another?

He then proceeds to the utopian ideal – stealing fairly liberally from John Lennon – Imagine there’s no heaven, no hell.  Just the sky above us, la la la…  Unfortunately, we don’t have to imagine.  We’ve seen what people do when they reject God – and it’s awful.  Consider the atrocities of the atheist Soviet Union and of Communist China, for starters.  Then think of the greed, selfishness, divorce, abortion, and cruelty to others that can be the result of thinking, “this is the only life I’ve got, so I’d better make it as good as possible – for ME.”

It takes a lot of nerve to trot out the worn-out suggestion that religion has the corner on violence and intolerance in the world.  That’s a trait of humanity and it belongs to the religious and the non-religious alike.

On the flip side, though, you would be hard pressed to find any lasting good that has been done in the world that wasn’t done by a believer, or group of believers, in some higher power.

“In arrogance the wicked hotly pursue the poor; let them be caught in the schemes they have devised.  For the wicked boasts of the desires of his soul, and the one greedy for gain curses and renounces the Lord.  In the pride of his face, the wicked does not seek him; all his thoughts are, “There is no God.”  His ways prosper at all times; your judgments are on high, out of his sight; as for all his foes, he puffs at them.  He says in his heart, “I shall not be moved; throughout all generations I shall not meet adversity.”  His mouth is filled with cursing and deceit and oppression; under his tongue are mischief and iniquity.  He sits in ambush in the villages; in hiding places he murders the innocent.  His eyes stealthily watch for the helpless; he lurks in ambush like a lion in his thicket; he lurks that he may seize the poor; he seizes the poor when he draws him into his net.  The helpless are crushed, sink down, and fall by his might.  He says in his heart, “God has forgotten, he has hidden his face, he will never see it.”  (Psalm 10:2-11).

Consider the evidence yourself and ask yourself whether the Old Book or whether Bielanko has more accurately described the nature of a world that rejects God.

The final irony here is that Bielanko wants to blame the ills of society on religion precisely at a time when religious influence on the nature of the world is at a low point.  The culture that exists is a secular and progressive one – and it has been for many years.  Its problems are far more rightly laid at the feet of those who have dismissed notions of biblical morality and justice.

Well, I said I would also consider Bielanko’s legitimate charges.  What are they?

1.  When he criticizes the members of the church where he grew up for never asking questions and just doing what they’ve always been told, he has a valid point.

-Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith.  Test yourselves.  II Cor. 13:5

-Do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God.  I John 4:1

-Test everything; hold fast what is good.  I Thessalonians 5:21

-work out your own salvation with fear and trembling – Philippians 2:12

2.  He describes a religious world that is filled with alienation, wars, infighting, and political posturing; one that’s defined by power-mongering and exclusion.  While his claim that this penetrates and defines every crevice of organized religion in our era is false, it is more true and more prevalent than it ought to be.

James 2:1-8 – show no partiality as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ.

Acts 10:34, Romans 2:11 – God shows no partiality.

However, even here, Bielanko is mistaken.  What he wants is a ‘religion’ that shows no partiality and that offers equality to all behaviors – some of which are sins.  But when it comes to sin, God is also impartial.

In Acts 10:34, when Peter says God shows no partiality, he follows that with – “in every nation whoever fears Him and does what is right is accepted by Him.”

In Romans 2, verses 5-10 talk about God’s consistent judgment – wrath for those who are self-seeking, disobedient to God, and workers of evil – without partiality. And for those who patiently do good and seek Him, there will be glory and honor and peace, without partiality.

For some, the gospel is a means to power and personal gain.  However, rather than recognizing this as an indictment of evil people, Bielanko uses it as an argument against religion.  However, there has never been and never will be a system involving human beings that doesn’t have this problem – including Bielanko’s ideal world.   It’s just a feature of this fallen world, and you can see it at work throughout all of human history.  But again, the problem is not Christianity, the problem is Christians, or some of those who call themselves Christians.   The gospel of Christ actually condemns such behavior.

Matthew 20:25-28 – But Jesus called them to him and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them.  It shall not be so among you.  But whoever would be great among you must be your servant.

John 13:3-16 – Jesus sets the example by washing the feet of his disciples and telling them to do the same for one another.

Philippians 2:1-7 – Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.  Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.

I Timothy 6:1-11 – Those who imagine godliness is a means of gain are depraved in mind and deprived of truth, puffed up with conceit and understanding nothing…. But as for you, O man of God, flee these things.  Pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, gentleness.

3.  Bielanko is critical of religious people who are not sincere.  That’s what he is getting at when he says, “people ought to be living right and treating each other with love and respect, because they really feel that way and not because they are following the words of some deity or particular religion.”  And, “what if we taught our own children the idea of spreading love and goodwill and peace because that’s exactly what Mom and Dad believe in their hearts.  What if parents showed their kids, by example, how they walk the walk in their lives on a daily basis, their actions and words, their core values and beliefs…”

Romans 10:9 – because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.

II Corinthians 1:12 – For our boast is this, the testimony of our conscience, that we behaved in the world with simplicity and godly sincerity, not by earthly wisdom but by the grace of God, and supremely so toward you.

II Corinthians 2:17 – For we are not, like so many, peddlers of God’s word, but as men of sincerity, as commissioned by God, in the sight of God we speak in Christ.

Romans 12:9 – Let love be genuine.  Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good.

I John 3:18 – Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.

II Timothy 2:24-25 – And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness.

When Bielanko wishes for a world where people genuinely, truly, believed in and practice love and goodwill toward all – even toward those who are in opposition, he is describing pure Christianity!  The problem is, this unfortunately often does not describe “Christian” communities.

One final thing to consider.  Bielanko makes the common mistake of equating problems with religion and religious people with problems with believing in God.  In reality, though, there are actually four separate questions to answer when it comes to religious belief and practice.

First, is there a God?

Second, has God communicated with us and, if He has, how?

Third, has God told us how to live and worship?

Fourth, are there any groups of people who believe in God, who have heeded His word, and are living and worshiping according to that word?

Bielanko and many others hang everything on the fourth question.  The problem is that a positive or negative answer to question four has no bearing on the answers to the first questions.  In fact, the way I have laid these out, it is sequential.  There may be a God who has not communicated with us and told us how to live and worship.  In that case, there would of course be no group of people who are living and worshiping according to that nonexistent revelation.

Then again, there may be a God who has communicated with us, but who hasn’t told us anything about how to live and worship.  Therefore, the answers to questions one and two would be, “Yes,” while the answer to three and four would be, “No.”

There may be a God who has communicated with us and who has told us how to live and worship, but there may be no one who is keeping His word.  So, our answers to my four questions would be, “Yes, yes, yes, and no.”  It may very well be that every religious organization on earth is corrupt and unfit to be called the children of God.  It is certainly true that every religious organization is populated by imperfect people who are bound to make mistakes.  But that’s not necessarily an indictment of religion, and it is definitely not an indictment of the Lord.  Instead, it’s merely a reflection on us.

And, finally, it may be that it is possible to answer all four questions affirmatively.  There may actually be a group of people somewhere who are truly and sincerely trying to follow and obey the revelation of the eternal God of heaven.  I believe this to be true, and I hope to be one of those people.

Brad

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Sunday Sermon at the church of Christ on Elm Street in St. Charles, Missouri, December 1, 2013. A discussion of the statistics that reveal a lack of trust in every segment of American society and God’s solution to the problem.