July 25, 2010
Who's Watching Big Brother?
My summer job at thirteen was babysitting a set of eight-year old twins, adorable little monsters under my bungling care, all day long, nine hours a day, five days a week. (Fortunately the experience wasn't so scarring as to prevent me from marrying and raising a family of my own some years later.)
One day after catching one of the twins in a huge lie (the proverbial straw), fearful of losing what little control I maintained to protect the home from total destruction and after exhausting all of the positive-reinforcement techniques my teenage brain could imagine, I decided to go for a little negative discipline. To my dismay, I found I couldn't convince her that not only should she not lie, but that her lie was a bad thing. Her young mind had already begun to rationalize the meaning of "is" and adopted the "lies are only wrong if caught, and even then only if they hurt someone" philosophy. Finally at my wit's end, in response to her "Who cares anyway?" I naively yet faithfully answered: "Because God knows and He cares about you and He is watching you." She immediately paled and cried inconsolably the rest of the day.
When her mother returned, she ran into her arms sobbing with fear. The mom, rolling her eyes, answered her daughter calmly with something like: "Don't worry, we don't believe in that." My first shot at evangelism was thus a dismal failure.
This well-intentioned, esteem-building mom (along with the rest of society) was teaching this child: As long as she doesn't believe in God, he doesn't exist. She only needs to believe in herself. She can close her eyes, hum loudly, and drown out voices she doesn't want to hear. If she cares to acknowledge a God of her choosing, he must stay at home, or in her imagination, making appearances only on weekends in church, and her faith should remain in a separate area of her conscience lest it outwardly affect her motivations or judgment. This God exists to fulfill her "spiritual" needs, made-to-order like a favorite playlist on an iPod, with songs that certainly wouldn't contain uncomfortable verses that stir self-doubt or prick the conscience.
According to the popular view, all truth is relative anyway (except the foundation of this philosophy: No truth, except the truth "Truth is relative," is absolutely true). Morals, then, having no basis in God's laws or absolute truth, become impossible to describe, aspire to, or to measure against an ever-changing yardstick marked with the permissive whims of this fickle society.
In politics, Liberals rally the pitchforks against greedy capitalists, failing to recognize that similar afflictions of greed or dishonesty could possibly infect the motives of politicians and government officials as they legislate and enforce the laws or redistribute wealth among the masses, who themselves might be selfish or lazy or envy their neighbor. Call a "truce" or attempt to take God out of the picture under any scenario, and the conflict to determine which economic or political philosophy wins (or the point where a compromise between them is reached) is redefined merely as a war of power, measured by force, popularity, or wealth.
Many Christians have bought into the dichotomy of faith and reason, both in the personal or professional activity of their daily lives and in their own minds. G. K Chesterton, in his book Orthodoxy, makes this brilliant observation:
If it be true (as it certainly is) that a man can feel exquisite happiness in skinning a cat, then the religious philosopher can only draw one of two deductions. He must either deny the existence of God, as all atheists do; or he must deny the present union between God and man, as all Christians do. The new theologians seem to think it a highly rationalistic solution to deny the cat.[i]
Substitute Chesterton's cat with the divisive topic of abortion, and it becomes evident how even a supposedly "Christian" society has resolved the dilemma by simply denying the sin. The act has been renamed over time, evolving from murder to abortion, then to pro-choice, and on to the more positive-sounding idea of women's reproductive rights. When a baby is wanted, available scientific technology helps ensure its survival; when not, it's merely seen as a clump of cells and the same technology is used to destroy it. Not only does this solution of pro-choice deny the cat, it affirms society's imagining that it, and not God, created the life in the first place.
In addition to such denials, and fueling the attitude that drives "separation of church and state" in both culture and the mind, are limits placed on the freedom to hold opposing beliefs. The private property of our thoughts was once protected by our Constitution and considered to be only under the purview of the individual doing the thinking and God. Now, thoughts have the potential to be judged as crimes under new laws created by the government. Accusations of "hate speech" are leveled on those who dare to share their politically-incorrect or religious beliefs on marriage or sexuality or Islam, or their views on the ideology of this current administration.
Although Tea Partiers' political expressions are not racist, the Partiers are accused of having racist thoughts and motivations. George Orwell in 1984 imagined a world with punishment of politically incorrect "thoughtcrimes" by Thought Police. Could, someday, Christian thought be declared a hate crime and Christians considered insane? Tim LaHaye, in his book, Mind Siege, fills his Introduction with such a chilling futuristic plot.[ii]
Catholic Online editor Randy Sly notes that both Obama and Hillary Clinton have begun using the phrase "Freedom of Worship" in place of "Freedom of Religion" in several recent speeches, and Sly worries that:
Language matters when it comes to defining freedoms and limits. A shift from freedom of religion to freedom of worship moves the dialog from the world stage into the physical confines of a church, temple, synagogue or mosque. Such limitations can unleash an unbridled initiative that we have only experienced in a mild way through actions determined to remove of roadside crosses, wearing of religious t-shirts and pro-life pins as well as any initiatives of evangelization. It also could exclude our right to raise our children in our faith, the right to religious education, literature or media, the right to raise funds or organize charitable activities and the right to express religious beliefs in the normal discourse of life.
Every day we see attempts to remove God from the scene, in symbols or words that perhaps if seen or heard might remind us of our Creator. When the founding fathers penned the The Declaration of Independence, they appealed to the "Supreme Judge of the world" and closed with "a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence." A couple of hundred years later, our government seeks to replace God as the giver of rights and our citizens increasingly reject His presence. Regardless of inspiring mantras of Hope and Change, whether this administration hopes to further impose limits on the freedom of religion, they cannot change the truth that God is indeed still watching.
[i] Gilbert K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy, (New York, John Lane Company, 1908), pages 24-25