Year2015

Christians are Anti-Progress

ProgressB

Christians are often resistant to progress, sometimes when they shouldn’t be.  Christianity does not call us to be generally anti-progress.  But in one sense, we ought to be a little anti-progress.

The Good, traditionally understood, is in the transcendent category.  We are much more materialistic these days and, consequently, are suspicious of, or flatly reject, the category.

We haven’t lost the idea of “The Good,” but it has moved from a higher ideal to the material realm.  It now lives at the end of every line of progress, which we see everywhere, even when progress is an illusion.  The good is now “just what happens next.”

Progress Degrades Commitment

Pastor and blogger Toby Sumpter (“Committed as Christmas”) argues that living in this “evolutionary universe” erodes commitment.  The Biblical worldview emphasizes commitment–God is so committed to humanity that he would die for us.  People exhorted to be committed to God, parents, spouses, children, governments, neighbours, church and creation.  But, a commitment to commitments is out of step with the dominant culture.  Sumpter says that this “is why marriage . . .  is not merely an old fashion custom, it is positively anti-progress.”

Change and Permanence

It is not inappropriate to find pleasure in change.  We were created to desire change.  I love the changes between the seasons and, although I love steak and mashed potatoes, I don’t want to eat them two days in a row.  But we were also made to crave permanence.  The things that human beings love most are a balance between change and permanence:

Baseball always has four bases that are positioned 90 feet apart and there are always three outs per inning.  These permanent qualities are complemented with change, for no two games are alike.  In this blend of constancy and variety is the appeal of baseball.

The same is true of our fascination in watching a lava lamps, a campfire, or waves crashing onto the beach.  Our fascination is rooted in the balance between newness and change.

The problem arises, when we lose the balance between permanence and change.

In The Screwtape Letters, C. S. Lewis attributes our obsession with new experiences to demonic activity.

Now just as we [the tempters] pick out and exaggerate the pleasure of eating to produce gluttony, so we pick out this natural pleasantness of change and twist it into a demand for absolute novelty.  This demand is entirely our workmanship. . . .  Only by our incessant efforts is the demand for the infinite, or unrhythmical, change kept up.

The task of the demons is made much easier by the evolutionary worldview, that progress is always good, that dominates popular thought in our culture.

Change is a good, but it is not The Good.  So in a sense, it is appropriate for Christians to be labelled inherently anti-progress.

 

The Myth Progress

 

Photo by Prateek Verma on Unsplash

The most dangerous phrase in the language is, ‘We’ve always done it this way.’

This quote is attributed to Rear Admiral Grace Hopper. I don’t think it’s true. For one thing, I don’t think it is necessarily the most dangerous phrase — others are more dangerous. For instance, “because we’ve always done it this way, let’s try something else” would be more dangerous when applied to driving on the left or eating glass.  Sometimes the way we’ve always done things is the best way to do it.

That’s the way it is with sayings; they aren’t universally true, but they communicate a truth.

Hopper’s saying resonates particularly with Westerners because we love change. We tend to equate change with progress.  We believe that new ways are better than old ways.

Time and Decline

Interestingly, the ancients actually assumed the opposite.

Book five of The Iliad follows Diomedes’ busy day on the plains before the city of Troy. In one episode, Diomedes has just killed boastful Pandarus with a spear throw that severs the braggart’s tongue. Aeneas attempts to recover Pandarus’ body, but has to face Diomedes who “picked up a stone, a massive rock which no two men now alive could lift. He threw it all by himself with ease.” The Greeks thought that the great men of old were better than the men alive in their time, and not only in terms of physical strength.

The book of Genesis in the Bible shows the same idea.  The first men lived far longer than we do today.  Adam 930 years and Methuselah made it to 1069.

Time and Progress

The Modern story, however, holds that our times are better than previous times. The increase of knowledge in the area of science and the conversion of knowledge to power through technology certainly can give the impression that civilization is advancing.

Check out this Radio Shack flyer from twenty-five years ago. The author of the accompanying article points out that the function of almost every item from the coolest page in the newspaper in 1990 is now on the phone in my pocket. If that ain’t progress, I don’t know what is.

It is progress, but only in two categories–scientific knowledge and technological sophistication.  This is not the same as cultural or moral development.  In these we’ve not progressed at all; human beings remain the same. The problem is that our scientific knowledge and technological power do not make us better, they only increase the effects of what we do–be that good or evil.

Human cultural and moral progress is a myth.

Chronological Snobbery

Agent Colson told us as much  in the pilot episode of Agents of S.H.E.I.L.D.

People tend to confuse the words, ‘new’ and ‘improved.’

C. S. Lewis also argues that is that time is not structured by progress.

“The idea of the world slowly ripening to perfection, is a myth, not a generalization from experience. ”

— (“The World’s Last Night”)

In Lewis’s The Screwtape Letters, an experienced demon, Screwtape, offers advice to his nephew, Wormwood, a novice tempter, on how to undermine the faith of “the Patient” and thereby secure his soul for damnation. One of the diabolical strategies for populating hell, is to control how modern man understands the past.

Screwtape describes the “the intellectual climate which [the devils] have at last succeeded in producing throughout Western Europe” (139). He jubilantly reports,

Only the learned read old books and we have now so dealt with the learned that they are of all men the least likely to acquire wisdom by doing so. We have done so by inculcating the Historical Point of View. The Historical Point of View, put briefly, means that when a learned man is presented with any statement in an ancient author, the one question he never asks is whether it is true. . . . To regard the ancient writer as a possible source of knowledge—this would be rejected as unutterably simple-minded. And since we cannot deceive the whole human race all the time, it is important to cut every generation off from all the others; for where learning makes a free commerce between the ages there is always the danger that the characteristic errors of one may be corrected by the characteristic truths of another. (139-140)

Lewis calls this view of history, “chronological snobbery,” and defines it as “the assumption that whatever has gone out of date is on that account discredited” (Surprised by Joy 167).

Blinded by our technology, we stubbornly cling to the Myth of Progress.

“The depravity of man is at once the most empirically verifiable reality but at the same time the most intellectually resisted fact.” –Malcolm Muggeridge

We are certainly progressing technologically, and we are moving steadily toward a more free, open, liberal or tolerant society. But make no mistake, humanity is making no progress culturally, politically or morally.  Nor will we–ever.

An Inventory of Moments

Comfreak / Pixabay

People talk to you a great deal about your education, but some good, sacred memory, preserved from childhood, is perhaps the best education. If a man carries many such memories with him into life, he is safe to the end of his days, and if one has only one good memory left in one’s heart, even that may sometime be the means of saving us.

Brothers Karamazov

Moment 1: “A New Boy”

I was about 6 years old when we moved from Montana to Michigan.  I was brought to my new school and left in the charge of Mrs. Smith, my new grade 1 teacher.  I sat alone in the classroom waiting for something to happen.  I imagine I was scared, but I don’t remember.  What I do remember is a blonde head popping up in the outside window, shrieking with excitement–“It’s a new boy!”

This was one of the moments from my life.  Objectively, time is composed of a series of identical units, but our subjective experience is that time is not homogeneous–time is less like a clock than a lava lamp.

In an attempt to understand time in this more subjective way, I have here described a few of the events that constitute a very large inventory of moments.

Moment 2:  “Big Buck”

I was high up in the Canadian Rockies, far off any road–we had traveled up a frozen river bed till we could go no further.  It was too late to build a lean-to and too cold, so we decided to sleep in the truck. It was too cold to sleep in the truck.  So at 3 am we started climbing higher into the mountains and watched the sunrise from the top of the world.  At about noon I saw a huge mountain muley careening down the opposite slope.  Then he disappeared in the brush.  I waited.  He appeared in a small stand of trees to my left.  That’s when time almost stopped.  I didn’t even feel the recoil of my 30-06.  I didn’t hear the gun’s report.  All I saw was the deer turn and run back the way he had come.  He didn’t make it thirty feet.  A perfect shot.

Moment 3: “Cotton Balls”

Dread poured from my chest into my belly.  I turned and ran home crying.  I had forgotten my cotton balls AGAIN!    I think we were going to make cotton ball igloos on construction paper and snow was impossible to represent without cotton balls.  I had forgotten to bring them several days in a row.  I still think this is way too much responsibility for a 5-year-old and why the heck didn’t the school provide the necessary materials for our kindergarten projects.  I remember returning to school with a green Dippity Doo jar full of cotton balls.

Moment 4: “Mount St. Helens”

I will never forget May 20, 1980.  It was raining mud.  I was out in a field south of Olympia, WA at about 8:30 in the morning.  I was turning off water pumps because we didn’t move irrigation lines on Sundays.  When I was finished, I got into my truck and I couldn’t see through the windshield.  The wipers smeared grey mud.  Church was canceled that morning because of a volcanic eruption.  That was Mt. Helen’s first, one of the later ones happened on a beautiful clear day and I watched the ash bloom from the same field (another moment).

Moment 5: “Life from now on”

I was on the Oregon coast with my daughters in August 2008.  My sons weren’t there because of summer jobs.  My wife was leaving me so she didn’t come; it wasn’t a very happy holiday.  This had been my point of view for the previous 18 months–I had no happiness, nor any hope for future happiness.  I was watching my girls and the waves crash onto the beach; I sighed and said to my self, “So this is how life is going to be from now on.”  Then it hit me–I was in this incredible place with people I adored and we were going out for clam chowder later.  I said it again with an entirely different view of the world, “So this is how life is going to be from now on.”

Moment 6: Joe Carter’s home run in 1993.

Moment 7: “First Day of Farming”

In 1996 we bought a farm, a pigeon farm (we raised squab for the fancy Chinese restaurants in Vancouver and the other markets across North America).  One day we took possession I went for a walk by the barns.  I wondered what I had gotten myself into.  I knew little about raising squab and the flock was in bad shape; there was a lot of disease and very poor production.  It was a scary moment and I’ll never forget it.  10 years later I could diagnose diseases by smell and production was increased 20 times.

Moment 8: Dachau

The Nazi concentration camp outside of Munich.  I’ve always been interested in World War Two.  I took classes on it in both high school and university, read many books, and watched every documentary I could.  The Holocaust was particularly intriguing and baffling for me–how could people do this to each other, and on such a scale?  In spite of all I read, perhaps because of it, the Holocaust and Nazism were abstract concepts to me.  The incredible thing about Dachau was the realization that the Holocaust was made out of concrete, wood and barbed wire.  There was a road outside the barbed wire–if you were standing on that road in 1944 you were not in the camp, 20ft. over and you were in the camp.  That 20 feet made all the difference.  It was in that moment that I became aware of the spatial and material reality of the Final Solution.  Evil is not just a vague idea, it is a concrete reality.

Moment 9: Every time I’ve watched The Sound of Music.

Moment 10: The day each of my children was born

Time is made up of such moments; they surge around us and engulf us and lift us and then dissipate–like a lava lamp.

Time is not made of minutes, but of moments; they surge around us and engulf us and lift us and then dissipate--like a lava lamp.Click To Tweet

 

Time is Like a Lava Lamp

Bru-nO / Pixabay

I don’t know why we think that every minute is like every other minute; we certainly don’t experience time in this way.

The Elasticity of Time

Shakespeare comments on the elasticity of time in Romeo and Juliet.

Sad hours seem long. — Romeo

In a minute there are many days. — Juliet

Cervantes records the same experience.  I just finished reading Don Quixote where I found the famous knight finds time moving slowly.

Night, longed for by Don Quixote with the greatest anxiety in the world, came at last, though it seemed to him that the wheels of Apollo’s car had broken down, and that the day was drawing itself out longer than usual, just as is the case with lovers, who never make the reckoning of their desires agree with time.

These great works of literature present time as we experience it ourselves.

When drawing I lose all sense of time, but when cooking it moves quickly, often too quickly for me to get the potatoes mashed.  When sitting in a Christmas concert presented by young children with bells in their hands, time rasps slowly along, but it moves with even more heaviness in a hospital waiting room.

The trend in Western society is towards homogenizing experience–we’ve attempted to do the same with time.

Time and Technology

Our understanding of time is greatly influenced by the devices we use to mark it–they have become the metaphor by which we understand time.  Our modern clocks–both analogue and digital varieties–divide the day into homogenous hours, minutes and seconds.  Even old-fashioned hourglass divided time up into identical grains of sand.

We need another metaphor for time as we actually experience it so that we can begin to think about it differently.

The Lava Lamp

Sometimes time moves slowly, other times quickly; the goo in lava lamps moves up and down in various speeds.  We experience time, not only as minutes, but moments; lava lamps have these moments.  That’s why we like to watch them; we are anticipating the next moment.  The moments we experience surge around us and engulf us and lift us and then they dissipate.  Moments of Joy and Sorrow and Grace move through our experience as rising and falling blobs of iridescent lava.

Not only is this a much richer way to think of time, it is much more descriptive of our experience tha, the mechanical tick-tock-tick-tock of the ubiquitous wall clock.

The lava lamp is a much richer metaphor for time, more descriptive of our experience than the mechanical tick-tock-tick-tock of the ubiquitous wall clock.Click To Tweet

 

Sameness or Surprise?

brenkee / Pixabay

My three most memorable hamburgers are:

  1. The Kobe Beef Burger that I eat at the Issaquah Brew Pub every spring with my gaming buddies.
  2. The burger I ate at Norma’s in Lacey, Washington, was by no means a gourmet burger, but it tastes great and had that 1950’s diner flavour to it.
  3. This past summer I ate at a hamburger joint off the highway in Redding, California: Bartel’s Giant Burger.  It too was a great burger–it was fast, served in a paper basket, but it was one of my most memorable burgers.

All three of these burgers are very good and all three are very different.

Sameness

Then there’s the approach to the hamburger that McDonald pioneered.  No matter where you eat your burger, it will be exactly the same.  This approach was obviously extremely popular and Americans believe that difference in hamburgers is a bad thing.

And McDonald’s is exporting this ridiculous idea.  Did you see that commercial? I ranted about it a while back.

Craft Beer versus Factory Beer

harassevarg / Pixabay

This philosophy of marketing sameness for profit was also found in the beer industry.  Since the lifting of prohibition, we were forced to drink just one kind of beer, the American Adjunct Lager.  It’s fizzy, light bodied, has low bitterness and thin malts.  This beer was made for mass production and consumption, not flavour–thank goodness that’s changed–if you want, you can get a wide variety of locally brewed craft beers all over North America.

The story of beer suggests that there is some resistance to the homogenization of experience, but we are still very comfortable with sameness.  It used to be that all coffee was the same–cheap and industrial.  The forces of sameness are still at work on us, it’s just that the product is a lot better.

Starbucks is the same whether you are in Seattle or Spain.  A lot of people think this is a good thing–it’s called the Starbucks Experience.   Of course, I don’t want a bad coffee experience, but this is not the same thing has having a different coffee experience.

Then there’s Kraft Dinner.

By homogenize our experiences there no possibility of having a disappointing experience, but we will just as certainly not have a surprising one.Click To Tweet

By homogenize our experiences there no possibility of having a disappointing experience, but we will just as certainly not have a surprising one.

Is it worth it?

Ordinary Time

Bru-nO / Pixabay

Our culture has one way of thinking about time, so we could call it ordinary time.

We could also call it secular time, mechanical time, material time or dead time.  Elsewhere, I’ve called it “zombie time” and for good reason.

Whatever you call it, it has the following characteristics:

  1. It is homogeneous — a minute is a minute; one hour is the same as every other hour.
  2. It is sequential — minutes, hours, days and years occur one after the other.
  3. structured by progress — we are, things are, improving, evolving, getting better as time passes.
  4. It has been emptied of the transcendent — there is nothing supernatural in our conception of time.

Killing Time

Bru-nO / Pixabay

In English we have only one word for time.  The ancient Greeks had two because they understood time in two ways.  First, there is chronos, or ordinary time, in which one thing happens after another.  The other is kairos.  We’ve mostly lost a sense of this kind of time, to our detriment.

chronos kairos

chronos versus kairos

Chronological versus Kairotic Time

Chronological time refers to clock time–time that can be measured in fixed units–seconds, minutes, hours and years.  Kairos measures moments of flexible duration.  Chronological time is divided up into past, present, and future, but kairos is the present and has an eternal element.  Chronological time is personified as Old Father Time carrying a scythe and an hourglass–it is a time that consumes all.  Kairos time is personified as a young man, lithe and handsome–it is a time that suggests “ripeness is all” (Lear 5.2.11).

Chronological time, named after the titan who ate his children, destroys and consumes.  All material things experience the ravages of time.  In the Hobbit, Gollum’s riddle in the dark is about chronos time:

This thing all things devours:
Birds, beasts, trees, flowers;
Gnaws iron, bites steel;
Grinds hard stones to meal;
Slays king, ruins town,
And beats high mountain down.

There is a monstrous quality to chronological time.  Chronos time is made up of past that doesn’t exist anymore and future that doesn’t yet exist.  Because its made of these intangibilities, chronos time takes on a spectral quality.  To make matters worse, as Gollum says, it kills and consumes.  It is a terrifying creature.  Dead, but devouring and it never stops coming.  There’s something hellish about the eternal monotony of mechanical time.

Where chronos suggests death, kairos suggests life.  The present is the only part of time that actually exists; it’s alive, and if you are experiencing it, you are alive too.  The term Kairos contains the idea that not all time is the same.  Sure there is the regular and mechanical passing of minutes, but there are also immeasurable moments that catch us by surprise, that bubble up from within time or flow into it from somewhere, or somewhen, else.  These interruptions of ordinary time by higher time suggest a link with the eternal–the “everlasting now” which is the time of heaven.

Hourglass or Lava Lamp

I want to suggest that when you think of time, don’t only imagine the hourglass of chronos, but a lava lamp of kairos time–irregular and surprising.

Our worldview both shapes and is shaped by our language.  Because we have only one word for time, we are in danger of thinking and living under the idea that time is simply chronological.

I’ve had students tell me that eternity sounds boring?  It certainly does if you think of it in terms of chronological–dead–time.  If we broaden our understanding of time, we will not only have a more positive view of an eternal future, but we also will understand the importance of the living present, which as C. S. Lewis says, “is all lit up with eternal rays” (The Screwtape Letters).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cervantes and Praise Songs

 

I find it difficult to praise Him, while singing Hillsong’s “Praise Him.”

I’m reading Don Quixote de la Mancha by Miguel De Cervantes. I came across the passage today where the Cannon discusses the inferiority of the popular books of chivalry whose authors write “without paying any attention to good taste or the rules of art.”

I’m not sure if the views expressed by the canon are those of Cervantes, but they are close to mine when it comes to much of Christian art, particularly that branch that gives us the songs we sing in church each week.

Don Quixote on Art

In this passage from Don Quixote, the canon is speaking of drama, but his comments apply to all art forms, I think, including praise and worship lyrics.  I have made some changes, that I am sure Cervantes would not object to.

The praise songs ” that are now in vogue . . . are, all or most of them, downright nonsense and things that have neither head nor tail, and yet the public listens to them with delight, and regards and cries them up as perfection when they are so far from it . . . . the [lyricists] who write them, and the [worship leaders] who [perform] them, say that this is what they must be, for [congregations] wants this and will have nothing else. . . .

Apparently there is no point to “go by rule and work out [lyrics] according to the laws of art” because these “will only find some half-dozen intelligent people to understand them, while all the rest remain blind to the merit of their composition. I have sometimes endeavoured to convince [worship leaders] that they are mistaken in this notion they have adopted, and that they would attract more people, and get more credit, by [writing praise songs] in accordance with the rules of art, than by absurd ones, they are so thoroughly wedded to their own opinion that no argument or evidence can wean them from it.

“I remember saying one day to one of these obstinate fellows, ‘Tell me, do you not recollect that a few years ago, there were three [songs sung in the churches] of these kingdoms, which were such that they filled all who heard them with admiration, delight, and interest, the ignorant as well as the wise, the masses as well as the higher orders?'”

“‘No doubt,’ replied the [worship leader] in question, ‘you mean the “Blessed Be Your Name,” the “10 000 Reasons,” and “Revelation Song.“‘

“‘Those are the ones I mean,’ said I; ‘and see if they did not observe the principles of art, and if, by observing them, they failed to show their superiority and please all the world; so that the fault does not lie with the public that insists upon nonsense, but with those who don’t know how to [write] something else.”

The song that inspired this post is Hillsong United’s “Praise Him.”

“Praise Him” by Hillsong United

I think I know a formula when I see it–it has that progression that almost all of the popular praise songs have these days. My problem with this song is the lyrics are so general.  I will commend its writers that the clichés they employ are at least on the same subject, but they aren’t really about anything except there is lots of praising going on.

There is nothing in the lyrics that engage either the mind or the imagination. Without this engagement, even if the music is really excellent, the experience is, at best, only emotional.  Under these conditions, my worship experience is about as meaningful as watching clothes tumble in the dryer.

I believe that we should bring God our best–not just our best music, but our best everything–this includes our lyrics.

I leave you with just a few lines of Josh Garrels’ song “Colors” which are about praising Him.

So let all the creatures sing
Praises over everything
Colors are meant to bring
Glory to the light

In my series The Poetry of Worship, offer ways we can improve the lyrics of the praise and worship songs we sing.  More importantly, I explain why we ought to.

Man was not made for Time, but time for man?

Understanding Worldview (2)

geralt / Pixabay

What can you spend, save and waste?

I asked my students this question and the answer is about 50/50–money and time.

You’d expect people to say money because that’s the right answer.  In what way is time anything like money?

They are not alike at all, but we use exactly the same verbs to describe what we do with them.  You don’t spin a banana, or peal a yarn. You don’t run with petunias and plant scissors.  Yet somehow we’ve managed to manage time as if it were something like money.

Time as Commodity

Richard Lewis explains in “How Different Cultures Understand Time“:

For an American, time is truly money. In a profit-oriented society, time is a precious, even scarce, commodity. It flows fast, like a mountain river in the spring, and if you want to benefit from its passing, you have to move fast with it. Americans are people of action; they cannot bear to be idle.

This view of time is by no means universal.  At a social gathering a few years ago, a Cameroonian man said to my wife , “You people . . . ” (By this he, of course, meant you Americans.) “You people have such a strange way of thinking about time. You think of it as something you can grasp, something you can hold in your hand.”

Linear Time

For North Americans and most northern Europeans, time is linear.  It’s a line, a time line, with evenly spaced hash marks designating the minutes and hours, days and years. This line extends into both the past and the future and in the middle is a point called the present. The line of time continuously slides at a constant speed through the present from right to left. On the future side of the present we affix plans and promises–commitments to others and to ourselves as to what we will do by particular points on the time line.   In our culture, we focus a lot on the future–in both hope and fear.

“Africa Time”

I can’t pretend to know anything firsthand about what is called “Africa time,” but one of the pastors at my church was born and raised in Kenya.  He tells me that in Africa people aren’t governed by the clock, rather they take the view that “things will happen when they happen.”

Here, if I arrange to call a friend at 3:00–I call him at 3:00.  In Africa, my friend says, “I would be crazy to expect the call at 3:00, because 3:00 really means ‘sometime in the afternoon,'” and it is not a surprise if the call didn’t come in at all.  That’s OK, because “tomorrow is another day.”

Why this seeming irresponsibility in keeping appointments and living up to agreements?

It’s all about relationships.

In African culture almost everything is about relationships.  My pastor explained, “If I were on my way somewhere and I encountered my friend Trent, I would stop and have a conversation.”   A present conversation is too important to cut off before it’s naturally concluded–until then, there is no other place to be.

African time bends and stretches according to the present relational needs. It matters not what a clock might say.  Africa is a big continent and it’s got many different cultural groups, so generalizations are dangerous, but there is apparently some commonality in how time is conceived–and not only in Africa,  but in Latin America as well.

In our culture we consider an event to be a component of time whereas other cultures often consider time to be a component of the event.Click To Tweet

Boredom

Interestingly, in our culture, we suffer from boredom if we have too much time.  We suffer stress if we have too little.

I asked my friend if, in the absence of mechanical time, Africans experience boredom and stress.  He said that an African person will be bored if they are alone, and experience stress when there is a brokenness in their community.  Again, it comes down to the primacy of relationships.

I’m not sure if the African conception of time is morally superior to mechanical time, but I think, with its focus on relationships, that it might be.  But we have to admit that there are also many advantages to our Western notion of time; I love the timeliness by which German trains operate.

When it comes to conceptions of time, whether Christian or not, residents of Northern Europe and North America have a “secular” view of time. We should, therefore, be hesitant to claim that we have a “Christian” or a “Biblical” worldview–because in our understanding of time, we do not.  We have a pretty “secular” worldview.

Understanding Worldview

Two books changed everything for me. In the late 80s I read A Transforming Vision by Brian Walsh and Richard Middleton and Leslie Newbigin’s Foolishness to the Greeks. These books opened up to me the idea that my thinking wasn’t free; I looked at the world through glasses tinted by cultural context–a lot more than tinted, it turns out.

Ever since I have tried to understand my culture and the lenses through which I viewed the world.

In Christian Education circles we talked a lot about worldview and how to integrate worldview conversations into the curriculum and these conversations continue (some even wondering if worldview education is misguided).

Use of the term worldview has since gone way beyond Christian educators. Now I regularly hear Christians talking about “Christian,” “Biblical” and “Secular” worldviews, but, clearly, the speakers haven’t read any of the books on the subject. Seriously limited understanding of worldview concepts are proclaimed in podcasts and from pulpits, and found in blogs and in books.

Christian values, beliefs and attitudes are just the tip of the iceberg when talking about worldview.  These are things we talk about and think about; worldview, like most of the iceberg, is underwater–we aren’t even aware of it.

Worldview or Just Values?

These well-meaning Christians often reduce the idea of a “Christian worldview” to some moral ethic. For many, to have a Christian worldview means to practice abstinence until in a heterosexual marriage and, then, to not get an abortion. For others the ethic is more social–to help the homeless, the refugee or the at-risk teen; to bring water, food and medicine to the world’s poor. Some reduce Christian worldview to purchasing decisions–they have a hybrid car and eat free-range chickens. These may be the external manifestations of having a Christian worldview, but they do not the worldview make.

There are two problems with reducing worldview to ethic. First, we think we are done when we haven’t really started. If all I need to do to have a truly Christian worldview is abstain from sex outside of heterosexual marriage–I’m done, nothing else to do except perhaps look askance at those who have a “secular worldview.”

The second problem with reducing worldview to ethic is that it creates an artificial line between us and our neighbours. Simplified understanding of the terms “Christian” and “Secular worldview” create “Us” and “Them” categories. This is inappropriate because “they” aren’t all that different from “us.”

OK, I hear you. We are different. Most importantly, we believe that Jesus was the son of God and that he died to conquer death on our behalf. There’s more, and it depends a little on what brand of Christian you are, but our views may differ from the dominant culture on issues like abortion, euthanasia, same-sex marriage. Some of what we do is different: we pray and attend Bible studies. Perhaps we watch different movies, or avoid certain TV shows. We’d like to think we are more faithful to our marriages, that we give more to charitable causes, and that we swear less.

How Secular Is our Christian Worldview?

I don’t mean to de-mean these important differences (especially the ones I agree with) but these are only the beginning of what has been called a “Christian (or a Biblical) Worldview.”

Deep down we are not so different–the so-called “secular” worldview is comes right out of the Christian past, and Christianity, in the West, has been profoundly influenced by secular thinking. Consequently, a North American Christian has a lot more in common with her secular neighbour than she does with a Christian living in, say, Cameroon.

It’s important that we stop using the term “worldview” in order to separate ourselves from others in ways that we are not separate. Worldview goes way beyond what we do on Sunday morning and what we don’t do on Saturday night.

 

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