Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Smaller Playing Field? No need to fret

When a New York Times reporter visited a classroom in New Jersey a couple of years ago, the students were discussing a case of someone who found $1000 and subsequently returned it to its real owner. All the students in the class said that the honest woman was a fool. Instead of making a stand that the woman did the right thing, what was shocking is response of the teacher who said that it is not up to him/her to tell the students what is right and wrong. What if we live in a world where our understanding of right and wrong becomes defined according to each of our fanciful philosophies and materialistic desires? What if we live in a society when anyone who stand up for truth gets blown away by a barrage of accusations and orders to mind their own business? What happens if religious institutions have their hands tied and their voices silenced because our society is secular, and secular places have no room for religious talk? What if truths are only truths when secularism says so, and truths become relative when religions take over the mike?

It will be a sad day when truths are perceived to be so relative that people no longer have any ability to distinguish right from wrong. Ethical behavior in the past becomes increasingly questioned. It is a sad day when integrity is no longer important when compared to profitability and selfish material gains. Values compromise becomes the business strategy of the day under the title of 'competitive advantage.' It will be a sad day when morality is given up in favour of amoral behavior. In fact, our secular world is fodder for amorality as all other forms of standing up for morality can be easily gunned down by the order: "Mind your own business. Don't impose your views on others."

The secular world is generally much happier when religions such as Christianity is bottled up in convenient canisters, capped tightly by policies instituted by secular authorities. The evil one is pleased when churches simply focus on their own prosperity and social comfort. For secular authorities, nominal forms of Christianity are best. When problems in society occur, the nominal church gets accused of not doing enough for the community. When the church tries to speak up, society blames them for disrupting the peace and wants them to mind their own business. Unless of course the church is paying lots of money toward the material desires of the community. The "damned-if-you-do-damned-if-you-don't" feeling for churches rings familiar. On top of this, infighting within churches is the icing on the cake for the evil one. The deceiver is also pretty happy when believers communicate less, or speak to one another in a manner that leads to loss of love that gives rise to mistrust and suspicion. In our secular world, deceptive strategies are the tools of the secular environment. One of them is via legislation. In this article, I shall argue that the Church needs to keep in mind that secularism is not the chief enemy. It is merely a vehicle used by unscrupulous forces of evil. It is the deceiver that is trying to attack the church under the cloak of secular behavior. Do not attack the one who is repeating the mantra of secularism. He is mere flesh. Instead, expose the underlying false philosophies that mislead people into thinking that secularism is the savior of the world.

Caging-Up Religion
In a secular world, religion is increasingly chained from influencing other aspects of society. From political chambers to the school classrooms, from fast food restaurants to various businesses, religion needs to apply for permission from secular authorities even before it can enter any space to minister to fellow people. It is increasingly out of bounds from many places, like the school, the workplace, general public service places and almost every form of communications arena. Religion's curriculum to educate society has also come under the scrutiny of people advocating secular behavior. Some justify their actions on the basis of tit-for-tat behaviour, accusing religious people for having fired the first shot, of pushing a curriculum in the first place. The evolution-creation debate is one example. Anyone who accuses creationists for bringing their agenda into the classroom conveniently forgets that not everybody believes in the 'religion' of evolution. In fact, secularism has been championed so much under the guise of advancement in modern science and technology, socio-political progress, and democracy, that they are marginalizing religion to the edges of society and culture. Yet, let us remember that these things do not happen overnight. There must be some sinister forces that are driving people to behave in such manner.

Shooting the One Who Make a Stand
The Canadian coffee icon, Tim Hortons recently chose to participate in a rally that promotes traditional marriage between a man and a woman. In its official statement, it claims that it is "a great opportunity to take a stand for marriage as it was created: between a man and a woman." Even though the organizers say that they have not meant it to be any form of religious or political stance, online gay activists accuse the coffee chain of discriminating against the homosexual public. (report)

Rightly, or wrongly, Tim Hortons decided that it is best to pull back from participating in the event. Whether Tim Hortons' actions is pro gay or not is not my concern here. What is more disconcerting is the force of the online activists. What is wrong with one group standing up for traditional marriage? For instance, if I were to publicize my belief of marriage being rightfully a man and a woman, why must I suddenly be accused of being anti-gay or homophobic? If my intention is to encourage my children and their friends that a man should marry a woman, is my very encouragement an explicit act of attacking gay marriages? The logic of the anti-gay activists is simply too binary: Standing up for '1' means not standing up for me, '0.' They seem absolute about such 'absolutes.' My question: is it ever possible to promote traditional marriage without it being seen as a direct attack on gay rights? If gay groups see this as an infringement on their rights, can the reverse be true, in that traditional marriages are infringed upon?

For example, if I were to promote my new brand of toothpaste as the best in the world, am I attacking the other brands from the right of being called toothpastes? If I were to state my belief that there is a God in this world, am I infringing on the rights of other people NOT to believe?

There is nothing new in this line of argument. There will be arguments back and forth about who is right and who is wrong. This is where I want to highlight the seductive nature of spiritual warfare. When such disputes become heated, it spawns activist groups that incite hate and anger on all sides, resulting in bad blood and broken relationships for many. When this happens, there will be no winners. Everybody loses and the evil one will have swept the chips off the table. The evil mastermind will be utterly pleased when mankind fight each other, without the evil one having to lift a finger.

How Then Should the Church Live?
When the playing field for Christian belief shrinks, it makes it more difficult for the Church to express their stand in anything. If the Church is silenced, or their voices drowned out by dissenting views, it is easy to be discouraged and start to mind one's own business of nominal Christianity. Is that the way Christ wants the Church to live? Certainly not. Charles Colson in his book: "How Now Shall We live?" proposes a paradigm for a proper worldview. In any worldview, it needs to consider three perspectives.
  1. Creation
  2. Fall
  3. Redemption
A Church must continue to remind the community they are in that we are all created by the same God. All of us wears the common badge of humanity. We eat, we breathe the same air and we struggle with illnesses, work problems and sometimes matters of life and death. There are no differences.
Secondly, we live in a fallen world. Ask anyone in the street and they can witness to the fallen behavior of fellow human beings, themselves included. Thirdly, ask if there is hope for the future. This is where many people will start to struggle to find a reasonable answer. Some will entrust the future to 'good luck,' and 'let's hope for the best.' This is where Christianity is strongest. This is where the spiritualities of the world finds it most formidable.
Church, do not forget that we are members of the Kingdom of God. This kingdom is not of this world, so do not fret over the allegedly decreasing playing field for the Christian voice. Do not worry if one is silenced for making a stand. Chances are, when the right nerves are touched, the enemy becomes more sensitive and the attacks become more pronounced. When we battle for truth, it is critical that we distinguish the person from the philosophy, lest we harm the very people that Christ died for. Let us maintain a cool disposition and to patiently wait for the right moment to speak the truth in love. When our first and second attempt to speak out for truth fails, there is always a third and fourth opportunity.
What do we do when we are attacked for our views? Let me suggest three ways, all of which are mindful of who the real enemy is. Firstly, do not be discouraged. Do not give up and compromise on your stand. You may choose to communicate your points on another platform, or another manner, but always do it with courtesy and respect to the person who disagrees. This prevents one from becoming angry at the person, and be mindful that there is a deceiver behind what is happening. Secondly, do not react, or overreact. Cooly walk away when tempers flare. In fact, we can always disagree as mature persons without having to take potshots at our accusers. Like St Francis of Assisi, seek not to be understood than to understand. Perhaps, one can learn more of others' behavior and in the process be more humble that we are not perfect in the first place. Remember how the mob screamed at Stephen when he stood for truth (Acts 7:54). Finally, pray for the right opportunity that allows truth to shine forth freely. In a nutshell, this is the posture of being prepared. Peter goes on even further, that if need be, let us prefer to be wrongfully accused for doing something right, instead of slandering others.
"Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander. It is better, if it is God's will, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil.” (1 Pet 3:15-16)

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