When we are confronted with a reality grim, horrible, painful, our tendency is to avoid it, to pursue the hopeful, the possible, the therapeutic. Out of compassion, we do well to allow a little of that to those suffering, that the wrenching blow that has been suffered might be better absorbed. I will not decry those who wish to hold on to optimistic dreams. But let’s face it, last night’s election outcome is very bad news. It is hard not to be apocalyptic about it.
But let’s attempt some restraint, though not at the expense of clarity. We do well to speak of what is to come from this President, moves that have been telegraphed long ago, and have begun to play out in the last four years. There is no guesswork here. It is quite obvious what President Obama is about. But before we can get to that we have to force ourselves to acknowledge a hard and unbending truth. The myths that conservatives have held to about our nation and its current state must be abandoned. We must face the stark truth. We are a secular consumerist society.
We are not a Christian nation. We are a secular consumerist nation with the gloss of a pseudo-civil religion that has kept echoes of Judeo-Christian terminology. Those of us who are Christian may indeed be horrified and repulsed by what we see in the culture, media and civic institutions around us. But we must forever abandon the notion that those things that horrify us are anything less than the logical and natural extensions of a view of the world that is not only not Christian but is also anti-Christian.
Christians should give up being surprised at what they see on Fox on Sunday night. (We’ll address why Christians are watching Fox on Sunday night in a moment.) Or the latest stunt by some no-talent singer, usually some sort of sexually oriented act. Or what comes out of Congress. Or the decisions of the Supreme Court. We long ago were cut from our Christian moorings. The more we realize we live in a society that not only has no interest in adhering to some sort of Judeo-Christian norm, the better able we will be to handle what is out there in front of us right now.
Why does our society react with belly-laughter to our moral declarations? Because it’s the visual presentation of sincerity, seriousness and passion, with the auditory equivalent of “Gleegen fargen nargen bargen!” Who wouldn’t laugh? We speak to and about our society as though they had a clue what we meant. They don’t. Our nation moved on long ago from Christianity. It does not speak that language. Get used to it.
We are a consumerist society. This is wholly at odds with Christianity. But you wouldn’t know it by looking. The present subculture (and I use the term “culture” loosely) of Christianity is barely more than a large flea market of carnival barkers selling wares. If there is one thing Christians in the United States have taken as their number one task, it is marketing. Get more than one Christian in a room, and one of them will be selling a book, a tee shirt, some plastic trinket with Jesus’ name on it, or a DVD series. And look, I’m not exempting Orthodox from this. Food festivals anyone?
What does this teach us about our faith? That we need stuff. That we need to feel good. That there is a fix around the corner, a solution to everyone problem (in three easy steps no less). Like rock and roll but feel a little guilty about singing how hot you are for teacher? Well, lookie there, same beat, same outfits, but with the lyrics cleaned up. We don’t have to deny ourselves anything. We only need to look for another brand.
A little harsh? No. Not harsh enough. Let’s face it. We Christians have cooperated with this. We have assisted our culture in jettisoning God. How? By trying to make the Kingdom of Heaven real in our politics more than making it real in our living. The same Christian who is apoplectic about the “pro-abortion Democrat” being elected, is the same Christian who purchases the swimsuit edition of Sports Illustrated. He’ll recoil in horror about casting his vote for a same-sex marriage candidate, but thinks nothing of casting his vote for soft porn. It’s not merely a matter of hypocrisy. It’s a matter of actually helping our culture get to the point it is. It’s not that we didn’t fight hard enough against a secularization of our society, and it’s not that we didn’t fight at all–it’s that we were active participants in making it happen.
Why did Christians do this? How did it happen? We wanted to be “relevant.” The same conservative Christians who lambasted their liberal counterparts for changing ecclesial traditions (such as ordaining women to the priesthood), were the first ones to insist on breaking out the electric guitars and rock and blues rhythms in worship. The same Christians who screeched at putting inclusive language in Scripture translations, were the same ones ripping off a beer commercial tagline and putting it on a tee shirt: “This blood’s for you.”
We also thought that the way to change our society was to offer it a pitch. If only we could find a way to market Jesus to our fellow citizens in such a way that they could say, “I like Jiff, but you know, doggone it, I think I’ll give that Peter Pan brand a try.” Or we thought that if we advertised how much better our product was than theirs–with glossy filtered fade in’s and out’s no less–they would snatch it up.
The problem is: Jesus isn’t product X. The Gospel is not reducible to an ad jingle. If the Faith is just another kind of consumerism, why switch? It’s all made in China anyway.
So, my fellow Christians, the same ones who are feeling despair at the election results and see–quite correctly–another four years of attacks on their religious freedom . . . you and I own this. We made choices. Those choices resulted in actions. Those actions have consequences. Welcome to the bed we’ve made.
Am I being overly harsh? I sincerely don’t think so. Repentance begins with the Church.
It is not as though nothing can be done. There are legitimate political means Christians can, and perhaps in some instances, should, take. But recognize, in important respects, we have already lost this battle in the political arena. We are past the tipping point. This will gain momentum. Struggle and heartache is upon us.
But there is no room for despair. We have not yet reached the point of Stalinist extermination camps. How did Christians overcome a manifestly demonic Communism in Russia? They fasted. They prayed. They gave alms. They raised their children as Christians. They counted the cost. Even to the point of death. And then the wall fell. It wasn’t Reagan who brought down the Soviet Union. Nor Thatcher. Nor the Pope. Though clearly Providence brought them together at the needed time. But there would have been no Reagan, there would have been no Thatcher, there would have been no Pope John Paul II, if babushkas in Russia hadn’t continued each day to pray morning and evening prayers, to fast a little, to give what they could to those in need. To weep over lost children, broken homes, and bent bodies. But to rise again in the morning, to light a candle and to begin, “O Heavenly King, O Comforter . . .”