Wednesday, December 06, 2006

A Philosophical Quagmire

Our nation, and western culture in general, is facing and presently losing a challenge from Islam. Our politicians recognize "Islamic Extremism" or "Islamic Terrorism" as the enemy, but the truth is the enemy is Islam. Our generation appears to witnessing the eclipse of the Christian faith by Islam in our times. Men and women committed to Islam may do a great variety of things in their lives, but their religion is in the center of their being and living, even to the point of being willing to strap bombs on their bodies and die for their faith, deliberately. Those who do not die in such a manner are no less focused on their faith, and on this holy battle, in all that they do and say.

There are good reasons for their dedication; all arising from the rules and threats which arise out of their faith. The interesting point is, however, that they are willing to focus their lives, thinking, and behaving on this religion, largely for what they perceive to be a future, other-worldly reward. Christians face no such demands of the law of their faith, except in small and statistically insignificant sects. What is striking in comparison with Islam is how few Christians have their faith, their religion, or their eschatological future at the center of their living or thinking. The war between cultures is being won and lost in the gap that exists between Islam and Christianity in the hearts and minds and lives of the adherents of either.

The Muslim seems to be able to pursue the various tasks and goals of life without losing sight of their religion. They have specific times of prayer, and they stop whatever they are doing and pray according to their custom at set times throughout the day. They plan for it and prepare for it. They treat their holy book with honor - treating it as "holy". They study and they worship regularly, and dress in accord with their understanding of holy modesty. Their speech is conformed to their faith, and their lives are ordered in accord with the teachings of their teachers often unreasonably, in the view of many in our society.

The Christian religion, on the other hand, inspires little, if any, of such devotion, particularly in modern America, or "The West". There is a holy book for Christians, annually a best-seller. Knowledge in the typical Christian concerning the contents and meaning of that book is almost non-existent. The Christian faith has a moral code which is largely ignored or dismissed by individual Christians and usually contradicted and dismissed by so-called Christian denominations. There is no apparent discipline (self- or otherwise) of speech or conduct simply because one is a Christian, no specific times of prayer observed, no required dress-code. And the moral or doctrinal authority of the teachers of the Christian churches, where any would attempt to exercise such authority, is roughly on a par with a suggestion about insignificant, trifling matters.

In other words, the West is losing the battle of religions primarily due to the simple fact that Islam is of critical importance to the Moslem while the Christian faith - the Gospel - is of relative insignificance to the average self-identified Christian. The average Christian, so-called, is not Christian in any meaningful sense of the word. They are traditionally Christian, or culturally Christian, or superficially Christian, but not down-to-the-guts-of-it Christian.

Christianity, where it is faithful, loses something to Islam because there is no law in Christianity which absolutely controls the Christian or defines a Christian outwardly. Islam, a religion of laws, defines itself and its adherents, and their behaviors in quite some detail. Faith, love, hope, and trust are the stuff of the Christian faith. There are no required hours of prayer, ways of worship, restrictions on attire, or universal codes of conduct for Christians, as useful as some of those things might be. The dedication of the Christian must flow out of their faith, for mere mechanical obedience to a code of conduct or order of worship does not mark one as Christian in truth. Where Islam is full of threats and curses for breaches of the most minuscule rules, the Gospel teaches repentance and forgiveness and redemption and love.

Christianity isn't weak, nor does it lose anything to Islam or any other faith where the Christian faith is true and lived out consistently. Where it is plainly nothing more than a polite veneer - and not the organizing truths of life for the believer - it fails to inspire, fails to protect, and cannot win the contest between religions, primarily because it is not permitted in the contest in fact. Christians that set aside worship for personal entertainment, and push prayer and Bible study into the margins of life, rather than into the center of their lives, deny their religion and forsake their God by setting themselves and the busy-ness of their lives in the place of their God and by treating all that their faith holds holy as profane and common and unworthy of their devotion or attention.

It is a small wonder that so few outside of the Christian religion take it seriously when so few within it do. A religion without the authority or power in the lives of its proponents to mark it as worth living for is clearly not worth dying for either. People can see the value placed on the faith by those who profess it. Where they cannot control themselves, conduct their behavior, or shape their speech to conform to their profession of faith, they portray their faith as insignificant, unimportant, and powerless, even over its adherents. A religion of love that practices anger, a religion of holiness that justifies the profane, a religion of truth that abandons doctrine in preference for emotions and religious experience pales in comparison to a religion that inspires - or commands - obedience to rules about prayer, dress, speech, and even moves the ardent to sacrifice themselves - even though the act of the sacrifice seems so foolish - in the name of their faith. A religion worth dying for certainly appears to be potentially worth living for - and the rapid increase in Moslems converts, even in modern America, bears eloquent witness to this truth.

Christian: if your faith isn't worth dying for, it probably isn't really worth living for in your own mind. If your faith isn't worth living for, it probably isn't real. If your faith isn't powerful enough within you to bring you to worship regularly, it isn't powerful enough to raise you from the dead either. How can the death of the living God for your salvation be so lightly esteemed that you stay home from worship because it is your birthday, miss Bible Study and the fellowship of the saints because you stayed out too late last night, or you place attendance at a sporting event, an entertainment venue, or a little "personal time" above receiving the "Medicine of Immortality" and all the proffered gifts of God?

When fitting in with or looking good to those with whom you work or play is more important to you than confessing Christ, who bore your sins to the cross so that you might have everlasting life with Him, how important or real can Christ be to you? Jesus said it in a different way, "Everyone therefore who shall confess Me before men, I will also confess him before My Father who is in heaven. But whoever shall deny Me before men, I will also deny him before My Father who is in heaven."

People decorate their houses and their cars with the emblems of their favorite teams. They wear their favorite brand names proudly on their shirts and hats and shoes and coats. They will only drive one kind of auto, even though there may be little difference between makes. They will cling to a computer brand, an operating system, or a software provider when offered other options at better prices. These are their brands, their makes and models, and their teams. It is part of their identity. Then, when it comes to churches and doctrines and faith, their commitments are often less enduring. They will change churches without thought of what makes one church different than the other. They will pursue comfort or convenience rather than faithfulness or truth. They will give attention to every nuance in things that do not matter and discard confessions and hymns and liturgies and the traditions of centuries without a thought because "everyone else is doing it".

In short, we are losing the ground on which we stand to an alien ideology and a pagan religion because Muslims take their religion seriously, and most "Christians" treat their religion as though it were some 'hokey' fable honored by time and society, such as Santa Claus or the Easter Bunny. We are fading as a nation because our foundation is a religion no longer understood or respected, and whose modern followers regularly do not know it nor count it as true or important. Those who fled Europe to this continent centuries ago did so because their religion was central to their lives. They came and worked, and suffered, and died, and counted it worthwhile because they were free here to follow their faith. Their descendants are jaded by their freedom and uncaring about their faith. Everything else in life is more important. That is a value decision which may well prove more costly, and less worthwhile, than that which their forefathers made in days gone by.