Friday, October 05, 2007

My Faith Is A Private Matter....

We often hear many cliches and catch phrases when a person is asked rather direct questions about religion in general and religion and politics in particular. Some of the more popular phrases we hear invoked by politicians of all political stripe is "Yes I am a Christian but I don't wear my faith on my sleeve." Or something to the effect that somehow their belief that God is there has no bearing on the decisions these individuals will make while serving in office. Their faith is relegated to a private sector.

Now, my intent in this post is aimed not so much at the integrity of the politicians or individuals who make such utterances but the division that they harbour itself. This division is a private/public, sacred/secular, irrational/rational, values/factual...sort of division. Francis Schaeffer did a wonderful job in displaying this sort of compartmentalized view to life with these sorts of charts:

What we have is a two story view of the world. In the Upper Story we have things like hobbies, religion, ethics, meaning, etc. In the lower we have the objective facts of life like science, one's job, the secular etc.

What this mainly leads to is threefold: 1)An inconsistent thought, 2)A faith without works 3) Irrational leaps (people hiding out, in the private zone to protect their ridiculous beliefs from criticism or unwannted consequences)

1)An inconsistency in thought

This sort of inconsistency comes from contrary beliefs held in both the upper and lower story. One can at least verbally confess belief in Christianity and with the same mouth utter things that are in complete contradiction with the tenants of Christianity. Now I am assuming the person is truly a believer and isn't just using God words to appeal to people. This is because this two-story division is more assumed than consciously thought through.

Nancy Pearcey in her book "Total Truth" gives us a rather alarming example of a woman, or rather a group of women, who were Bible believing Christians, not liberal Christians mind you, who worked at planned parenthood and were part of the process of young women terminating pregnancies. These women really didn't see their Christianity (private upperstory) as in conflict with their job (secular public lower-story). This is because there is an unconscious or assumed division between the two in many people's mind.

No doubt the message these women heard was Jesus died for your sins, He rose again, and through trust in that work we are saved. This is all true, but that is not all there is to the gospel. The gospel truly is both vertical and horizontal. In reacting to the Liberal social gospel many churches abandoned any horizontal emphasis altogether and the Christian message became purely vertical (concerned only with the world to come and our right standing before God). This leads into point number two.
2) Faith Without Works

Going back to what was just said about the Fundamentalists rejection of a social Christianity in the face of a Liberal social gospel, if you are going to err this is the side to err on. At the same time though this is not good enough, we need the entirety of the Christian message. The Christian message or worldview must come to bear on all of our lives because that is precisely what Christ requires of individuals, their entire lives under His Lordship. What this means is that the Christian worldview has something to say about everything and serves as the individual's reference point in everything. If one's Christianity does not effect everything they do it simply isn't a worldview, it may be a private hobby (Like building model ships) but it is not a worldview.

Oddly enough that is precisely how many secularists would have us to view Christianity, it is merely a private hobby just like a man who likes to collect Pokemon cards. We would think him rather odd if he went around telling everybody else (in the public lower story) to collect Pokemon cards. Likewise the secularist finds it equally odd when Christianity enters the public arena giving pronouncements.

What has happened when Christians embrace the upper and lower story division is we end up with a faith in the upstairs and a secular view in the lower. So while the person may indeed go to church and assent to orthodox teaching when it comes acting in the public sphere (lower story) he/she will think just like the secularist. By that I mean in terms of what is pragmatic or some other secular method of deducing the best course of action rather than inquiring for a word from the Lord (Bible) on the matter.

3) Irrational Leaps as Shields

On this last description of the upper/lower story division we have irrational leaps. This is invoked by people of all stripes, things contained within the upper story do not need to be rational. In the Christian arena what is often substituted for a lack of rational is the word "faith". In a more secular sense it is usually phrases akin to "This is my view/belief" emphasising the privativity of the proclamation. In either case a leap into the upper story is made and the point in part is a sort of shield from any criticism.

In other words when such phrases are invoked they are generally used as a sort of shield from any possible critique of the individual's views. So what is being said is this "This is what I think about X but it is in the upper story so you have no right to tell me what I think about X may be wrong." So in short upper story=immunity to many.

Honestly I have read/heard statements from non-Christian individuals who are masters of couching their statements in the upper-story to shield them from criticism. This is quite apparent when politicians speak on matters of ethics and religion. It is also apparent when talking to individuals who hold to patently absurd worldviews (New Agers for example).

Being more particular, take the naturalist. On a lower story assessment of reality man is a machine, we are animals that have been conditioned to survive in a hostile world. Our existence is really aimed at one purpose survival. This is the lower story factual world for the naturalist, a rather bleak meaning to our existence.

However, that is not how the naturalist lives. The naturalist will make a leap (irrational) into the upper-story to find meaning greater than survival and make statements that the lower story (empirical science) can not verify. Sam Harris for example in his critique of Christianity writes:

"It is terrible that we all die and lose everything we love; it is doubly terrible that so many human beings suffer needlessly while alive." (p.57 LTCN)

Given Harris' worldview where does this come from? Why is this such a terrible thing? Harris does not give any rational explanation based on his worldview as to why he thinks this way about human life, he just makes this utterance and expects the reader to agree that these things are rather evident. Given his Atheistic Darwinism suffering is just part of what is, you can't rationally say it is terrible. In doing so Harris is leaping into the upper-story.

This is why Schaeffer talked about "taking the roof off" the unbeliever's worldview. Harris is hiding under this umbrella that is really borrowed or leftovers from Christianity (that human suffering is bad). Part of our job is to show folks that given their worldview they have no rational basis for believing such things, we need to take the roof off and let the implication of their God rejecting worldview rain in, this is a form of law.

4) Conclusion

The upper/lower story grid is very insightful as far as analyzing the ideas that are constantly swirling about in our culture. It really helps to give an understanding of the "culture wars" (ex: "science" vs. "faith") and how Christians are gagged by secularists and forbidden a hearing. It also helps to shed light on a lot of the self inflicted silence or disconnect many Christians have in bringing the Christian worldview into all of life.

6 comments: said...

"It also helps to shed light on a lot of the self inflicted silence or disconnect many Christians have in bringing the Christian worldview into all of life. "

We really need role models. The good kind. We need to see how other Christians live their faith

In the current season of MTV's Real World, there is a Christian girl.

If that's all you see, then you can image how the lower/upper stories get distorted.

Bob said...

You are absolutely right Edgar, that was just as much part of Schaeffer's apologetic as the logical argument...the doing/acting. One example from his life that comes to mind is a trip he and some of the students at L'Abri took to Italy, on one of the streets an old man was trying to pull a cart accross the road with himself strapped to it like a mule. The man waws inching along with cars honking and people yelling at him. Schaeffer took off his coat and helped the man accross and went back and pulled the cart accross for him.

This is just what you do when you have a biblical view of human dignity. You don't bust out your cell phone camera to make a video for people to laugh at on youtube, you help this person because they are made in the image of God.

You are right too about the upper and lower getting distorted, it is the air we breath in out culture, we are constantly pushed to treat Christianity as a private thing, like ant farming. Just one of the many paths you can take...Christianity, stamp collecting, Islam, all the same.

Bob said...

I guess I should clarify, by "distorted" I mean that we begin to assume that there is a sacred sphere and secular sphere. We act as if there was part of the world that we don't bring the Bible to bear politics or environmentalism. That's what I mean by distorted, we don't have a holisitic approach to viewing the world Christianly, there are areas where we think just like the secularist. said...

By distorted, I meant that we learn by example and, unfortunately, we have a lot of bad role models out there: What does a Christian looks like? Ignorant, Arrogant, Hypocritical.

I can also see your definition. From time to time, I fall prey to this sacred vs. secular sphere mentality.


Bob said...

"I can also see your definition. From time to time, I fall prey to this sacred vs. secular sphere mentality.

We all do, it is the very air we breathe in our culture. It's on the tv, in the magazines, on the radio, in our music even in our churchs. Only through being consciously watchful can we avoid the secular/sacred, public/private, divisions and have a fully orbed Christian WORLDVIEW, rather than a private true for me view.

Marc said...

I am getting more and more convicted on this one myself. It has become very apparent to me how strong the fear of man is in me, and how resistant I am to the pull of God on my heart, when it is at the risk of "coming out" with my faith. I.e.: stopping to pray for someone passed out on the sidewalk of a busy Chicago street. My faith says: "of course, pray for this man, extend mercy, you are a minister of Christ's love simply because you believe. Would a true man of the cloth just leave that man laying there?"
Then, my rational, privatized-faith mind takes over: "People just don't do that here. You will be thought of as a weird-o. Besides, you've got a train to catch. Just keep walking and say a word of prayer to yourself as you go. That way you won't stir up any trouble."
It grieves my soul, the depth of my weakness. I am pouring into prayer on this, so please pray also that God would strenghten my resolve, that His approval would far outshine my desire for any man's approval.
Thanks for your thoughts on this topic.