From my Aug. 4, 2018, visit to Nassau, Bahamas.
From my Aug. 4, 2018, visit to Nassau, Bahamas.
American attitudes toward Christmas haven’t always been so positive. But what could possibly be wrong with Christmas? Well, for the Puritans, the problem was their enemies celebrated Christmas.
Wait — let me back up and be a bit more modest with my claim. Here’s just a snapshot of a perspective from a time that was not better or purer, but certainly earlier, before the television age, before the middle class was allegedly indoctrinated by left-wing professors in colleges. On Dec. 19, 1895, The Sequachee News of Sequachee, Tenn., published the following italicized section under the headline “Colonial Christmas:”
The Puritans were sorely tried by the way in which Christmas was observed in the colony in 1658, and at the first General Court subsequently held the following law was passed:
“For preventing disorders arising in several places within this jurisdiction by reason of some still observing such festivals as were superstitiously kept in other countries, to the great dishonor of God and offence of others, it is therefore ordered by this court and the authority thereof that whosoever shall be found observing any such day as Christmas or the like either by forbearing of labor, feasting or any other way, upon any such account as aforesaid, every such person so offending shall pay for every such offence five shillings as a fine to the country.”
The following from a letter from Amos Lawrence to his son, William K. Lawrence, then at school in France shows the beginning of the change of sentiment. Its date is December 27, 1830:
“I suppose Christmas is observed with great pomp in France. It is a day which our Puritan forefathers, in their separation from the Church of England, endeavored to blot out from these days of religious festivals; and this because it was observed with so much pomp by the Romish Church. In this, as well as in many other things, they were unreasonable as though they had said they would not eat bread as the Roman Catholics do. I trust and hope the time is not far distant when Christmas will be observed by the descendants of the Puritans with all suitable respect as the first and highest holiday of Christians, combining all the feelings and views of New England Thanksgiving with all the other feelings appropriate to it.”
I really like this line: “In this, as well as in many other things, they were unreasonable as though they had said they would not eat bread as the Roman Catholics do.”
I’m glad Amos Lawrence’s hopes turned out to be prophetic.
Unfortunately, Puritans were even worse in other areas. Other U.S. newspapers, before the television age, before the alleged indoctrination of the middle class by left-wing professors in colleges, published troubling articles about the American Puritans. Stunningly, they killed much, much more than the Christmas spirit.
It was a perfect moment near sunset on a November 2015 afternoon. Hardly a stone’s throw from Waterloo Station in London, St John the Evangelist Church stands with its steeple in the lowering sun as traffic carries on below. The church is part of the Diocese of Southwark in the Church of England.
Stop the madness!
“The Church of England is set to signal to members that speaking openly about their faith could do more harm than good when it comes to spreading Christianity,” writes John Bingham in The Telegraph of London.
That makes me think the long-standing work of Evangelism Explosion has been more like an evangelism implosion.
Here’s why, in highlights from Bingham’s article:
“The study, called ‘Talking Jesus’, was commissioned jointly by the Church of England, the Evangelical Alliance and ‘Hope’ an umbrella body which brings local churches together in different areas, in an attempt to arrest the decline in attendances….
“Non-believers were asked if a practising Christian had ever spoken to them about their faith. Of those who said yes, only 19 per cent said it made them want to know more compared with 59 per cent who said the opposite.
“While 23 per cent said it made them feel ‘more positive towards Jesus Christ’, 30 per cent said it left them feeling more negative.”
As church attendance declines in the United Kingdom and the United States, Islam is rapidly catching up with Christianity in terms of numbers, and likely will surpass it globally within the next century. Why? Because, according to the Pew Research Center, Muslims are more likely to have more children—more likely than Christians and much more likely than the average of all non-Muslims.
I can’t imagine Christians out-reproducing Muslims, whether statistically or practically speaking. For Christianity, the war of numbers appears to be lost. For that matter, the war of argument appears to be lost, too. I can’t imagine Christians meaningfully winning debates with the New Atheist folks, either, because like any supernatural religion, Christianity depends upon revelation and tradition as its primary modes of authority, and those two modes can be difficult to challenge with evidence and reason. Impasse. Deadlock. (A few subtle and nuanced thinkers believe they have found their way around it, only to be vilified from all sides.)
Oddly enough, if the so-called New Atheists want to win the world, they might want to stop debating and start procreating. I didn’t say start boinking—my guess is they’re already quite adept. They might need to stop using one of the (very good) things their intellectual forerunners fought to have in Western society: birth control. After all, people tend to stick with the religion in which they were born, sayeth Richard Dawkins. And apparently, more people are being born into Islam.
And, New Atheists, you can’t just shoot for one or two kids. Pew says the average Muslim woman will have 3.1 children. Luckily, those three children will become good people, and only the 0.1 has a chance of becoming a terrorist or joining ISIS. I’m sure that’s similar to the possibility of a kid born into an American Christian family becoming an abortion-clinic bomber. In either case, there are scary outliers wearing popular labels.
Think about it: 3.1 children per Muslim woman. The Christian women aren’t going to beat that birth rate. They’ve been fully appropriated into middle-class American/Western dreams, which get complicated and difficult to achieve with three or more kiddos—with just one kiddo, for that matter.
So, New Atheists, you gotta beat that birth rate.
Procreating is ideological warfare.
If evangelism—whether the religious or the atheistic sort—isn’t likely to change people, then I guess what wins the world is the point of view most commonly held among the biggest families.
A certain religious prohibition against birth control was never strictly moralistic or patriarchal, you sillies; it was global strategy.
Once again, we revert to ancient concerns: How can my tribe survive and thrive?
Simon Reynolds, 50, a vicar with the Church of England, went on trial for stealing “at least” 16,500 pounds (US$25,875) in church money over a six-year period, including fees paid for weddings and funerals. “It is hard to imagine a more deplorable and flagrant breach of trust,” Senior Crown Prosecutor Caroline Tubb told the court, “than a vicar stealing money from his own parishioners.” Reynolds denied the charges, telling police he was “very disorganised” with his bookkeeping, and “certainly had not kept it intentionally.” When court broke for lunch, Reynolds didn’t wait around to hear the verdict: he ran off. Sure enough, his barrister, Alasdair Campbell, said Reynolds “accidentally” fled the country, booking a ticket to Dusseldorf, Germany, when he meant to fly to Dublin, Ireland. After a European-wide alert was issued, Reynolds, who was staying with a friend, returned to Sheffield Crown Court to hear his sentence: 30 months in prison for his embezzlement, plus two months for fleeing.
Cassingham includes the Sheffield Star and London Evening Standard as sources.
That new Ugandan legislation is Orwellian in the worst sense of the term, as it “requires citizens to report to the police anyone suspected of being gay,” in the words of the Religion News Service.
So, to follow the Jesus who said, “neither do I condemn you; go and sin no more,” one must rat out “suspected” gays who, if convicted, could face “life in prison,” the RNS says.
But the Global Anglican Future Conference equates the backlash against this horrible law with earthquakes and terrorism.
There’s your Bible-believing community, Uganda-style — or is that Soviet style? Or Big Brother style?
No, no, no — of course not. Jesus said, “I did not fulfill the law. Go and find sinners, and punish them. And if your sin isn’t opposed by national legislation, throw the first stone.” He said that, somewhere, Ugandan politicians and conservative Anglicans are sure of it. Tyranny without end, Amen.
I can stand up for hope, faith, love
But while I’m getting over certainty
Stop helping God across the road like a little old lady — U2
With this blog during the past five years, I’ve tried to make the case that Protestant evangelicalism and its close cousins are intellectually problematic exercises in futility.
The available Reformed and fundamentalist views of God, humans, and the Bible never really work out, intellectually or experientially, without constant guess work and endless, tiny adjustments in the particulars of belief.
Unfortunately for me, this line of argument has been just as futile as evangelicalism.
Even when others have understood specific, concrete stories from my own life, they could not understand what brought me to the point of exasperation.
What can’t be explained is the aggregate of thousands of hours in conversations with friends, ministers, and psychologists.
What can’t be explained is the aggregate of thousands of hours of observations and, later, evaluation of those observations, the mulling over and over of words spoken and actions observed.
In other words, I don’t have arguments for or against evangelicalism. I have a life that offers deep and broad reasons why evangelicalism as a way of life does not work and couldn’t possibly.
When I found a church with candles and liturgy, I thought at least I could continue to believe in God and worship what T.S. Eliot called “the still point of the turning world,” which I took to be the Incarnation. That was the best I could do.
These days I see people going back in the same direction I came from, tempting the darker forces of religion to control congregations. But there is no way to bottle or package my experiences and my perspectives and present them concretely as a cautionary tale. Others are trying to bottle and package their experiences and their perspectives, and they carry more certainty than I do, maybe with fewer years, but with more zeal.
For them, “there’s one size for everyone.”
For me, “this particular size works for no one.”
Which is the more limited point of view?
G.K. Chesterton once contrasted the pagan circle with the Christian cross. The circle is closed, he said, with no expansion possible. The cross, however, extends infinitely in four directions, essentially in all directions.
I am sure my opposites would consider my point of view to be the circle, and their point of view to be the cross. Of course, I see it the other way around. The only thing I can say in response is that the liturgy and the candles — and, certainly, the bread and wine — enabled me to imagine the cross extending infinitely into past and future, while its crux remains firmly at “the still point of the turning world.”
The strange thing about the way sovereignty is assumed among Reformed, fundamentalist, and evangelical circles is this: there’s nothing to imagine. Only precision of abstract doctrine, none of the genuine mystery of the Baptized God and His universe as sensed and intuited by poets, novelists, and artists. Perhaps there’s nothing to imagine because the ministers feel certain they have grasped the mind of God.
The imaginations that drove Chesterton and J.R.R. Tolkien and Walker Percy and Flannery O’Connor were Roman Catholic. The imagination that drove T.S. Eliot was Anglo-Catholic. The imagination that drove Aleksander Solzhenitsyn was Russian Orthodox. The biggest imagination that was close to evangelicalism was C.S. Lewis, who was Anglican. Are there any evangelical, fundamentalist, or Reformed authors or poets of their caliber in the last 100 years? Perhaps in parts of Europe, but certainly not in the United States or the United Kingdom. I doubt the Reformed, evangelical, or fundamental crowds would claim John Updike or Garrison Keillor — they’re too liberal.
Elsewhere, others have said that our wills fail because the images in our subconscious minds undercut us. The imagination, as most deeply engrained in our minds, as most symbolically woven together with our beliefs, runs on stores of images. Those images must have a basic goodness to them if our wills are to accomplish what our rational minds say we want to achieve.
The Christian imagination ought to be broad and deep and it should buoy our wills toward good ends. The mindset that focuses on doctrinal precision and steps and methods and curricula and numerical growth in congregations only engages the rational mind. This is a failing mindset. As Chesterton said, “The mad man is not the man who has lost his reason. The mad man is the man who has lost everything except his reason.”