Wednesday, July 28, 2010

The Outrage of Collectivism: Silence on the Issues

Dad always said, "Never discuss religion or politics with company." I know what he was trying to say, and that was that these subjects can make or break friendships, or what in current church circles is called "relationship." But should they? One problem with Dad's "keep it to yourself" approach is that it ultimately leads to the type of shallow, secular non-friendships of which we have an overabundance. In the church, failure of the membership to discuss religious issues leads to shallow "relationship."

Like it or not, every church collective has a few folks who love to talk about issues, a larger group who sit quietly, wishing the issues would go away, a few folks who create issues, and a tiny number who turn to scripture for help with the issues.

There are times when we wish politics would just go away, and there are times when we wish politics would not try to resolve moral questions.

C.S. Lewis' take on the matter in "Membership," (found in The Weight of Glory, pp. 160-161) provides some important insights:

"We live, in fact, in a world starved for solitude, silence, and privacy, and therefore starved for meditation and true friendship.
True friends must be able to share quiet time together, free from the distractions of the world.
That religion should be relegated to solitude in such an age is, then paradoxical. But it is also dangerous for two reasons. In the first place, when the modern world says to us aloud, 'You may be religious when you are alone,' it adds under its breath, 'and I will see to it that you are never alone.'"
I believe that Lewis is referring to the powerful demands of modern society to silence the public witness of Christianity (You may be religious when you are alone) and the distractions of media and other temptations that prevent people from being alone with God for even a moment (I, the collective, will see to it that you are never alone).
"...That is one of the enemy's strategems. In the second place, there is the danger that real Christians who know that Christianity is not a solitary affair may react against that error by simply transporting into our spiritual life that same collectivism which has already conquered our secular life."
This is a bit more difficult for me to follow. How should I react against the error of thinking that Christianity is a private affair? Should I join with the collective even when it endorses sinful behaviors? I guess I could become one of those pewsitters who sits quietly, hoping the issues go away. But wouldn't that be like following the demands of political correctness we hear from secular collectivism? Lewis senses danger with that approach.
"That is the enemy's other strategem. Like a good chess player, he is always trying to manoeuvre you into a position where you can save your castle only by losing your bishop.
He didn't expect that the enemy might turn queens into bishops and vice versa in order to upset the whole chess board.
In order to avoid the trap we must insist that though the private conception of Christianity is an error, it is a profoundly natural one and is clumsily attempting to guard a great truth. Behind it is the obvious feeling that our modern collectivism is an outrage upon human nature and that from this, as from all other evils, God will be our shield and buckler."

C.S. Lewis.

Practicing religion as part of a group will always create issues. Problems can arise whenever the individual and the group hold opposing views. When one speaks out, the collective can come down pretty heavily. The prospect of causing angst in the collective is enough to stifle most pewsitters' voices even during those times that appear to demand a response. Some problems just cannot remain stifled. When the issue is an important question of Biblical truth, or when secular politics intersects with important moral questions, are we to sit on our hands?

Terry Mattingly's column in the Saturday July 10, 2010 edition of our local paper reminds us that the power of the collective to silence the voices crying out "Truth!" from the religious arena is just as strong today as it was in the time of C.S. Lewis. T. Matt quotes Ian Dowbiggin, author of “Life, Death, God and Medicine: A Concise History of Euthanasia.
“There are deep moral and religious issues at stake in debates about physician-assisted suicide, which is why religious believers have always been involved,” said Dowbiggin. “But what we are hearing today are prominent voices that say that religious people must keep their ideas to themselves, because religion is a private thing — period — and must not affect public life. If that idea is accepted, that’s a major step toward the acceptance of physician-assisted suicide.”
T. Matt quotes Dowbiggin again in what I think is a statement which applies to not just the intersection of politics and religion, but also to any issue which you have tested against the witness of Biblical Truth.
If religious leaders want to keep taking part in these policy discussions, said Dowbiggin, “they must have something positive to say. It is not enough to just keep saying ‘no.’ … They need a vision of what the ‘good death’ looks like. They need to say that this is the goal of all end-of-life care — people making informed moral decisions about hospice and other forms of care that are right for themselves and for their families.”
All too often, religious issues are resolved with a gradual leftward drift because reasserting leaders are stereotyped in a negative light. "The one who says 'No!'" might be printed on my next sweat shirt, but it would be in error. The most difficult thing about saying "No" in this context is communicating that what people really have to do is say "No" to self, and "Yes" to God's Word.

So, do you keep your religion to yourself in order to keep the collective happy, or do you do it to keep yourself happy? Are you silent on religious issues to keep the Church happy? Is the prospect of causing angst in the collective enough to stifle the pewsitters' voice? Are you just the voice that says "No"? Is any of that good for the body of Christ?


  1. I'm reading Eugene Peterson's new book, Practice Resurrection, a devotional commentary on Ephesians. One of the key points he makes is that the cornerstone of the church as living community is "Christ our peace." We have peace with God. Each of us who believes shares that cardinal fact in common. What it does not mean is that we have some pollyanna cessation of debate and struggle amongst ourselves.

    Peterson even points out, quite realistically, that every new generation must learn what the peace of God is (through thick and thin) and learn maturity. This is ongoing; there is no point at which the Church becomes some smirking Buddha seated in quiet bliss. The very fact that we continue to go on together, in spite of our differences in maturity, knowledge, etc., is in itself a miracle of "Christ our peace" (this precludes, of course, tolerance of overtly wicked behavior in the church).

    Therefore, the pewsitter should speak his mind -- in love. Otherwise, the Body of Christ becomes a dead shell, much like a great portion of postmodern Western culture.

  2. Excellent points. Thanks Chuck.

  3. Spot-on post, especially with respect to the Christian's interactions with Society and The Church. The idea that one's Christian spirituality is "private," is nothing less than an attempt to destroy the Church itself, for what purpose the church, if I'm enjoined to be silent in my beliefs? How do we know who shares our beliefs absent a congregation of believers.

    Further, there's no question that the Enemy seeks to marginalize those who seek to practice God's Virtue in the public arena. As it happens, I can argue for or against certain social propositions without reference to God once, but with full reference to what I believe are Divinely inspired philosophical Truths. What amazes me, is that opponents are quick to dismiss such logic, when they hear it, with some sort of "you're just a Bible-thumper." This ad hominem response, of course, eliminates any need to address the questions.

    This has given me food for thought in a slightly different essay I'm pondering.



  4. "Bible thumper" is a word liberals/progressives use when they have lost the argument. It is the first indication that you are on the right track. Ad-hominem attacks are the bane of productive dialogue and productive dialogue is the bane of liberals.

  5. Using names such as "Bible thumper" is a silencing technique to end a discussion.

    I am wondering if maneuvering me into the position of saying "No" is another ploy they use to shut off debate.