“The Religious Landscape in America and the State of the Church,” by Andrew J. Schatkin
Before I begin this essay, let me make clear that I am an orthodox Christian that first adheres to the three ancient creeds of the church, Apostles; Nicaean; and Athanasian. Moreover, I also believe in the full authority of scripture. In sum, I adhere to and accept what is nothing more nor less than the accepted doctrine and beliefs of the church and Christians for the last 2,000 years
Finally, I do not waiver from the exclusive claim of Christ to be the sole means of salvation and who, if believed, will grant us eternal life and joy in heaven.
I now would like to make some observations and, if you will, critique the current religious landscape of the United States.
First, the United States is a multicultural and pluralistic society in which there is freedom of religion and so there are many faiths operative in the United States including, Judaism; Islam;
Buddhism; and Christianity. It is certainly a good thing that our society, although the majority Christian, endorses and allows freedom of religion given the past history, at least in
Europe, of religious discord causing war, torture, and death. However, I find and perhaps fail to understand certain ideas and terminology in connection with religious belief. One is that many will say they are “spiritual.” I do not know precisely what they mean by this but I suspect it is a statement of political correctness of some sort. Perhaps, in the absence of defined thought, it is a way of saying I believe in the American civil religion’s idea of God without confronting or dealing with Christ. Better put, it is an attempt to fit in with the current political/religious landscape without taking any definitive thought or, rather, theological position. It is a statement vague enough and sufficiently inoffensive to most other groups in our society to be, if you will, politically correct. Another term somewhat mystifying which people have said to me is that they practice “meditation.” Again, I am not sure what they mean by this but it seems to involve some sort of self-thought involvement. I encountered the other a day a 10 year old girl selling and promoting meditation. I asked her what it meant and received the response that it was some sort of self-exploration. I said that Jesus tells us that if you want to find yourself, as this girl seems to recommend by meditation, you must lose yourself for his sake. Again, meditation is a vague socially-acceptable mode of dealing with and evading the issue of God and Christ. The life of Jesus was not one of meditation, but one of miracles, love, and healing not connected with self, but a life in the service of others to his final act of love and healing on the cross bringing eternal love and salvation to all mankind. “Meditation,” like the term “spiritual” is a politically correct escape valve covering all bases that could offend and involve thought and differences.
Another term I have heard frequently is that we all worship the same God and all religions are the same. These statements I see as political and simply largely not true. It is extremely clear that all religions are not the same. Buddhism denies or seeks to deny and escape the material world. Hinduism is ancient polytheism with thousands of Gods and Goddesses. Judaism is monotheism based on law obedience. Islam is law monotheism but has elements of law enforcement. For example, there are religious police in Saudi Arabia; prohibitions in that country in being Christian; prohibitions against having and possessing a bible and even erecting a church. Pakistan has blasphemy laws and in Pakistan Egypt (Coptic Christians) and Nigeria (Boko Haram), Christians are actively persecuted by Islamic fundamentalists.
Let me add here that I have and do not entertain any hostility or hatred to my Muslim brothers and sisters and I am sure that these acts of violence are only occur on the part of a small minority. Jesus’s love is for all the world and is given and offered to all humanity for whom he died on the cross. I only seek to counter the mistaken notion that all religions are the same when they are not and in fact their adherents would be very surprised to be told this. As for the statement that we all worship the same God, in Exodus the God of Mount Sinai said on tablets of stone that there can be no other Gods before him and no graven images, and Jesus made the exclusive claim to be God and, the exclusive way to know God. All religions may be attempting to know God as best they can, but they are vastly different in their conception of God and his qualities and attributes. We may have an equal voting right and live in a democratic system but these ideas, however wonderful and workable in our civil multi-cultural society, do not work and are not applicable in the realm of theology and religious belief. The Hindu concept of thousands of Gods and Goddesses in the form of images and its system of rituals and ritual purification is vastly different from Jesus’s statement and ultimate command to love others and our neighbors; saying the poor are blessed; and that anger is equal to murder. These are ethical and theological statements of great advancement, and Hinduism, with its many Gods, and Islam, with its rules, are vastly different. Buddhism may seek to escape the material world, but for Christians, God created it; came as a human being; died to save this same world; rose again with a material body; and will return to refigure and renew and bring about a new material world in which all men and women will rise again with their material bodies.
These are my last words and observations of the current religious landscape and the Christian and church landscape in the United States. Perhaps the best way to understand these terms and these developments is that religious belief is not a matter of political tolerance and cannot be based on that premise.
Before I conclude, I want to make the following observation that I hope is not unfair or unjust. If I were to define the American philosophical and religious landscape, it is consumerism or, better put, materialism. The religion of America is purchasing that next pair of shoes; buying or getting that new car; buying that new smart phone; or getting that new video game. The religion and, if you will, philosophy is self-aggrandizement and the acquisition of material wealth. Our politicians speak of our civil religion but the cold hard reality is that our religion is wealth, money, and materialism. I can only say that as a religion and philosophical system we are on this basis intellectually bankrupt. One can only hope that the Bible; Aristotle; Plato; Bertrand Russell; John Stuart Mill; Milton; Dante; and others of the greats will make a comeback in our school system to truly educate our young people and raise them to the level they not only are capable of but do deserve.
Finally, I would like to make note of the absence of discussion in our religious culture in America of sin, evil, and wickedness. Many paths in our society reach the and promulgate the conclusion and notion that all religions are good and people are basically good. I make no comment about other religions other than to say their followers are attempting to reach and know God in their own way and fashion As a Christian, however, I adhere to the view that Christ is the sole and only way to know God fully and completely and to gain the joy of eternal life. The modern world, however, fails signally to deal with the obvious and gross presence of sin, evil, and wickedness in both human nature and in our society. There have been six genocides in the past 100 years including the Holocaust, Pol Pot, the Russian Revolution, Bosnia, Darfur, and the current acts on an ongoing basis of terrorism. The obvious selfishness of human nature, which is the presence of sin in all of us, is readily apparent
The Christian faith points to the fall of man in the Garden of Eden because of his pride, told by Satan that they could be like Gods as the explanation of the entrance of sin, evil, and wickedness and of course death into our world. The modern world not only makes no mention of sin and evil but offers no explanation for its pervasive presence occasionally speaking of poverty and environment as root causes. I find our world and society as offering no explanation for the reality of sin and evil. Christianity explains what is grossly and completely obvious to all comers who wish to think about the matter at all. I find the fall story true and intellectually compelling and convincing and find the modern world’s evasion and non-response to this issue weak-minded and offering no explanation at all for a world
twisted and broken and in disorder.