In our current context, I find an idea at work, working like leaven through the whole dough. Even Christians have bought into it. It is slowly affecting our ideas and beliefs. To help you understand what this idea is, let me tell you about an event that occurred about nine months ago.
I remember sitting in a meeting called to strategically address issues affecting our youth in Jamaica. At this meeting, the influence of Christianity on the culture of our youth was called to the fore as part of the problem. Comments like ‘women are demeaned because of the influence of the Bible and how it paints women as objects’ were made.
It was then recognised that the answer was seeing Christian beliefs as more meaningful and beneficial once practised in a private context. Once it is practised publicly it gets problematic. Essentially, the public sphere is no place for religious expression. As such it is compartmentalised: we go to church and play and active role there, we have personal devotions, but among unbelievers in any context whether work or play our biblical worldview is left unsaid or undone.
Some may argue that that this is as a result of fear of expressing our Christian beliefs. I am, however, talking about the failure to do and say what we believe on the principle of not bringing it into the public space.
I am very aware that we live in a culture that would love to ‘have their cake and eat it.’ Who wouldn’t? But the truth is all things do not work that way. We can’t hope to redefine everything to our benefit and without consequence. Patricia Klein, in the introduction to C.S. Lewis’s ‘Virtue and Vice’, says it best:
“Both virtue and vice have been gutted, stripped of their power, and left empty of truth. Sadly, eviscerating the words does nothing to alter the conditions the words originally described, and then, more sadly still, we are left with no words to describe powerful and real matters. Without the words, how can we ever hope to learn, to understand, to change?”
The dilemma is the same with how we view Christianity. Its purpose is redefined to the point that it becomes something else. In his essay, ‘Is Theology Poetry’, C.S Lewis says, ‘I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen, not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.’ Essentially anything, including Christianity redefined, is consequential. A thing must serve its purpose or it becomes meaningless. If Christianity is true, then without its light we are still wandering in darkness with an inability to navigate properly.
What I have discussed so far can be called ‘privatising of Christianity’. How has this happened? Mainly through the introduction of relativism, the offspring of a postmodern context. In this postmodern context there is no uniform, absolute system. Ideas and beliefs are relative and subjective; all views are equally right and accepted.
The way in which Christianity is seen is no different and the minute we promulgate our ideas, using terms like: ‘only way’, ‘the truth’ and ‘the life’, we are lambasted or told that we are intolerant. Thus we are forced into a private enclave of expression. With the advent of this ideology all ideas are called on to accommodate this cultural shift of every idea being seen as equal and valid.
Know that you can’t change reality without consequences. For example: if I felt like redefining the speed limit, it can be done, but is it without consequence? Know that limits are there for a reason.
In his Templeton address, Alexander Solzhenitsyn makes this observation:
“More than half a century ago, while I was still a child, I recall hearing a number of older people offer the following explanation for the great disasters that had befallen Russia: Men have forgotten God; that’s why all this has happened. But if I were asked today to formulate as concisely as possible the main cause of the ruinous revolution that swallowed up some sixty million of our people, I could not put it more accurately than to repeat: Men have forgotten God, that’s why it all happened.”
Solzhenitsyn attributes this ruinous revolution to men ‘forgetting God’. In this context religion and even Christianity lost its public prominence, if one wanted to practise their belief they did so privately. I see the privatising of Christianity as nothing but God taken out of the picture, but as was said before, not without consequences.
What is it we believe?
The Christian must, in light of this, understand what he believes. It is of utmost importance. As mentioned before, if a thing does not realise its purpose, then why does it exist? Should Christianity be meaningful to Christians only? A thousand times no! Jesus himself said it best in Matthew chapter 5, verses 14-16:
“You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do they light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a lamp stand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your father in heaven.”
The core of Christianity is public: it is meant to be shared and promulgated. To ask a Christian or tell yourself as a Christian that you can be a Christian ‘just for you’ means that you do not accept the core tenets of Christianity.
When you knock on the door of the public sphere and are invited in on condition that you keep your beliefs to yourself, remember to say unapologetically, ‘If I am to come in, it is always plus one because I cannot check my Christianity at the door’.
Paul Lewis is a Staff Worker for Universities and Colleges Christian Fellowship in Kingston Jamaica, where he also resides. He has aspirations of becoming a Christian Apologist and he loves reading especially topics like: History, Philosophy and Theology. You can follow him on twitter @VeritasDeiVinci