Thursday, December 27, 2012

Laughing in the midst of the War on Christmas and Christianity

My wife and I just returned from an eye-opening trip to Washington DC, which has the most incredible and extensive selection of museums in the world.

However, our visit wasn’t as inspiring as we might have wished, even though it was the Christmas season. We did see a broad array of Christmas trees but no public crèche scenes apart from two movable displays set up by private individuals for only the day. We did find a hotel near the White House hosting Christmas carols. However, the lyrics sang of no more than gifts, smiles, snow, and sledding.

What we found at the Kennedy Music Center was little different. We heard the Handel’s magnificent Hallelujah Chorus from his Messiah. However, it too had been sanitized of any reference to the Messiah and spoke only of “jiggle bells” and other associated secular superficialities. It felt as if I had loaned out my family photos to have them returned with my family’s faces replaced by those I no longer recognized – a major violation.

The next day, we toured the Capital. We learned a lot about statues, ornaments, and building blocks but nothing about the Christian building blocks upon which our nation was constructed.

However, the absence of any references to Christianity was richly compensated in the American Indian and Holocaust Museums. In these museums, there seemed to be little hesitation to reference the impact of Christianity. Predictably, its impact was largely associated with the negative. The Indian tour guide spoke of the repressive influence of Christianity upon Native American spirituality. However, he did concede that 60% of Native Americans identify with a church. Evidently, most haven’t regarded the Christian faith in an entirely negative way!

Although the Holocaust Museum did admit that Christians had rescued Jews, I can only remember one Christian group that had been identified as “Christian” – the Huguenot (Protestant) town of Le Chambon which had rescued thousands of Jews during the Holocaust.

On the last day, we visited the Natural History Museum, a museum which is openly committed to providing only natural explanations for the origins of planets, stars, life and even the entire cosmos. If these were the only possible or reasonable explanations, I would not take issue with their commitment. However, the museum makes absolutely no attempt to weigh natural explanations against intelligently designed causation.

Its presentation on African slavery associates this institution with Christian slave-traders without a hint that Muslims were – and still are – active in this inhumane trade. Instead, the curators gave high praise to the Muslim slaves who had temporarily rebelled against their so-called "Christian" masters in Brazil.

The Washington experience was a subtle indictment of our faith – a faith upon which Western civilization has traditionally rested. However, this experience was only a condensed version of the experience of an increasingly secular West.

While at the founding of this nation, secularism guaranteed everyone a seat at the table to express their own views and values, it has done a 180 degree turn. Now the table is only reserved for those who will play by the new set of secular norms. It replaces God with the new god of naturalistic and materialistic explanations. The secular altar is constructed on moral relativism which will not countenance any criticism of alternative sexual lifestyles. And upon this altar, Christian college groups have been banned from an increasing number of campuses, Christians have lost their jobs and businesses, and free speech has been curtailed.

We returned to our youth hostel, heads hung low. Secularism’s shadow has temporarily darkened Western society. It is no longer acceptable to be transparent about what is most central to us – our faith in Christ.

We even found this to be somewhat true in our international hostel. Two German young men told me that they were planning to teach science. I therefore asked them about what possible role God might have in their understanding of the physical world. Predictably, they gave me the well-rehearsed yet superficially respectful secular answer:

  • Science has nothing to do with questions about God.
I must admit that I was infuriated by their answer but tried to hide it. All creation points inescapably back to the Creator (Romans 1:18-21), and I wanted to show them this, even though it should have already been apparent to them. However, secularism has provided some pat but mindless answers to avoid thinking about the God question. I therefore pushed ahead:

  • Where do our changeless, elegant and uniform laws of science come from and how are they maintained in our expanding, always changing universe?
After an awkward moment, they confessed that no one could explain this.  Although tact would advise me to not pursue this matter any further, tact can also be short-sighted, so I pushed further:

  • But doesn’t it make more sense that an Intelligent Being must transcend this universe and design and maintain it? Otherwise, we are left with the conclusion that the universe created and maintains itself.
The two Germans studiously avoided me after this. In their eyes, I was an extremist trying to push my religious opinions on them. They had already been inoculated against Christian truth claims by the museums, the media and the universities, convinced that such knowledge is not possible. They know that we can’t know. To them, we are wrong even though they can’t articulate how we are wrong.

But had I done something wrong? Had I needlessly alienated them? Fortunately, there were many Asian students and travelers at this hostel. Although they had bit deeply into the apple of material consumption, they had not as yet consumed the fruit of philosophical materialism and naturalism. They hadn’t been indoctrinated into an unexamined faith in moral relativism and religious pluralism. Nor had they been inoculated against Christianity, despite their years under communism. They retained a healthy curiosity and were willing to dialogue in a non-defensive manner. How refreshing!

I don’t want to be combative or offensive. I don’t want to dishonor my Savior, but I know that I have often crossed the line. My nephew just sent me links to videos in which he played a malevalent but comical blood-thirsty Santa Claus. They were amusing and didn’t malign my faith in the slightest, although they poked fun at Santa. In fact, if Santa Claus permanently dropped into the sea along with every Christmas tree, I would probably rejoice. As with many other Christians, I want Christmas, along with every other aspect of my life, to reflect Christ, my Savior.

However, these videos are part of a larger context, in which Jesus and anything to do with Christianity is maligned. It’s fair game. Hunting Christianity is always in season. It’s a good way to find acceptance within educated, elite circles.

I’m not against joking about my faith, myself or even other Christians. However, there comes a point where jokes reach a critical mass and they become ridicule, and ridicule then becomes dismissive and oppressive, preparing the way for outright oppression. Hitler would not have succeeded in his genocidal program hadn’t the way first been paved by the systematic ridicule and indictment of the Jewish people. (Muslims are now re-circulating gross Nazi cartoons depicting Jews in the most derogatory ways.)

I want to laugh with my nephew at his satire, but I cannot. I want to affirm him – and there is a lot to affirm, since he is quite talented. However, I cannot separate his skits from the fact that 170,000 Christians are being exterminated yearly, according to the estimate of Christianity Today. Nor can I separate this horror from the fact that our Western media refuses to report on this fact and Western governments refuse to do anything about it.

Likewise, I cannot laugh about Hitler’s Holocaust, even today. Western media and its willful silence prevent me from laughing. The vast majority of our media outlets give only the barest details about the alarming rise of Muslim-based anti-Semitism in the West. While anti-Semitic acts are escalating in our nation, they have already reached epidemic proportions in many western European countries – so much so that many Jews are fleeing.

I would like to affirm my nephew, but I would also like to suggest that he might aim his sights on other targets, those more worthy of derision and exposure – especially secularism. However, he might have drunk too deeply from its fountain to see it clearly enough to expose it.

Besides, humor rises to its greatest heights when it takes the form of self-criticism. However, this is harder to achieve. It means that we have to see ourselves and our own culture, which has molded and indoctrinated us - the culture which has made us who we are. This is something for which few have either the vision or the stomach. It will also exact a price. The culture we criticize will become our enemy. A true prophet is never honored in his own household or land.

Humor has an easier task when it tears apart the other guy. However, such humor is not prophetic; it fails to illuminate and it is often fails to rise above an act of hostility. When it focuses on the safe and convenient target, it merely reinforces social norms and biases.

Today, Christianity is that target. Nevertheless, I can laugh. Jesus has given us reason to laugh:

  • "I have told you these things [of sorrow], so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world." (John 16:33)
Perhaps I can have a hearty laugh with my nephew!

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