A jaunty scene of one of the Church’s crusades in which it “defended itself” against the Muslims. If you know who painted this, or if its copyright is expired, or anything else about it, please let me know. In the meantime, click on the image for a really great post about Christian-Muslim relations at shrinkthechurch.com
I just spent an enlightening half-hour googling “defend the faith” in conjunction with certain names: Del Tackett, Chuck Colson, Norman Geisler, James Dobson, Os Guinness, Ravi Zacharias, Jerry Falwell, Ken Ham. A number of these guys are leaders in what is apparently called the “Christian Worldview” or “Biblical Worldview” movement. I can’t say I’m too impressed with them. I sat through a course based on Del Tackett’s Truth Project once and it was not fun. The Truth Project — the name alone should set off alarms — presumes to cover all branches of knowledge in 12 sessions and to instruct its students in how to think “biblically” about things like science, literature, modern art, politics, and philosophy. As a scientist, watching the DVDs was an exercise in frustration because Dobson’s Focus on the Family, which is responsible for the Truth Project, has attached itself to the Intelligent Design movement. The whole project is pseudo-intellectual and is directed toward folks who want to be able to defend the faith and stay true to “biblical values.” But the most troubling thing about the entire course was that Tackett et al. constantly divided the world into Us and Them. Over and over, it was assumed that there is us, the Christians, inside some kind of circle of faith (the Church, perhaps), and them, the bad guys, the others, the threat, outside. Lines were very clear. I get the feeling that this binary way of thinking is a hallmark of the “Biblical Worldview” approach. In the 30 minutes I spent online I discovered an interesting range of things against which Christians should defend the faith. They are, in no particular order: militant atheism, “a resurgent Islam,” Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism, homosexuality, secular humanism, Hollywood, evolution, the big bang theory, abstract art (?), Oprah Winfrey, liberals, university professors, relativism, mystical religions (wow!), Obama, environmentalists, metaphorical readings of scripture. This is just from my memory; there were certainly more.
The evil is out there. Not in here.
You see it on larger scales too. And I may be just making this up, I may be wrong, etc., but I have a theory. In the late 1980s the Soviet Union collapsed and the Cold War ended, along with the nightmare vision of global nuclear war. Between the dates of 9 November 1989 (fall of the Berlin Wall) and 11 September 2001 (you know what), we had to have someplace to focus our anxiety, and it was during this time that movies like Armageddon and Deep Impact were made, movies about worldwide disaster in the form of large-scale meteorite impacts. Now we have nuclear-armed terrorists to worry about, so there are no more global-death-from-outer-space movies. Our anxiety is innate, is my point, and it must have an object, and that object is out there. The thought is, we have nothing to do with all this death. It is not us: it’s the Reds, or the big rocks from space, or the terrorists.
This is not your father’s inner Solar System. Green dots represent objects which do not approach the Earth at present e.g. Main Belt asteroids; Yellow dots represent objects which approach the Earth but do not cross its orbit e.g. Amor asteroids; Red dots represent objects which cross the Earth’s orbit e.g. Aten and Apollo asteroids. Click on image for a closer look. Before you get too worried about immanent death from space, though, read the second paragraph of Todd’s comment. He’s right about the misleading appearance of this map. Source: Armagh Observatory
People are probably right to fear the rocks from space. We actually didn’t have much to do with their existence, and they pose a legitimate threat to the planet. They have certainly left some marks in the past and will assuredly do so in the future if nothing is done to stop them. Here is a nice searchable list of Near Earth Asteroids, and here is another of Potentially Hazardous Asteroids, a superset of the former. Currently the best candidate for impact is Asteroid 1999 AN10, which could come within about 13,000 miles from the surface of the Earth on August 7, 2027. This is really, really close on the scale of the Solar System; it’s only about 5% of the Earth-Moon distance. This asteroid is found on yet another list of so-called Very Close Approaches from the years 1800-2200. All these possible sources of worldwide pandemonium may make you nervous, but I’m not too worked up about them. I have a strange kind of faith that most serious scientific/technical problems can be solved.
But I’m not so confident about our chances of solving those other problems, you know, the non-scientific/technical ones. Like the Buddhists, the homosexuals, and Oprah. I’m pretty sure that these threats will remain and probably even increase. Even blatant atheism is on the rise. What is a good (or even not-so-good) Christian to do? What many Christians will do, I’m afraid, is keep insisting that these people are the enemy. Churchgoers will keep defending the faith from these folks and forget about the single largest threat to the Church: the Church itself. It is far, far easier to see the shortcomings of others than it is to see our own. And it is far easier to point at others than it is to look deeply into the darkness of our own souls.
It is a commonplace that the Church comes across to nonmembers as irrelevant and out-of-touch with the world we live in. These crimes are forgivable, because I think it’s part of the Church’s role to conserve our Christian traditions and there is a fine line between tradition and convention. It’s easy for good people to confuse these. So I can see how we can seem, at times, quaint and naive. But I tell you, I have spent the last twelve years in two different Protestant churches and the behavior in these places is the sorriest I have ever seen. How can we love the world if we hate each other? It just can’t be done. No wonder people are leaving organized Christianity at such an alarming rate. Can you blame them? Meanwhile, what are many Christians bothered about? Gay people! Hindus! People who make abstract art!
So I say to churches and individuals: We must look to ourselves first. Jesus said, Why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye? Or how can you say to your neighbor, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ while the log is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbor’s eye (Matt. 7.3-5). We are the enemy, fellow Christians. Let’s remove those labels we’ve affixed to everyone who’s not like us and discover our common roots. They are deep. Labels, you see, are helpful in science — including work on killer asteroids — but are not so helpful in when it comes to loving the world. Love does not categorize, wrote Irma Zaleski.
Let’s stop throwing stones at the world and begin reconciling ourselves to it. And speaking of flying stones, remember to support your local astronomer. She could save the world one day.