CultureWatch

Bill Muehlenberg's commentary on issues of the day...

Open Season on Christianity

Apr 7, 2007

Not a day goes by when the Christian faith is not being bashed, pilloried, mocked, attacked and dragged in the mud. It has become a full time occupation, a major sporting event, for many of our secular elite, especially in the mainstream media.

Three thoughts come to mind here. First, consider the monumental hypocrisy and double standards being applied here. In our post-Christian world we are told we should be sensitive to, and respect and tolerate, every worldview, belief and creed. Except one: Christianity.

And those doing the attacking are for the most part far too gutless to pick on other major beliefs, be it Islam or aboriginal dream time spirituality. The attacks are invariably on Christianity.

Second, perhaps a major reason why Christianity is such a favoured object of scorn and ridicule is the attackers know that generally speaking Christians are a wimpish lot. Most believers either do not care that their faith is under constant attack, or they are too fearful to do anything about. Too often we see Muslims showing more courage of conviction. Or we see secular humanists more willing to stand up for their faith.

Of course part of the reason for the lack of a Christian response is found in the faith itself: we are told to turn the other cheek, to love our enemies, and so on. That helps to explain why Christians are such easy targets. And it also demonstrates a major difference between Christianity and other more belligerent religions, such as Islam.

Thus we do not see Christian churches issuing fatwas against their attackers. We do not see Christian suicide bombers taking revenge on the godless masses. But still, one would like to see believers start to stand up for their cherished beliefs, and be a bit more bold in proclaiming Christian truth in the public arena, instead of being satisfied with a purely private faith.

Third, the continuous assaults on Christianity are so blatant, so cowardly and so brazen, that even some non-believers are concerned about it all. A great case in point is Herald Sun columnist and agnostic, Andrew Bolt. He has often penned columns defending the Christian faith against its many attackers. He did so again on Good Friday.

In his April 6, 2007 column, “My Easter message,” he catalogues the latest string of attacks, listing various examples of anti-Christian bigotry, including the chocolate nude Jesus statue, complete with anatomically correct penis.

Bolt then also highlights the hypocrisy and cowardice in all this: “I wouldn’t be alone in thinking each time an artist or commentator insults Christians: friend, if you’re so brave, say that about Islam. Show us your chocolate Mohammeds. Show us your Korans dipped in urine. Where is the singer who will rip up a Koran as Marilyn Manson ripped up a Bible? Or will on television tear up a picture of Islam’s most honoured preacher as Sinead O’Connor shredded one of the great Pope John Paul II? It’s not as if Islam doesn’t threaten our artists more than does Christianity.”

Indeed, picking on Islam usually results in quick and strong reactions: “See only the murder of film director Theo van Gogh or the fatwa on writer Salman Rushdie or the stabbing of Rushdie’s translator. Or see those deadly riots against the Mohammed cartoons. So when I see a Western artist mock Christ, I see an artist advertising not his courage but his cowardice – by not daring to mock what would threaten him more.”

Of course Bolt is not calling for equal time here: “I am most certainly not saying that moderate Islam should now be treated with the childish disrespect so often shown to Christianity. Nor am I saying most Muslims endorse violence, or that there aren’t a few Christians who might turn violent, too.”

“But I am saying that more people now know there is a double standard here illustrated perfectly by the Melbourne International Comedy Festival, which banned acts that told jokes against Muslims but promoted ones that lampooned Christians. It’s this blatant double standard that may finally have shamed some of the usual jeerers into showing Christianity a little respect. And perhaps – just perhaps – more of us might be wakening to a truth we too long took for granted. It’s no accident that we feel safer insulting Christians than trashing almost anyone else.”

He continues, “This is a religion that’s always preached tolerance, reason and non-violence, even if too many of its followers have seemed deaf. It’s also urged us to leave the judgment of others to God (a message I ignore for professional reasons). We are the beneficiaries of that preaching, even those of us who aren’t Christians. We live in a society, founded on Christian principles, that guards our right to speak, and even to abuse things we should praise. We can now vilify Jesus and damn priests, and risk nothing but hard looks from a soft bishop, and a job offer from The Age.”

A fantastic column Andrew Bolt. Why is it that a non-believer can do a better job of defending the Christian faith than most believers can? Why is it that some agnostics are more bold and forthright in standing up for Christianity than are many Christians? These questions deserve serious attention.

One final thought, however. As great as this column was, I have just one quibble, and that is with his closing remarks, in which he speaks about “a preacher of astonishing moral clarity and courage”. Bolt, typical of many non-believers, and so many liberal believers, likes the ethics of Jesus while rejecting his teachings.

That is, they are impressed with his calls to love, humility and compassion, and so on, but reject the message Jesus in fact came to deliver. That message, simply stated is this: God exists; he created us; we rejected him and chose sin and selfishness; he sent his son Jesus to die for our sins; on that basis, we can come to him in repentance and faith, and be reconciled to God. That is the heart of the Christian gospel.

And it is on the basis of accepting this message that one can start to live like Jesus. The truth is, if we refuse his teachings, we cannot claim his ethics. They go together: living like Christ is only possible when we believe like Christ.

But having said that, this column is a good example of what believers should be saying, loud and clear, but way too often are not. Jesus once said if people would refuse to believe in him, the very stones would cry out in testimony of him. It seems in the face of widespread Christian apathy, indifference and silence, non-Christians are crying out on their behalf.

www.news.com.au/heraldsun/story/0,21985,21511688-25717,00.html

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19 Responses to Open Season on Christianity

  • Not only does Bolt do an excellent job defending Christianity at times, but he is one of the few voices correctly identifying environmentalism and climate-change alarmism as a substitute religion for some. This is all the more remarkable considering most of our churches have climed on the AGW bandwagon. In many ways Bolt “understands the times” better than many of our Christian leaders!

    Ewan McDonald, Victoria

  • I read that article by Bolt yesterday and was greatly impressed. Bill, the “stones would cry out” passage you linked with Bolt is very fitting. It is too bad our churches are not more involved in culture critique and the intellectual engagement of the secular mind.

    Damien Spillane

  • Bill,
    I disagree with your statement:
    “The truth is, if we refuse his teachings, we cannot claim his ethics.”
    Most of the teachings of Jesus about love and compassion are views that are common to many belief systems, including humanism. They are not exclusive to Christianity. It is therefore quite possible to claim “Christian” ethics without believing in the existence of the Christian God, or indeed any god. They are simple, common-sense ethical principles that in some ways might be considered selfish, i.e. if I treat other people well, they will do the same to me and society as a whole will be better off.

    I’m not sure that Christians can complain too loudly about being victimised either. Muslims in this country have much lower respect in the community than other beliefs, largely as a result of statements and actions by their fundamentalist preachers and terrorists who claim to be Muslim. Likewise humanists and atheists have long been labelled as evil infidels by Christian leaders.

    Frankly, I think too many people take offence too easily at perceived mockery or criticism. It would be far better if such instances were not dignified by complaining about them. Turning the other cheek is not a weakness, but a sign of inner strength. And it annoys the hell out of tormentors 😉

    Alan Simpson, Qld

  • Andrew Bolt often defends Christianity better than many of our so-called church leaders. And aforesaid leaders should consult him before jumping on the global warming bandwagon rather than relying on Al Gore.
    Jonathan Sarfati, Brisbane

  • After reading Mr. Bolts fantastic article, my question was ‘why is the defense of the Christian faith being left up to a self-professed agnostic?’ I think Christianity’s silent attempt to ‘love thy enemy’ has been misread as weakness making Christianity a bigger target for society to attack. Jesus Christ was certainly not silent in His attempt to get His message across, so why is the church that represents Him?

    Ania Majdali

  • Thanks Alan

    With all due respect, you are trying to do just what I said could not be done. That is, Jesus was not just some moral teacher who said we should all try to get along better with each other. That is the exact opposite to what he spoke about. He said we are in rebellion against God and need to lay down our arms. He said he did not come for those who are well, but for those who are sick (meaning all of us). He died so that our sinful, selfish lives could be transformed by his power, not our own. There is no ‘pull yourself up by your own bootstraps’ message here.

    The fact that most other people like the ethics of Jesus is another matter. The truth is, no one can live the life he demands without God’s power and help. And the first way to live genuinely loving and unselfish lives (as demonstrated by Jesus on the cross) is to confess that we are sinners intent on going our own way. As long as we think we are doing just fine, and do not need the radical solution as provided in Christ’s sacrificial and costly death, we totally misread the message of Jesus, and we continue in self-deception and sin.

    We either take Jesus at his word here or we don’t.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • Alan Simpson

    Frankly, I think too many people take offence too easily at perceived mockery or criticism.

    You may be right. But what we don’t like is when those who are doing the Christian mocking make such sanctimonious comments, but will never take a real risk by mocking Islam (or, I might add, homosexuality) in the same way. That was a major point of Andrew Bolt’s column.

    Jonathan Sarfati, Brisbane

  • Bill,
    Thanks for responding, but your explanation is perplexing.

    On the one hand you accept that unbelievers can follow similar ethical principles to Christians, yet you claim that unless we believe in God we have chosen “sin and selfishness”.

    That seems contradictory. How can a person who loves and cares about others, who lives a peaceful life harming no one, i.e. is living according to universal ethical principles, be accused of “choosing sin”?

    An extreme example might be a Buddhist monk, who exemplifies very high standards of living a pure and selfless life. How can such a person be accused of sin and selfishness?

    What is such a person doing that is wrong and needs a “radical solution”?

    I maintain that ethics can exist independently of belief in a supernatural being.

    Alan Simpson, Queensland

  • Thanks Alan

    Fair questions. The Christian position is this: all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). Jesus came to seek and to save those who are lost (Luke 19:10). We are all sinners, in need of redemption. Those who think they do not need the forgiveness offered by Christ can add to their sins the sin of pride. Those who think they are too good and therefore not in need of God’s help place themselves further outside of the only means of procuring their forgiveness and restoration with God. Admitting our need is the first step.

    But this is a different issue from your points about goodness and morality. The reason why people try to be good or seek to act morally is because they are made in God’s image, and therefore still reflect the original goodness of God, even though now tainted by sin. They show by their moral natures that there is a moral standard in the universe, God himself. Thus they are capable of obeying human laws, although often grudgingly, or for fear of punishment for disobedience.

    Thus people can seek to act ethically while not believing in God. And non-theistic ethical systems can be produced. But that is not the real issue. The real issue is, can we be genuinely good without God? The biblical answer would be no, and any goodness that we do exhibit is derivative, based only on the grace of God. It is God’s common grace that keeps all of us from going off the moral deep end; that, and a series of human laws that keep many of our more base instincts in check.

    But the fact that we all have the moral law written in our hearts – or a conscience – does not mean we have no need of divine redemption. A holy and perfect God can only demand one thing: perfection. We fail to live up to that standard, because of our sin and selfishness, so we really deserve our fate: a lost eternity. But God graciously has sent his son to pay the price for the penalty that we incurred by our sin, so that we can get right with God and renew our relationship with him.

    That is the simple teaching of the Christian gospel. It is up to us what we will do with that message. Thus Hitler needs the forgiveness as offered in Christ as much as a Buddhist monk or a Sunday school teacher. What is wrong with all of them is that they have sought to take the place of God and elevate themselves as the centre of the moral universe. We are all sinful and in need of redemption. In that sense there are no “good” people, only people who try in various ways to be good, but lack in the perfect goodness as is found in God alone.

    It is all about standards. If you and I were to compete with Grant Hackett in a 1500-meter race, you and I would lose big time. Grant would appear to be the ultimate standard of swimming ability here. But if the three of us were asked to swim from Melbourne to Auckland, all three of us would fail miserably. The standard is just too high for any of us to hope to attain.

    In comparing human goodness, a Buddhist monk or Sunday school teacher may seem perfect, when compared to a Hitler or a Stalin. But when compared to a totally righteous, holy and just God, none of us measure up. And until we are willing to admit that, we will not be in a place to avail ourselves of the absolutely essential help offered to us by Christ.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • Ania said: After reading Mr. Bolts fantastic article, my question was ‘why is the defense of the Christian faith being left up to a self-professed agnostic?’
    I believe that one of the main reasons that Christians are so silent is that we have been led to believe that Christians must be silent and invisible or we will be accused of creating that totalitarian theocracy in which church and state are one and the same.
    It is this fear of mixing church and state that has muzzled us and prevented us from exercising our democratic right to make our voice heard in the public arena like everyone else.
    As a result, onlookers like Mr Bolt (and others out there like him) are the only ones speaking up for Christians and ultimately and indirectly, for the Christ that we represent.
    Dee Graf

  • Hi Alan,

    You said: “How can a person who loves and cares about others, who lives a peaceful life harming no one, i.e. is living according to universal ethical principles, be accused of “choosing sin”?”

    Just doing good and being good isn’t enough. Believing that you are a good person and choose to make the better choices doesn’t cut it. Why? Because we don’t have the same standards as God does, we are comparing ourselves at a very low level, God’s standards are much higher than our own.

    All I know is that through choosing to accept Jesus Christ as my Lord and Saviour, asking Him into my life and thanking Him for dying on the cross so that my sins could be forgiven, my future doesn’t end at death, I have been given life in eternity.

    It doesn’t mean that I am not a sinful person and don‘t make mistakes, but through the grace of God, who saved me from this fallen world, I am given strength to overcome. I don’t do good deeds to get further in life or to get further in heaven for that matter (that gift was free thanks to Jesus), I choose to do good because that’s what God wants of me, He holds a standard much higher than my own.

    Grace Soroka

  • Hi Grace,

    The question I asked was why otherwise goodly people, who may not even have any acquaintance with Christian beliefs, would be accused of “choosing sin”. I appreciated Bill’s extensive reply, but it didn’t really answer the question as to the “sin” that is being chosen, and the context in which the “choice” is made.

    No human is in a position to compare all possible worldviews, because no one could possibly be exposed to, let alone undertake, a detailed examination of the claims of every known belief or to the sum of human knowledge. So most people simply adopt the beliefs of their family or cultural group.

    In the example of the Buddhist monk, I expect that most such folk have been indoctrinated in the teachings of Buddha since birth, and know little else. So what is their “sin” in the eyes of a Christian?

    It may well be that no human can ever be perfect, but that is not to say that people can’t live an exemplary life.

    I see a lot of comments on these pages that express feelings of contempt for various groups in society who are judged to not measure up, e.g. Muslims, atheists, agnostics, homosexuals, lefties, liberals, the media, and those who are “not real Christians”.

    To an outsider, such comments suggest pride and moral superiority that would seem to be the very antithesis of Christian teaching. I find this perplexing, and it doesn’t exactly attract one to become a believer. To use the current vernacular, “it’s not a good look”.

    Alan Simpson, Queensland

  • Thanks Alan

    Sorry if I have not answered you to your liking. I will keep trying.

    As to “moral superiority”, a few replies. Do I think the Christian worldview is true, and others are therefore not? Yes, guilty as charged. But most people have a worldview that they hold to and assume is superior to others. If two mutually contradictory truth claims are made, they both can’t be true.

    As a pro-faith, pro-life and pro-family advocate, yes I do spend a lot of time here warning people about various threats to these concerns. For example, I am morally censorious about, say, drug dealers or pornographers who get rich off the exploitation of others. I think we all should be morally censorious of such things. Presumably you find some things you disprove of or find morally problematic. Does that make you unloving, proud or morally superior?

    Getting back to sin and our Buddhist monk friend: The Christian argues that it is not just sinful actions that separate us from God, but sin itself: a sinful orientation and inclination. Our monk friend may not do a lot of sinful actions (murder, rape, etc) but from a biblical point of view, he is still sinful, that is, orientated to self, and away from the true God. To others he may seem exemplary, but from God’s perspective, he does not measure up, as God’s standard can only be perfection.

    If there is a God who is the source of all truth, goodness and righteousness, and we construct alternatives to that God (this is called idolatry, and comes in many forms, including other religions), then we are putting ourselves up as God, and thus sinning. We all do this. We all seek to be God, and we all reject the true God.

    But the good news is, even though we all go our own way and we all suppress the truth about God, if we show any signs of really seeking God, he promises to be found by such seekers. This is as true of the down-in-the-gutter drug addict, as of the Buddhist monk. It was true of me. But it is the grace of God that finally deserves the credit here, not me.

    Thus in one sense, it does not matter where you were born. Whether in secular Australia, or Hindu India, or Muslim Pakistan, those really seeking for the true God will find him. And by the way, many Muslims at the moment are doing just that, with Christ appearing to them in dreams, visions and the like.

    I came to Christ from a combination of agnosticism, the New Age, and radical left wing politics. Others have come to Christ from a Hindu background, an atheist background, a Confucian background, etc. If you are really worried about those who have not heard of Christ, then become a believer yourself, and start telling them.

    Again, this may all sound a bit much to the non-Christian. But then, it cuts across all our pride, our self-sufficiency, our self-centeredness. The good news of the gospel is only understandable in light of the bad news: that we are all sinners, deserving of God’s judgment. But God, who is rich in mercy, extends a way out, if we acknowledge our need and are willing to take up his offer.

    Rejecting that seals our fate, but it is we who have done the sealing, not God. This is simply the Christian position. I am not sure what more I can say, but feel free to keep asking.

    My ramblings here may not be convincing or of much help. But if you are asking genuine questions here, the best I can do for you is encourage you to read about Jesus, say in the Gospel of Mark. See what Jesus has to say about these things, not just me.

    Thanks again,
    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • Hi Allen,

    I’d like to respond to your claim that “a lot of comments on these pages express feelings of contempt for various groups in society who are judged to not measure up”,

    It is important for any cultural sub-group of our society to be open to scrutiny and challenge (including Christianity). However, this should not be interpreted as contempt. Rather, recent examples of contempt could be the violently reactive responses to a certain set of Danish cartoons.

    In mentioning a perceived “pride and moral superiority” on this blogsite, you have appealed to a certain standard of fairness. And how do you decide where the line should be drawn for this standard of fairness?

    I don’t know of any greater ‘fairness’, or morality, than that of Biblical Christianity. In your last comment, you even appealed to the standard of how Christians ought to behave! It therefore seems a reasonable exercise to measure the views and activities of cultural sub-groups against this “plumb-line”.

    If this had not been carried out in the past, we would definitely be living in a different world today.

    Luke Beattie

  • Hi Luke,

    My name is Alan, but I think you were responding to me.

    You would think the way you do, because you are are a Christian. But every person thinks that their worldview is superior, whether they are Jews, Christians, Mormons, Muslims, Catholics, Hindus, Buddhists or atheists etc. If they didn’t think that, they could hardly hold their views with honesty.

    My point was, and conservative Christians certainly aren’t the only groups that do so, that judgmental behaviour is a turnoff and creates a bad impression to others. If the objective is to convince others that only Christianity has the truth, it actually has the opposite effect.

    Alan Simpson, Queensland

  • Thanks Alan

    The ultimate issue is not whether a worldview is seen as superior, but whether the worldview is in fact true. And of course if one worldview is true, that implies that others which are at odds with are not true. In an age which cherishes epistemological relativism and rejects the very notion of truth, that doesn’t go down well of course. The person who does not believe in the law of gravity will always think the one affirming it is being superior, intolerant, narrow-minded and arrogant.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • Alan, I’m sorry that what you perceive as “judgmental behavior” by Christians is a “turn off” for you. But as Bill said, “The ultimate issue is not whether a worldview is seen as superior, but whether the worldview is in fact true.” No Christian on earth could be as judgmental as God. The righteousness and justice of God is a major theme in the Bible and none of us will avoid His wrath unless we have our trust in the atoning sacrifice of Christ.

    Ewan McDonald, Victoria.

  • Hi Alan,

    You said: “The question I asked was why otherwise goodly people, who may not even have any acquaintance with Christian beliefs, would be accused of “choosing sin”. I appreciated Bill’s extensive reply, but it didn’t really answer the question as to the “sin” that is being chosen, and the context in which the “choice” is made.”

    Your confusion was related to the choice that is made for sin. What is there to decide? We must decided what place sin has in our lives.
    We don’t have a choice when it comes to our sinful nature. The Bible tells us that “all have sinned” (Romans 3:23, 5:12). The day that Adam and Eve committed the first sin was the beginning of the sinful human race. It is the reason why every single person who is born into the world in born into sin as a sinner. This sin follows us around unless we make a choice to get rid of it. The only way to have it removed from our lives is by accepting Jesus who took the death penalty for our sin; and that is the choice we do have. The choice to acknowledge Jesus leads to freedom. Yes we will naturally still sin, but turning to Jesus for forgiveness when we sin, wipes us clean and we no longer have to live with it in our lives.

    For Bill to speak of “choosing sin” he is not so much speaking of an active decision to have it in our lives, or even our selecting it as a lifestyle, but more the act of denying Jesus as the one who can come and remove it from our lives. By not choosing Jesus, we are choosing sin.

    Hannah Shand

  • It is encouraging to read such comments as Andrew Bolt’s in his “My Easter message”; it seems that much of the media released opposes such Christian views. I have found it to be true that Christians tend to dodge the so-called public arena through the media, because of the opposition that quickly develops.

    The apathy in this area certainly is not aligned with the way Jesus (the ultimate model of the Christian faith) lived. His rebuking of the Pharisees is not an uncommon occurrence in the gospels, and turning the tables in anger at the temple was all in line with His perfect actions.

    However, I am also conscious of the way in which the church should work on its part in action of attack and defence. It is important that we respond in a way which is balanced with both passion for our faith, doing justice to God who saved us, and considerate of the world’s capability of responding positively toward the invitation of salvation through Jesus Christ.

    Gabrielle Brophy

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