Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Wide But Not Deep

Recently, Senator Barack Obama, in his call to allow faith a place in the public policy debate, asserted that:
Americans are a deeply religious people. Ninety percent of us believe in God,70% affiliate ourselves with an organized religion, and 38% call ourselves committed Christians.
It seems to me that he statistics cited here belie, or at least partially undermine, the claim that we are a “deeply religious people.” Wide maybe, but not deep. One must wonder what “god” it is that 90% of us claim to believe in, when an actual public commitment to that “god” results in a 20% drop in claiming affiliation to it, while only 38% of the “deeply religious” among us are committed to the most dominant religion in the land.

In his attempt to find common ground in the areas of politics and religion, Mr. Obama has actually exposed the actuality of a prevalent and privatized view of faith. The American culture, though it claims to believe in God, prefers a god whom each individual is free to create for himself. Inevitably, the “god” we choose to worship bears an eerie resemblance to ourselves. It is a deity who demands no change in our character and prescribes no cost for our discipleship. Instead of aligning ourselves with some judgmental “organized religion,” we apparently prefer to partake in a disorganized religion of our own making. This is the value system that, consciously or unconsciously, a majority of the people who walk through our church doors have been trained by society to accept. It is a value system that has separated spiritual things from intellectual things – a value system that has made us understand our spirituality to be a passive set of emotions that we may experience only once a week during Sunday morning worship. And we have bought into it.

The church has allowed the culture to accentuate the supremacy of God’s grace and compassion to the exclusion of God’s justice and sovereignty. But we cannot choose which attributes of God we will honor and we certainly cannot allow society to choose for us.

As long as our society continues to view faith as a purely private matter; as long as we continue to buy into the false notion that we “can’t legislate morality;” as long as we continue to exalt the non-constitutional notion of a "separation of church and state," the possibility of reaching a harmonious relationship between religion and politics will continue to elude us. This does not entail the threat of a “theocracy” that secularists so readily use as a scare tactic. It requires only that we recognize that ultimate reality consists not just of the physical world we can see, but also in the notions of objective morality and metaphysical reality that apply to any religion grounded in the idea that truth, goodness and beauty are real and knowable.

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