This week I’m going to dedicate The Dave Rave to my appearance on The Today Show this week. I’m in New York right now taping the session that will be aired Tuesday morning, November 14th. I’ve been invited to be a part of a panel to debate the role of religion and faith in America.
Meredith Vieira will be leading the discussion. There will be four of us on the panel, one of which is Sam Harris, whose controversial book; Letter To A Christian Nation is causing quite a stir. Harris believes that not only is religion not necessary, it’s actually dangerous and poses a great threat to the future of this country.
He says, for example, and I quote, “Forty-four percent of the American population is convinced that Jesus will return to judge the living and the dead sometime in the next 50 years. According to most popular interpretation of biblical prophecy, Jesus will return only after things have gone horribly awry here on earth. It is therefore not an exaggeration to say that if the city of New York were suddenly replaced by a ball of fire, some significant percentage of the American population would see a silver lining in the subsequent mushroom cloud as it would suggest to them that the best thing that is ever going to happen was about to happen – the return of Christ. It should be blindingly obvious that beliefs of this sort would do little to help us create a durable future for ourselves socially, economically, environmentally or geo-politically. Imagine the consequence if any significant component of the United States government actually believed that the world was about to end and that its ending would be glorious. The fact that nearly half the American population apparently believes this, purely on the basis of religious dogma should be considered a moral and intellectual emergency.”
What anyone who takes their faith seriously, having read that paragraph knows is that Mr. Harris has a most definite agenda. The first that seems apparent to me by this kind of rhetoric is to sell a book. And that’s how you do it. Take an outrageous position and use it to scream at those on the other side.
And oftentimes those of us whom people think of as religious – and actually I’ve been spending my whole life trying to be non-religious – we often make the mistake of shouting back, not because we want to defend the faith. Too often it’s because we feel very insecure in the faith that we have.
There are so many holes in Mr. Harris’ paragraph it would take a volume to respond to them. Let me respond to two. He says that 44% of the American population is convinced that Jesus will return to judge the living and the dead sometime in the next 50 years.
I don’t know about you, but I don’t believe that. I don’t know when Jesus is returning. I do believe that He is returning. It is obvious to me and it seems every other thinking person that this world is not going to continue to go on indefinitely as it is. Something’s going to wear out, break or blow up eventually down the road – 50 years, 500 years, 5,000 years – who knows? The future is in God’s hands. I don’t pretend to understand, to know or even to be involved in the cause of the end of the world. As a matter of fact, as a follower of Jesus I’m motivated to extend life as long as possible. I’m to celebrate life. That’s part of why I’m here – to love, to live, to help, to do everything I can to make this life better than it is.
The other thing I want to respond to Mr. Harris is when he says the fact that nearly half the American population believes this, that is, that Jesus is going to return purely on the basis of religious dogma should be considered a moral and intellectual emergency. I understand his definition of religious dogma. I would call it religious opinion. Everyone has one. There are a thousand different opinions on how the world is going to end. There are over 20,000 different denominations.
I agree with Mr. Harris that religion can be an exceedingly dangerous thing. We live in a brave new world where we’re no longer able to assume that all things religious are at least basically good. Sometimes they can be very evil.
Here’s my argument. Christianity is not a religion. Jesus did not come to make us more religious. He didn’t come to make us more moral. He came to change our lives, to give us a new life and a new heart, to put love at the core of our motivation – love for God and love for people, a love for life, a love for the things that are good and honorable, a love for your enemy, a love for those who disagree with you, a love for those who can despitefully use you, a love for those who betray you, a love for those who would come up and hit you on the cheek to turn the other side not because you like getting hit in the face and not because you’re weak, but because you believe that God would be pleased.
This is going to be an exciting journey for me. Pray that I am fit for the task.
They sent me eight questions that we’re going to deal with. I think they’re good ones for you to struggle with in your home, with friends at work, in your small group or at Starbucks or wherever people gather to talk. Check it out and see how many of the eight we deal with. Here they are:
1. What role do you think religion should play in this country?
2. There are those that would say religion is a vital part of our society and should be encouraged that faith will only make society better as a whole.
3. Then there are others who would say religion in society confuses issues like abortion, stem cells, gay marriage and turns what would be commonsense decisions into something more – that if you take religion out of those discussions the country would likely deal with greater issues affecting the world like genocide and poverty.
4. Then there are legal battles about prayer in school and public displays of the Ten Commandments. What do you think about these things?
5. Do you think there should be a separation of church and state and do you think there is one in this country?
6. Do you think America was founded as a Christian nation?
7. Would you be surprised to learn that “under God” was added to the Pledge of Allegiance in the 1950s and only as a response to McCarthyism? Is this a country that does reflect the religious state in different times?
8. What other things would you be interested in discussing with others who believe that faith is an important part of society and should be encouraged?
This should be an interesting time and as I pray and prepare for this moment I’m going to have to say, “Be careful what you pray for. You just might get it. God might put you on the hot seat where you’re forced to give a reason for the hope that lies within you.”
Check it out and I’ll give you some reports and perspectives in the next Dave Rave.