"And when you see the Abomination that causes Desolation standing where it should not (let the reader understand), then those in Judea must flee to the mountains! A man on the housetop must not come down or go to the house to get anything. And a man in the field must not go back to get his clothes. Woe to pregnant women and nursing mothers in those days! Pray it won't happen in winter. For those will be days of tribulation, the kind that has not been from the beginning of the world which God created, until now and never will be again! Unless the Lord limited those days, no one would survive. But He limited those days because of His elect, whom He chose."
The Barna Group surveyed Americans about recent contributions by Christianity to American culture. The negative contributions outweighed the positive in this survey. Only twelve per cent of those surveyed could think of no negatives. Twenty five per cent could not think of a single positive contribution. The primary negative contributions mentioned were hatred or violence in the name of Jesus, as well as the Roman Catholic priest sex scandals and opposition to homosexual marriage. The positive contributions were help for the poor, evangelism and influencing values.
If these figures have validity (1,000 people were surveyed; margin of error calculated at 3.2%, plus or minus), 88% of Americans have something negative to say about American Christianity. We are in an image crisis. We do not stretch the point too much to say it is a substantive crisis as well.
Once America agreed largely on what it meant to lead an admirable life. God had to be included in an admirable life. Persons who did not honor God knew (believed, felt) they should honor God and were certain their leaders should honor God.
Some national agreement on the nature of an admirable life was a sort of social glue, made to bind American culture. Now, there is much less agreement on what is admirable, and a greater division between the religious (sacred) and the secular descriptions of a good life.
We are caught between nothingness (nihilism) and fanaticism. The nihilists believe God is irrelevant and those who put their trust in God (any God) are self-delusional, at best. The fanatics believe their standard of living works so well for them (even if it does not) that it should be the requirement for all persons. It is a short step from moderate, responsible belief, to aggressive fanaticism, IED's, terror bombings, suicide martyrs.
In fact, I believe the 21st century wars will be fought between these two poles, the Nihilist and the Fanatic. The winner will be the side able to project and defend its vision of what is/is not an admirable life.
Nihilism is immediately at a disadvantage. The nihilist can mock, scorn and deride, but it is impossible to project these expressions (see Hitchens and Dawkins and their writings) as reflections of an admirable life. Nihilism has no bottom. The result is, well, what the word says, nothingness. There is no god, no heaven, no hell, no holy book, no saint, no sinner, no certainty. Absolutes are for fools, so ethics and morality are finally what can be enforced by one's own will, even, if necessary, at the point of a bomb.
The Fanatic is at a disadvantage in this argument because he draws his lines ever closer to himself. In so doing, he must finally mock, scorn and deride all those who are not wearing his skin. He can do this with great emotional power but it is impossible to take his argument seriously, and so to see his life as admirable.
Fanaticism is the natural (aggressive) response to nihilism. The conflict between the two may prove to be our human extinction point, or, the thing that takes us out, as the Biblical apocalyptic imagery seems to say.
Is there any reason for hope?
Well, not much, if the trend to polarize continues. What can possibly cut short this dissolution of civility? We must, I think, decide what is admirable and live it. The loss of holiness in the elect is what is most likely to kill this civilization, not the nihilizing impulses of the secular masses.
Election, the choice of God, has this disturbing mark. Election leads to godliness, to holiness, rather than to some religious or churchly formation. To be chosen of God is an awe-inspiring concept, one religious people have virtually hunted to extinction. Regardless of what we think of election, predestination, or calling, it is undeniable that God expects the Holy Community to be, well, holy.
"Therefore, God's chosen ones, holy and loved, put on heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience, accepting one another and forgiving one another if anyone has a complaint against another. Just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you must also forgive. Above all put on love–the perfect bond of unity."
Opinions expressed here are mine alone. You can see why.