The new social media trend seems to be pictures of political figures quoting them from X years ago taking a stand entirely opposite of where they stand today. I have not counted or statistically analyzed it, but it seems like it always features a figure that is not apparently faithful. In other words they are usually figures not known for their religiosity. I do not find this coincidental, nor actually that surprising.
Our politics, being what they are, require a politician to put their finger on the public pulse and reflect it. But we also live in a hyper-media environment where gossip spreads, quite literally, at the speed of light and the public pulse can therefore turn on a dime. It is actually rather frightening to watch things shift based on a hashtag and in the complete absence of rational thought. That it would happen regarding some new menu item at a fast food place or a movie was innocent enough, even if it cost the companies millions, even billions. But when it starts happening about things that really matter – political issues and even spiritual/religious questions – one starts to become concerned.
Our society is built on a presumption of rational consideration. The reason I do not find an apparent correlation between rapidly shifting positions and a lack of religiosity coincidental or surprising is that historically the spread of Christianity has been accompanied by a spread of rationality. It is deeply ironic that Christianity has been attacked, rather successfully, in recent decades for being irrational and dogmatic. Or is it really ironic?
In its very earliest days Christianity, despite an obvious supernatural element, embraced entwining itself with rationality. As the Apostle Paul said in his letter to the church at Ephesus:
we are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming;
Here Paul is urging us to be rooted people, considering things rationally and thoughtfully. Interestingly, that verse is preceded by a discussion of the church and its organization, implying that the rational and careful consideration called for happens best in a group, democratically. But that is for consideration at another time.
American Christianity has moved away from this deep entwining of rationality and faith. It has done so through many mechanisms. Let’s examine just a few.
American Christianity is largely Protestant, and in many of its incarnations a type of Protestant that is determined to prove their distance from Rome and the Roman Catholic Church. It is the Roman church that has wrapped the rationality of ancient Greece and Rome into a package with the Christian faith – a faith born in the Roman Empire. One must wonder if the move away from rational expressions of Christianity is rooted in a bias, if not bigotry, against the Roman Catholic Church. Each church must evaluate for itself, but it is worth considering.
The problem with a rational approach to faith is that at a minimum its puts the brakes on, if not crowds out the “really cool” stuff, like miracles and tongues and healings. The brakes are good, as without them there is an opening for false miracle workers. (See Acts 8) But crowding out is bad. God works miracles and we need to see them when they happen. I am a Presbyterian, often referred to as “the frozen chosen.” In some cases we have become so rational as to sterilize the faith, and thus make it less attractive than it really is. But more importantly when our faith does not allow for God’s direct action, we rob it of much of its power. And thus we lose contact with our anchor of the Almighty and so we become subject to “every wind.”
Finally, being rational with our faith is hard. Hard is viewed by many as being off-putting and so we tend to shy away from it lest we drive potential converts away. But in so doing we rob our faith of something essential and one must then wonder if the converts we gain in the effort are converts to full and genuine faith. The result is a church that starts chasing trends in an effort to be attractive.
And so we find ourselves in a society built on rationality in which the primary purveyor of that rationality has divorced itself from it. Is it any wonder then that we see political figures that are so “agile” in their thinking?
Thus to restore our body politic to sanity, we must restore the purveyor of rationality to that rationality – to a whole and genuine faith. It is to this task that I devote myself and my prayers this Sunday morning.