Religion Externalized

By Dr. George Grant  (posted on Grantian Floriegium November 20) 

Culture is simply a worldview made evident. It is basic beliefs worked out into habits of life. It is theology translated into sociology. Culture is a very practical expression of the common faith of a community or a people or a nation. Culture is, as Henry Van Til famously quipped, “religion externalized.”


What a person thinks, what he believes, what shapes his ultimate concerns, and what he holds to be true in his heart—in short, his faith or lack of it—has a direct effect on his material well-being, behavior, and outlook; on his sense of what is good, true, and beautiful; on his priorities, values, and principles. After all, “As a man thinks in his heart, so is he.”


What is true for one person is equally true for a whole community of persons. In 1905, Max Weber, the renowned political economist and “founding father” of modern sociology, affirmed this fundamental truth for modern social scientists in his classic work, The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism. He argued that the remarkable prosperity of the West was directly attributable to the cultural, personal, and ethical prevalence of the Christian tradition. In contrast to so many other cultures around the globe, where freedoms and opportunities were severely limited and where poverty and suffering abounded, Weber found that faith brought men and nations both liberty and prosperity.


The Christian faith changes people. Therefore, the Christian faith changes culture. The reasons for this are multitudinous:


First, true faith reorients all of us fallen and sinful men to reality. Because of our selfish proclivities we are all too naturally blind, foolish, ignorant, and self-destructive. More often than not, we are ruled by our passions, our lusts, and our delusions. We simply have a hard time facing reality without the perspective of faith. Faith in Almighty God, however, removes the scales from our eyes and the shackles from our lives. In Him we are at last acquainted to what is right, what is real, and what is true.


Sociologist James Gleason has said, “Faith serves us all well as a kind of reality-check. It is a transcendent value that enables us to more adequately and objectively evaluate our most bewildering situations and circumstances. In other words, it gives us a perspective beyond our own purblind vantage.”


A culture shaped by what is right, what is real, and what is true will manifest significantly art, music, literature, science, and ideas just as surely as a person shaped by them will.


Second, the Christian faith counteracts the destructive effects of sinful actions and activities. Sin is not a concept that has much currency with modern social scientists, economists, politicians, community organizers, civil rights activists, and social service providers. It has become rather politically incorrect to even speak of it. Men who have rejected God and do not walk in faith are more often than not immoral, impure, and improvident. They are prone to extreme and destructive behavior, indulging in perverse vices and dissipating sensuality. And they—along with their families and loved ones—are thus driven over the brink of destruction. On the other hand, faith reforms us with new and constructive values. We are provoked to moral and upright lives of diligence, purity, sober-mindedness, thrift, trustworthiness, and responsibility.


According to psychologist Nancy Hellman, “Where poverty, violence, and destruction germinate in the rotting soil of sin, productivity, harmony, and hope flourish in the fertile field of faith. If we were to recover the concept of sin in our society—even from a moderately secularized perspective—we would go a long way toward eradicating the evils of modern life.”


In other words, a culture that understands the character and nature of the Fall is going to be tangibly, substantively, and manifestly different than a culture that does not.


Third, the Christian faith establishes a future orientation in our hearts and minds. All too often the modern men and women either flounder in a dismal fatalism or we squander our few resources in an irresponsible impulsiveness. Many of us are terribly short-sighted, unmotivated, and naive. And “where there is no vision the people perish.” On the other hand, genuine faith provokes us to live thoughtfully, to plan, to exercise restraint, and to defer gratification in order to achieve higher ends. We are induced to self-control, wisdom, and careful stewardship in order to build for the future.


Bartok Havic, the great Czech historian, has said, “History’s record is clear: a people who cannot look past the moment, past the fleeting pleasures of fleshly indulgence, will be a people whose culture vanishes from the face of the earth. Ultimately, only faith gives men a sustaining vision for that which is other than their own selfish desires.”


Fourth, the Christian faith provokes us to exercise responsibility. Outside of the bounds of faith in God we are all naturally prone to selfishness, wastefulness, and sloth. Faith on the other hand enables see past ourselves, growing into selfless maturity. We are able to become more responsible to redeem our time. We are able to become more responsible to make the most of every opportunity. We are able to become more responsible to fulfill our calling in life. We are able to become more responsible to use our money wisely, to care for our families, to serve the needs of others, and to be an example of redemptive love before all men everywhere. It is this very kind of diligent responsibility—this very fruit of faith—that we most need if they are ever to fully recover the vision of life and culture that brought the Western world to flower.


“It is faith,” says George Gilder, “in all its multifarious forms and luminosities, that can by itself move the mountains of sloth and depression that afflict the world’s stagnant economies; it brought immigrants thousands of miles with pennies in their pockets to launch the American empire of commerce; and it performs miracles daily in our present impasse.”


Senator Ted Kennedy once asserted that, “The ballot box is the place where change begins in America.” Although he has been fiercely and vehemently wrong in the past, Kennedy has never been more wrong than this. As George Will has argued, “There is hardly a page of American history that does not refute that insistence, so characteristic of the political class, on the primacy of politics in the making of history.” In fact, he says, “In a good society, politics is peripheral to much of the pulsing life of the society.”


This is the great lesson of history: it is ordinary people of authentic Christian faith who are ultimately the ones who best able to shape the outcome of human events–not kings and princes, not masters and tyrants. It is laborers and workmen, cousins and acquaintances that upend the expectations of the brilliant and the glamorous, the expert and the meticulous. It is plain folks, simple people, who literally change the course of history–because they are the stuff of which history is made. They are the ones who make the world go round. For, as G.K. Chesterton said, “The most extraordinary thing in the world is an ordinary man and an ordinary woman and their ordinary children.”


Ultimately, that is our greatest hope for the future. It is simply that a new grassroots majoritarian emphasis on things that really matter–on the Gospel and its fruits–will emerge as we train up the next generation of culture-shapers. It is that a love for hearth and home, community and culture, accountability and availability, service and substance, morality and magnanimity, responsibility and restoration will capture hearts and minds and lives. It is a hope that may be stymied, obstructed, and hampered–but ultimately it cannot fail.


As the famed journalist H.L. Mencken once said, “The man who invents a new imbecility is hailed gladly, and bidden to make himself at home; he is to the great masses of men, the beau ideal of mankind. His madness must necessarily give way to right, sooner or later, though usually later.”


Or as the poet F.W. Faber wrote:


“For right is right, since God is God,

And right the day must win;

To doubt would be disloyalty,

To falter would be sin.”


(Dr. George Grant is the founder and president of King’s Meadow Study Center located in beautiful Franklin, Tennessee. He is also in high demand as a lecturer and is an accomplished author.) 

Response to Sam Harris – An Article From The Most Dangerous Man in the World.

By Jay Mathews, Nashville, TN

“How do we respond to the attacks of the ‘new atheists’ like Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris?”

Here is a response to Sam Harris’ article in last year’s Newsweek:

I Am the Most Dangerous Man in the World?

In the Nov 13, 2006 edition of Newsweek Magazine, renowned atheist, Sam Harris unleashed his heartfelt beliefs about people of faith…. we pose a “tremendous danger.”

The basic points of Harris’ arguments include (1) science has forever debunked faith, (2) Christians’ belief in the end of the world give them “no incentive to build a sustainable civilization,” (3) religion elevates morality over human and animal suffering, and (5) because of fanatical belief, religion is the most dangerous institution in the world. While I may be wasting time and ink writing a rebuttal to Mr. Harris, I can’t resist using my newly declared notorious state to ease the fear of all the atheists and agnostics within my reach.

I do want to make it clear that to treat all faiths as equal is the most improper presupposition of our post-modern carnage. All religions are not the same. They have different systems and practices. I do believe that jihadist Islam poses a violent danger to our world today. All religions have the possibility of perpetrating great oppression and harm. One has to look no farther than the Crusades to see the destruction that misguided human beings can cause in the name of religious belief.

But even in the case of the Crusades, there are fundamental differences in belief. The Crusades demonstrate followers of Islam doing what their faith requires them to do and followers of Christ ignoring what their Savior requires them to do. The Crusades represent Islam at its best and Christianity at its worst.

To lump all religions together for the purpose of generalizing criticism of faith makes as much sense as criticizing all people of non-faith by looking at the actions of Joseph Stalin.

I am a teacher and coach at a Christian School in the United States of America. I love my wife and three children. We read the Bible, pray, worship in a local congregation. We live about as simple a life as one can live in the 21st century. We give to missions and desire to tell others what the Lord has done for us. May I use this simple and dangerous position to counter a few of Mr. Harris’ assertions?

One, science has not eliminated Christian belief or doctrine. It is proper to say that the relationship between Christianity and Science is not without controversy. There has often been strenuous debate between the Church and scientists, who often held the same beliefs. As a believer in Christ and the Bible in 2007, I can say that we live in advantageous times because of the light of science and the truth of Scripture. Both are helpful when they are properly placed according to their use. Science is limited concerning many matters of life and faith.

Today, there is a scientific jihad as non-faith scientists try to use reason to trump faith. They use superiority of educational pedigree to intimidate the public. The average person today does not understand, for example, that traditional Darwinian evolution is no longer acceptable as an explanation for the origin of life as we know it. When scientists say, ‘Evolution is a fact” they are not honestly representing the actual assertion of that quote.

There is ample scientific data that supports ‘microevolution’ and many natural history museums have altars to that truth. Microevolution is the accepted and provable truth that certain species have changed through slight, successive adaptations based on the ability to survive the environmental challenges to their survival.

The problem with this scientific mantra is that it is the end of the statement of fact and the beginning of the propagation of the myth. In the study of evolution, there is no observable data to support ‘macroevolution” or the ability for these adaptations to change into new species. M.I.T. physicist Geoffrey Schroeder correctly points out his analysis of the impressive display and tribute to evolution that is found in the Natural History Museum in London. “It is all impressive. Impressive, until you are able to walk out and reflect upon that which they are able to document. Daisies remained daisies, moths remained moths, and cichlid fish remained cichlid fish. (The Science of God pg. 31).

When non-faith adherents attack intelligent design and other theories about the origin of the species as “faith” and their acceptance of evolution as “science” they are pulling a slight of hand. All debates about the origin of life are debates of faith and not observable by true science.

As a Christian, I see little controversy about what science has discovered and what the Bible teaches. I believe in the existence of God and the creation of life. I believe God has given science as a wonderful gift to uncover His grand design. Science does not discredit the Bible at all. If anything, it helps the Bible make more sense. My better understanding of the natural does not negate my belief in the supernatural. When science stays within its proper boundaries, it strengthens our wonder about the majesty of the Designer!

The second incorrect assumption asserted by Harris is that Christians have no vested interest in preserving civilization. I will admit that we often stumble in our mandates from the Creator, but Mr. Harris does not understand Biblical teaching on our responsibilities to our bodies, our nations, and our planet. God has instructed His followers to be good stewards of all with which they have been entrusted. C.S. Lewis correctly pointed out “If you read history you will find that Christians who did most for this present world were those who thought most of the next.” (Mere Christianity 134) A recent book suggests that current data demonstrates that Christians give more and do more than their non-faith counter parts. How many “Atheist Homes for the Poor or Orphans” exist in the world today? To assert that Christians have no vested interest in this present age because of the hope of Jesus’ return makes as much sense as a student wanting to destroy his undergraduate resume because of an eagerness to succeed in graduate school.

Christians are re-discovering our need to serve the poor and help the weak. History shows the church to often be slow in addressing human misery, but Christians are found in every hard circumstance loving. serving, and persevering. People of non-faith, if true to their world-view, should turn to destroy the weak as an act of nature’s law of survival of the fittest.

Harris’ weakest argument is his assertion that Christian’s obsession with right or wrong leads to unnecessary human or animal suffering. It is also the atheist’s weakest position. If there is no God, what is justice? What is love? Why is goodness even a pursuit? Why be unselfish? Why have any values at all?

The belief in right and wrong is what holds the world together. Even though we debate what is right and wrong, our belief in right and wrong is universal and necessary. The fact that values sometimes rule over human comfort is actually a comfort in and of itself. Values restrain our harmful human impulses. Restraint produces order.

As a Christian, I do value “life” as a gift from God and this belief requires me to hold life as sacred. I do believe God has clearly communicated his desires for love, service, truth telling, and unselfishness. The more we hold to these values, the better life is. Test tube ethics will always default to heartless pragmatism. In a world without values, the atheist’s utopia would be the horrible display of death and oppression that would make Joseph Stalin look like a saint.

Is the Christian Church “dangerous?” Christianity has done more to promote love and humility than any other movement in history. If you remove Christian work and influence, how many hospitals, homeless shelters, orphanages, educational institutions, good laws, powerful leaders, and beautiful artists would never have had the positive influence and redemptive power that the world has enjoyed?

The bottom line is that our greatest danger is that we ever lose the life and faith of Jesus in our society. The cultural landscape grows darker and colder as we stab at the Creator and deny His right for our adoration. The time for repentance is now.