Monthly Archives: February 2016

Fresh Spiritual Insights from an Atheist

Alain de Botton, an atheist, wrote a most fascinating book called “Religion for Atheists.” The person who recommended it to me said it would strengthen my faith, and he was right. Botton examines religious practices and teachings—not to debunk them, but to applaud how they meet actual human needs. It’s fascinating to read a committed atheist faithfully unpack a Scriptural story, looking for positive elements that atheists can learn from. In so doing, Botton is giving me totally fresh insights into my faith.

Take, for instance, his chapter on education (which presents strong arguments for attending a Christian college, as opposed to a secular universities which “rarely consent to ask, let alone answer the most serious questions of the soul”). He says Western intellectuals, suspicious of eloquence, apparently assume transformative ideas can be taught by stating them once or twice “via a lecturer standing in a bare room speaking in a monotone.” Likewise, we watch a movie or read a book which prompts us to reexamine our existence. But, “Three months after we finish reading a masterpiece, we may struggle to remember a single scene or phrase from it.

Christians, however, recognize the importance of regularly revisiting important themes. The Christian calendar is filled with annual reminders—Lent, Ash Wednesday, Epiphany, Christmas, Good Friday, Palm Sunday, Easter, Pentecost, Ascension Sunday, and more. Christians memorize key Scripture, regularly recite the Apostle’s Creed, follow a lectionary, hear multiple sermons on the same Bible stories, follow a Common Book of Prayer, use Sunday school curriculum which repeats important themes every few years, etc. We drill in what’s important.

Botton writes, “There is arguably as much wisdom to be found in the stories of Anton Chekhov as in the Gospels, but collections of the former are not bound with calendars reminding readers to schedule a regular review of their insights….At best, we haphazardly underline a few of the sentences that we most admire in them and which we may once in a while chance upon in an idle moment waiting for a taxi.”

So when you think, “Oh great, yet another sermon on prayer/forgiveness/servanthood/the Beatitudes/whatever,” recognize that we repeat these themes because they are important.

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Assumptions about Evangelicals by the Man on the Phone

A couple days ago, I fielded a call from a guy who wanted us, as the headquarters of an evangelical denomination, to mobilize our people to vote. He’d been calling the offices of various evangelical denominations. He had just talked to people at the Southern Baptist Convention headquarters. It was our turn.

Such calls often get shunted to me, the lowly Communications Director. He talked for ten minutes before I even had a chance to respond. He didn’t want us to tell people how to vote, but that was kind of disingenuous, because the issues he cited were Republican issues (and he did mention Trump and Cruz). And of course, as people say with EVERY election, the upcoming election will be “the most pivotal election in American history.”

He apparently assumed that all evangelicals of the United Brethren stripe would, obviously and inevitably, vote Republican. That’s how I read him, anyway. We just needed to encourage them to go vote, and Good would prevail.

The guy was actually very nice, articulate, and good-intentioned. He just carried some assumptions that, in my view, were incorrect.

I didn’t engage him in discussion, though there was plenty of fodder for doing so.

I didn’t tell him that some of our churches consist of evangelicals who are African-American, or Hispanic, or immigrants—folks who might have a different perspective on things.

I didn’t tell him that, though the majority of our people will most likely vote Republican, thousands of UBs will vote for Democrats because these UBs are passionate about issues which find support primarily among Democrats—issues involving the poor, the use of military force, the death penalty, social justice, refugees, immigrants, healthcare, alternative energy, income disparity, racial and gender discrimination, earthcare, and others.

I DID tell him that we, as a denominational headquarters, don’t get involved in the political arena. That we leave political action to the discretion of our pastors and laypersons at the local level. Besides, we’ve got a tax-exemption to protect.

He wanted to leave his phone number, so I could pass it along to others who might want to talk to him. I told him there would be no passing along of phone numbers, but that I appreciated that he was passionate about issues and was taking action.

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