-->“We live in a nation where we can believe anything we want to believe as long as we don’t actually think it’s true.”
Our beloved and much attacked 1st Amendment reads as follows:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances. That statement is the wisest, most remarkable statement ever made outside of Scripture, and it’s not very far outside -- its wisdom is extracted from the Word of God. Freedom of religious belief goes to the very heart of why human beings exist in the first place, without freedom to choose for or against God our purpose starts to crumble, and without purpose our society fractures and finally collapses. Our Constitutional freedoms aren’t just for making life pleasant – they are to ensure that we can live purposeful, eternally productive lives.
This freedom allows us to make the most important decision any human ever gets to make unhindered by our government – only we ourselves are accountable, nothing else is in the way. This freedom allows us to make the most of every breath we take.
Unfortunately, America has misunderstood the 1st Amendment. We’ve come to think that because the government doesn’t have any religious beliefs to force upon us, no one – not even God -- cares what we believe. We’ve even taken that supposition so far as to assume that therefore our God-view doesn’t matter and that all the available choices are 1) merely fairytales and we can cook up whatever stew of philosophies we want to –none of it is true anyway, so who cares? Or 2) all religions are equally true at the same time, which gets us back to point 1.
We assume that our believing, and only that, makes the belief we buy actual. If we buy into the idea of reincarnation, we will be given millions of lives in which to reach perfect nothingness and that nothingness will become our reality. It won’t.
We assume that if we declare God non-existent that He will obediently go away and leave us alone. He’s not going to do that. His perfect justice is at stake.
We jump to the conclusion that if we lump together a couple of Noble Truths with half a dozen Hindu gods with some old fashioned pantheism, and a golden tablet or two that all those ideas will cohabit easily and will in fact be true and worthy of our devotion.
It seems that very few of us are aware that true means actual, real -- real in the laws-of-physics sense of the word, in the well-documented, historical sense of the word, in the mathematical sense of the word.
Choosing how we are going to deal with the persistent idea of Godness is not about choosing a brand or selecting our favorite fairytale as a way to cope with life on earth. This is serious, eternal business. It has nothing to do with what we like; it has to do with what is so.
Let’s look at this through a shopping scenario. We’re in the religion store – the shelves are lined with options – Scientology, B’hai, Mormonism, Hinduism, atheism, Darwinsim, Roman Catholic Christianity, – hundreds to choose from, each in its designer box festooned with blurbs and quotes from famous people across the back, and strewn with spreading sunbeams, exotic script and wild promises across the front.
Most kits have a prayer component, some complete with flags or beads. Some come with items of clothing – yamakas and prayer shawls, saffron robes, or elaborate head dresses. Most of the kits come with some sort of instruction manual, and a book of musical scores. Most promise either approbation from some god or from certain groups of their fellow man. Most of the covers use words like Love, Peace and Power. None are cheap.
If we take the time to open the boxes and look inside we find the hidden things --- one offers 72 virgins in exchange for murder-suicide. One promises infinite returns to this world, a sort of a never-give-up approach, though it doesn’t come with a take-it-with-you demerit chart, so you’d never know in one life what you screwed up the last time round. Several have no god component at all, even though they have priests and temples. Some have hundreds of fanciful creature-gods, some even have the physical statue-gods themselves, though they don’t sell well anymore. Many of the boxes contain diet recommendations and restrictions; many demand your presence in prescribed places -- temples, cathedrals, or universities.
Most require that followers take part in certain rituals and behaviors. If you buy one of the orthodox Muslims kits you’ll have to travel to Mecca for the Hajj each year and pray facing that city five times each day. If you buy the atheist set you’ll be expected to file lawsuits. Many tribal religions will ask you to dance around fire pits. Each is interesting, fantastical, ethereal. Each sells hope – hope for this life, hope of a quiet conscience, hope of more prosperity, hope of avoiding the nastier parts of life, hope for life hereafter.
Way at the back of the store is a shelf, lonely some days; the plain packages are not particularly enticing. The price is good, though – they’re free, but there’s no fancy equipment inside – just a book.
The book, though plain, is remarkable. Forty men, using 3 different languages, penned it over a period of 1500 years. Very few of the men ever even met each other, yet the book is consistent from cover to cover – the symbols are the same throughout, the God it talks about stays the same. And the truly interesting thing is that the earlier parts of the book accurately foretell things that happened later in the book – things no human could have controlled. It also foretells events that will happen in the future, parts of which are already taking form.
The book tells a completely different story than anything else in the store. This book tells about a God who is perfectly everything – just, righteous, loving, faithful, honest, unchanging, omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent, and sovereign. He doesn’t do the capricious and horrifying things attributed to the fanciful, imaginative gods. This God made all that is ex nihilo. The book makes it clear that He has a purpose for making this world, a purpose that involves angels and will require that He maintain this universe until it is time for Him to make a new heaven and a new earth.
The book is a little scary – it declares that this God’s Perfection can accept nothing less than our perfection, and it explains how it is that mankind, made by God, can be so far beneath that standard. Then it tells us about the ultimate fate of those of us who attempt to fix the mess ourselves, and judging from the boxes in this store it looks like that could be a great many of us; every one of those boxes out front is a do-it-yourself kit.
The book, however, tells us a very interesting and hopeful fact. It tells us that 2,000 years ago God arranged to have a perfect man born into this world, a perfect man who managed, against all odds, to stay perfect until, in his 33rd year he was nailed to a cross – men couldn’t tolerate his perfection – and there this man paid the price all of us owe God for our imperfections. It’s been done for us. Tetelestai.
The book says that all any person has to do is accept that the job’s been done – that acceptance brings us eternal life with this Amazing God, it brings blessings and challenges and all the power it takes to meet those challenges. One of the challenges is to know the book, which we have the freedom to do.
Political liberty allows us to buy anything in that store, but it does not make everything for sale there true. The only true thing available is the plain book on the “Free” shelf, the one that says, “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whosoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have everlasting life.” (John 3:16)