I have come to believe that Thanksgiving Day as the American holiday. I know most people would rather focus on July 4th – Independence Day. I agree Independence Day is a major holiday to be celebrated. Thanksgiving Day tells us more about who we are.
The Plymouth Colony was the first attempt on this continent to build a decidedly Christian community. Ultimately the attempt failed. But, it was what was learned there that was so important. The Christian concept of love thy neighbor as thyself was finally seen to be a universal idea. The Wampanoag people did not have Christian scriptures, ritual, or theology. Their spirituality allowed them to help people on what they thought of as cursed land. The Pilgrims found what they sought. Neighbors who would allow them to live out their faith in peace. The later Puritan colony of Massachusetts Bay which engulfed Plymouth colony was not interested in peace on such terms. They decided on control and conformity rather than freedom for themselves and their neighbors.
Plymouth was a colony where the believers never actually settled their own creed. “Strangers” were welcome without any desire to compel them into something they did not wish. Hardship was shared. Commitment to lives of faith made it possible so no child died during the first winter of the colony. An openness to learning how to live and to even change practices so a community could be preserved were part of the pilgrim ethic. It was not a perfect place. But, sixty years of peace reigned.
Thanksgiving Day is not complete without the story of “the first thanksgiving.” The story points to ideals that Americans can all share – feasting with enough, neighborliness, helpfulness, and freedom. What could be more American? Thanksgiving Day reminds us of dreams among hardship, the pioneering spirit, and what we could be.
I suppose the people I am most concerned about in this world are those who we could call the morally indifferent. It may seem strange that I am not too concerned over the immoral people of the world. Yet, I know what kind of responses to expect from such people. The morally indifferent are those who believe themselves to be moral because they do not see themselves as immoral. And there lies the problem.
It is easy to claim one is “neutral” or “a middle of the road” type of person. It is easy to decide morally problematic situations are not one’s own problem. It is easy to find a form of escapism that keeps a person from making hard choices about the world. It is easy as Thoreau claimed to respect virtue and not be virtuous.
Personally I try to be both moral and ethical. I make mistakes in these areas. I try to consider what to do before taking action. “In the beginning was the word…” St John tells us meaning the word was considered and spoken before the act of separating heaven and earth. I try to make amends when I make mistakes.
The morally indifferent do not care. An immoral person wants to see the devastation of their acts. Morally indifferent people do not think. They do not consider consequences of their acts. Desire to preserve self means they will reach for an identity rather than take a hard look to define self-worth. Dr. Johnson claimed “patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel.” He was right in the sense that a morally neutral person will find the trappings of respectability to keep the good graces of others. Here is nothing but the desire for identity for self without having a true sense of self-worth. To be worthy is to be moral not to be thought of as moral.
Consider the great failures of the morally neutral who tried to be identified as truly competent as moral leaders. Senator Joseph McCarthy and President Clinton come to mind as well as religious leaders like Benedict XVI and Ted Haggard. It really does not matter if a person searching for an identity chooses to be one identity or another. Being morally indifferent it does not matter.
Collective failures of moral indifference are being seen in courtrooms especially juries since they are made of non-experts in legal matters often believe the worst plausible arguments because it is easier to allow murderers to go free than to take the responsibility of a decision for justice. The two examples from Florida regarding Casey Anthony and George Zimmerman are good examples of how perfectly respectable moral indifference is folly. Remember how Pontius Pilate knowingly allowed an innocent man to be executed?
It is easy to be misunderstood when speaking on such a broad topic. I respect different points of view. I also have high opinions of my own opinions. I take a stand while trying to understand my opponent. It can be difficult. Love and Freedom are among the moral values I hold. I would likely hold them even if I was not a Christian. Since I am a Christian I hold them all more because I can hold them as being independent of my own thinking while informing my actions. I can then measure my own worthiness as a self while holding them and acting in ways that support those goals.
Dan Barker was once an evangelical christian who became an atheist years ago. Now instead of attempting to convert people to faith in Jesus he is attempting to convert people to atheism. While Barker is not one of “the four horsemen” (Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Daniel Dennett, and the late Christopher Hitchens) he fits into the category of the “new atheists.” Atheism, non-theism, agnosticism, and humanism are doctrines that are claimed by people who are among the “nones” – the fastest rising category of the US Census. Alarmed by this increase in non-believers and the attacks on Christian (and all other religious) beliefs, there has been an attempt by evangelicals to create a media storm of apologetics. Films such as “Heaven is for Real, Left Behind (again?), and “God is Not Dead” are attempts to defend “the faith” against these “doubting thomases”. The big surprise comes when the evangelical community reacts to movies such as “Noah.” Why?
The “Noah” film was accused of having an “agenda” that was “anti-christian.” Ken Hamm did much the same thing regarding movies such as “Contact” and “Dinosaur.” The agenda accusation must have something to do with market share in fundraising and mind control for evangelicalism. Let me present an example. While I have not seen the film based on Pastor Burpo’s book, Heaven is for Real holds that when children die and go to heaven they remain children. When elderly people die they go back to the prime of life. If a child is miscarried, they go to heaven at a later age while still a child without a name until one of her parents dies, goes to heaven, and names her. Pretty strange if you ask me. Yet, it provides good fodder for arguments concerning abortion. The atheistic professor of “God is Not Dead” is depicted as an evil target for conversion. In other words, evangelicals have a “convert them all” mentality. Left Behind has an escapist message. Believe and the really bad cannot happen to you.
When I read these books and the messages given in them, I realize why “the nones” are rising. It is hard to stomach the ridiculous agenda of the radical right evangelicals. These are the believers who obviously never heard of Jesus or truly wrestled with reading the scriptures. The roots of the movement are in puritanism and revivalism. Yet, the conversion called for is to destroy all attempt to learn and discover what is real in favor of fantasies that support silly dogmas. So then, the evangelizing atheists make their case in a strong way.
How do Christians stand for their own faith? We must recognize that the cultural assumption is North America is “either/or” in orientation. We have all been taught that a proposition is either true or false. The proposition is determined to be true or false by either logical deduction or observable data. The problem is that reality does not truly work this way. Intellectual disciplines such as history, the natural sciences, the social sciences, philosophy, and mathematics demonstrate few straight-line approaches in discovery. The trade disciplines are truly “hard sciences” in that reality is simply how things work. There is no matter and energy. There are power sources and mechanisms. If there is any truth in Theology, then Christians may not delve into ideological systems. Theology, to be real, must recognize the world that is real. And theologians must be prepared to acknowledge the superstitious thinking of the past (and much of the present). By using a clear-eyed approach christian theology can become a corrective in the present when scientism (not true science) threatens to overtake and create new superstitions. For instance there is a lot of math in astrology. It is only superstition
The evangelizing atheists are winning by playing by the rules of our either/or cultural assumption and by standing in reality. Christians do not need fantastic nonsense to make the arguments of the atheists any stronger.