Easter has come and gone. The global, catholic Church celebrated together the most significant day in the Church calendar. It was a day when we remember Christ’s victorious resurrection from the dead – his victory over sin, death and the grave. Christians gathered together across the world in massive churches and in their homes, in ordinary church buildings and tabernacle-like meeting spaces. We sang songs together from many different traditions and in many different languages. Our worship rose as a sweet aroma to our glorious, triumphant King. Although we were separated by space and time, Easter is a day which perhaps most foreshadows what the worship of heaven will be like.
So now what?
For all of our worship and praise, will there be any noticeable change in our lives? Continue Reading
In 313 A.D. the Roman emperor Constantine issued the Edict of Milan; a pronouncement that declared Christianity was to be tolerated and protected as a religion under the Roman government. For the first 300 years of the church, Christians were either outcasts (at best) or a heavily persecuted group. It was far from being a convenient time to be a Christian; converting to the faith often meant giving up your family, your job, your way of life, and even your community – all to follow this crucified carpenter from Nazareth.
During these first few centuries of the Church people often converted to Christianity not only because of the gospel message they heard but also because of the gospel mercy and compassion they experienced. Christians were known to have cared for orphans when no one else would, to have taken in widows when Roman society said they no longer had value, and to have rescued discarded babies from the trash heaps to raise them as their own.
Christians pushed back against the immorality of their day not through boycotts and public protest but by displaying a positive Christian ethic in their homes and communities. For example, sexual slavery and prostitution was at the center of ancient Greco-Roman culture. One of the most reliable ways to tell when a local region had become Christianized is when they decided that sexual slavery was unjust – not because of a moral majority who took over the government, but because people were forsaking their idols to follow Christ. Christianity is at its best when it shows people a better way to find their satisfaction: in Jesus.
My wife recently took me to see the new biographical documentary on Fred Rogers, Won’t You Be My Neighbor? While I don’t know how much Mister Rogers impacted me as a child, I do have faint memories of watching his beloved show. I never realized until I was an adult just how important and formative Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood really was.
In the documentary, they highlighted several clips from the show in order to demonstrate how Mister Rogers addressed public events and issues facing children. One of the clips that stood out to me the most – which I suppose is probably familiar to those who know the show well, unlike me – is of a duet between Daniel Tiger and Lady Aberlin. The conversation begins with Daniel Tiger wondering if he is a mistake, because he doesn’t know any other tigers like him. One of his verses goes like this:
Often I wonder if I’m a mistake?
I’m not supposed to be scared am I?
Sometimes I cry and sometimes I shake
Wondering isn’t it true that the strong never break
I’m not like anyone else I know
I’m not like anyone else
I know many people – children and adults – struggle with a sense of shame much like Daniel Tiger. I know, because I counsel them. I know, because I share in this same struggle. We question our worth, our value, our sense of self, whether or not we measure up to our own expectations (let alone anyone else’s). We too start to say to ourselves, “I wonder if I’m a mistake?”
I am far from the first person to get into a boxing match over the subjects of religion and evolution. While there are several reasons for this, I can summarize my objections to this conversation by highlighting how it is really like comparing apples and oranges. Any meaningful religious system is a comprehensive (philosophical, epistemological, emotional, existential, etc.) way of viewing the world. Evolution is simply a theory of origins; on its own, it provides no instruction for how or why we should view the world. The deeper conversation to be had is one of theism and naturalism. This is where we can actually engage in meaningful dialogue and get to the heart of how and why individuals may view the world differently.
This is especially important to remember when we start to get into a conversation about ethics. The naturalist movement has produced several different theories to account for ethical and moral standards for our society without transcendence in the picture, and it’s not my task to go through all of them in this post. In recent years, there have been two views of ethics in particular that I have seen gaining traction. The first is one which says the proper moral and ethical choice in any situation is that which alleviates the most suffering. Of course, one of the obstacles of this view is trying to account for what suffering is and why it is wrong.
The other view is one which tries to reinterpret the process of evolution itself to account for morality and ethics as a key piece of how we became the dominant species on the planet. In his recent talk at Google, Dr. Tim Keller gives a very brief presentation that gets into this subject of ethics from a theistic or secularist point of view. One of the last questions from the audience comes from an employee who I think really captures this new take on evolution well (around the 45min mark):
It seemed to me like a lot of your argument against secularism, or humanism, was predicated on this idea that human evolution…is sort of Hobbesian and ruthless. And I’m wondering how you would respond to an alternative hypothesis which is that humans – like some other species – actually evolved having a lot of benefit of social cooperation and in-group goal setting?
To be honest, this view sounds really nice on paper. Unfortunately it is an intellectually dishonest view which doesn’t square with the dominant views of how evolution – and human society – have really worked. This is one of the reasons why I have loved Yuval Noah Harari’s work in Sapiens. He is honest about human history from a naturalist perspective in such a way that he says the only way to account for ethics and meaning is through the power of your own imagination. In other words, everything that you think is meaningful and special in this life is completely made up. Continue Reading