This past week I was following a discussion on the Internet about the growth of atheism in Australia. Apparently, according to figures from the latest census, the number of professing atheists in Australia has grown. Our local newspaper triggered the debate by asking whether there was still a future for religion.
I must confess that I intensely dislike these kinds of discussions – almost as much as some of the Q&A presentations on the ABC. In the long term they don’t get us anywhere because everyone’s opinion has equal validity – no matter whether the contributor is an expert on the subject or just someone interested in the debate. Discussions of this nature are usually replete with red-herrings and people setting up straw men that they then shoot down in flames thinking that they have resolved the issue. For example, there was the person who commented: “Religion is just a lifestyle choice, nothing more. Like yoga or stamp collecting. The reason they’ve had such power is corruption and a hefty membership.”
What troubled me especially though was the attitude of some contributors to the discussion who insisted that religion should be kept private. A very typical comment was, “I think if a person has faith and practices that faith in a private way that impacts upon no one then that’s their business.”
There are two things that disturb me about comments like that.
First, if we have to live out our faith in such a way that it “impacts no one” then it really is little more than a hobby like stamp collecting. But one’s religion cannot be kept private like some hobby. The fact is that the Christian faith is not just “a religion” – it is a way of living. Christians are people who are different and that is going to impact others around us whether we like it or not. I recall that back in the 1960s my birth date came up in a ballot that marked me out for two years of “national service”. A workmate who had served in the army some years earlier, said to me, “John, let me give you some advice. If you get called up just remember that in the army there are
two things that soldiers do not talk about: one is politics, the other is religion.” That was my earliest introductions to the attitude that religion is okay, as long as you keep it private. The reality is that for Christians that is just not an option.
A second concern is that our culture is very selective about what we should keep private and what should be shouted from the roof-tops. When someone says, “I am a Christian!” then the message is, “Keep it quiet and don’t let it impact anyone else.” But when someone says, “I am a homosexual and in favour of samesex marriage” then our culture not only encourages that person to make their views known but it also labels as intolerant those who may happen to disagree. Christians must remain silent about their views but people with alternate choices are celebrated by the media as heroes for the cause. It’s high time that the media woke up and admitted its bias.
It’s sad that there are some terrible caricatures of religion that are prevalent in our society. One writer commented:
“Religion has been and will always be the cause of war and fights.” Of course there is just enough truth in such a statement for someone to get away with it. However, at the end of the day it is a caricature and ignores all the good that religion has done.
Above all we need to distinguish between “religion” and a personal faith with our Creator God through the Lord Jesus Christ. As long as that distinction is not made very clearly, any debate about the place of religion in our Aussie culture is doomed to failure.