Friday, July 27, 2007

The Irrelevance of God

In about three weeks from now, all three of my kids will go back to school. I can't believe summer is almost over. However, this time of year always reminds me just what's at stake regarding the absence of God in the realm of education, both higher and lower. About a year ago I was asked to write a short column in a secular magazine regarding this very issue: what's at stake and what role should the church play. As you will see, it's obviously not comprehensive (after all I had to do it in less than 500 words), but this is that column:

The word “secularization” is a fancy term used by social scientists to identify the process through which God and the supernatural are relegated to the fringe of what’s important in society. A secularized society is a society that has determined to make God and the supernatural socially irrelevant even if they remain personally engaging. It restricts the relevance of God to the private sphere only. This has created, according to Richard John Neuhaus, “a naked public square.” That is, God may be important individually but he is rather unimportant socially and culturally. He may be alive and well privately but publicly he is dead. How our culture got to this point is a study that goes way beyond the scope of this column. Suffice it to say here, however, that we now live in a world that has a bloated sense of human ability. What, in an earlier age, people believed only God could do, we have now placed within human reach. This cultural death of God can be seen in just about every sector of society: science, technology, politics, economics, etc. But the one sphere of society where the cultural death of God shines brightest may very well be the sphere of education.

In his book The Abolition of Man, C.S. Lewis noted that if we remove God from the educational process we will leave people without the capacity to make moral judgments about the world. If we are stripped of the ability to believe that some things are ultimately true and others ultimately false, then everything becomes a matter of private opinion. This in turn, says Lewis, creates “men without chests.” In other words, this produces a less than robust person who is too weak to make absolute moral judgments and uncompromising moral stands. Our society’s unwavering commitment to political correctness and prevailing tolerance does not permit us to pronounce absolute judgments on anything. “In the modern discussion”, says Os Guinness, “it is worse to judge evil than to do evil.” This is one reason why the events of September 11, 2001 had our heads spinning. On that unforgettable morning we witnessed the unleashing of cruelty and violence in a most unspeakable manner. What we experienced that day was downright evil and everybody knew it. But because absolute evils call for absolute judgment and we don’t believe in absolutes, we found ourselves unjustifiably enraged.

The church, then, becomes the sphere of society where the relevance of God ought to reign supreme. The people of God are to be influencing the wider culture by expressing the centrality of God with both their lives and their lips. Jesus called on his disciples to be “the salt of the earth and the light of the world.” In other words, the people of God are to serve the world by acting as a preservative and a lighthouse. We do this by becoming God-saturated, God-intoxicated people, through whom God’s truth and love shine brightly. In order for God to once again become socially relevant, the church will have to exhibit a God-centeredness that shows our culture just how indispensable God is, not only for the individual, but for society as a whole.