Thursday, February 14, 2008

Rules to Obey, Not "Carefully Consider"

There's an interesting discussion going on in the comments of one of Dana's recent posts over at "Principled Discovery" about why some people raised in Christian homes turn away from the faith as adults.

Sunniemom from "A Woman on Purpose" wrote:

"I venture to say that the reason some ‘run’ from Christianity and the Bible is because of what it teaches-they aren’t running from ‘indoctrination’, but from ideas such as generosity, compassion, tolerance, and sacrifice. That is why so many ‘come back’ when they get all grown up."

J.J. Ross from "Cocking a Snook" replied:

"I don’t believe it was the tolerance, generosity and compassion [the preachers' kids] all were fleeing, but the weight of endless expectations and examples and limits, and rules and restrictions in every direction except OUT."

I actually happen to agree more with J.J. than with Sunniemom here because it's not the generosity and compassion that's so difficult about Christianity but the requirement for self-discipline. It's hard to deny ourselves things that may feel good for our bodies but are bad for our souls, especially when modern society so often glorifies vice and mocks virtue.

In recent decades, our culture has turned away from the moral absolutes of traditional Judeo-Christianity in favor of a wishy-washy moral relativism. This cultural trend has really polarized religious believers into two camps: those who've embraced relativism and those who've resisted it.

For an example of this, here are two very different approaches to teaching children about the 10 Commandments:

"There are ten, there are ten
There are ten commandments to consider carefully
There are ten, there are ten
There are ten commandments to consider."

Contrast that with:

"[The 10 Commandments] were written on tablets of stone; they could not be changed or erased. They are God's laws for every one of us. A law is a rule or command that everyone must follow. If people abide by these rules, everyone can be happy and safe. They are not rules just for the classroom, or the home, or the streets; they are rules for life. By following these Commandments of God, everyone can be happy....If anyone breaks a Commandment, he sins. Sin displeases God and a person must be sorry for his sins and try to do better."

The first makes it sound as if the 10 Commandments are optional, just things to "consider carefully" and then accept, modify, or reject as the individual feels is best at that moment. The second is black-and-white: the rules are for everyone at all times to obey as God decreed to Moses or else the person is sinning.

The first quote happens to be from the lyrics of a song on a Jewish holidays CD by Peter & Ellen Allard and the second quote happens to be from the teacher's manual of the catechism program we're using (Our Heavenly Father by Ignatius Press). However, there are plenty of liberal Catholics who ascribe to the sentiment in the Allards' song and plenty of conservative Jews who would agree with the sentiment in the catechism. Catholicism and Judaism by all means have real theological differences, but the 10 Commandments isn't one of them (leaving aside the minor numbering variation).

The good news is that the fastest growing faiths here in the U.S. are traditionalist ones: Mormons, Pentecostals, non-denominational Evangelicals, and Catholics. Within Judaism, the fastest-growing group are the ultra-orthodox Haredi. The largest declines are among the liberal Protestant denominations. This is due to both a higher birthrate among religious traditionalists and also their success in attracting adult converts.


Anonymous said...

I think you agree with me more than you realize. Concepts such as compassion and sacrifice come from selflessness, a focus on others, and the discipline to deny oneself when someone else is in need.

Not only are the 10 Commandments not The 10 Suggestions, but Jesus raised the stakes with Matthew 5:22 and Luke 18:19-23. His point was that the thoughts and intents of our hearts are just as damning as the actions, because for many, if we could 'get away with' murder, adultery, revenge- we'd do it in a heartbeat.

It takes time for kids to realize that the works of the flesh are not satisfying or beneficial-

Galatians 5:19-21 Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these; adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness,
Idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies,
Envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like: ...

Does any of that really sound like fun? Then read the contrast-

Galatians 5:22-23 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith,
Meekness, temperance: against such there is no law.

Those things sound wonderful, don't they? But its the next verse that gets us every time-

Galatians 5:24 And they that are Christ's have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts.

Whoa dude, bummer.

Dana said...

Nice post, Crimson Wife. And this is really the central problem in our churches today:

This cultural trend has really polarized religious believers into two camps: those who've embraced relativism and those who've resisted it.