Wednesday, June 20, 2012

What Do You Believe And Why Does It Matter?

For many people, what they believe is something that they don't often think about. I have found that, quite often, people simply want to fit in and so they "parrot" what they hear expressed in the culture around them. When pressed, many people cannot give a coherent answer about what they believe.

This is unfortunate, because what we believe shapes who we are and how we act. In other words, ideas have consequences. Sometimes those consequences don't matter a great deal, but sometimes, when the wrong ideas permeate a culture, the consequences can be devastating.

A quick glance at the history of the twentieth century provides enough illustrative material for a few books. Witness the consequences of the state-imposed belief in atheism, the belief that “No God exists beyond or in the universe. The universe or cosmos is all there is and all there will be. All is matter: it is self-sustaining.” 

This may sound like a fairly harmless statement to make, but when it becomes a dogma of a state, it leads to some horrific results. If there is no God and the cosmos is all that there is and all that will be, then it follows that people are simply products of an impersonal process and have no intrinsic value. It also follows that there is no absolute standard for morality and a powerful state can set it's own rules arbitrarily to serve its own purposes. Horrific acts can then be justified as being in the best interests of the state.

We saw this in the Soviet Union (USSR), where Stalin was responsible for the murder of fifty million of his own people. Basic human rights were suspended because the state didn't recognize them - they had no foundation in atheistic ideology. Contrast this with the expression of the American Declaration of Independence: "that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights..." This radical statement lead to the building of a nation that lead the Western world in freedom for more than two centuries. It's not just the Soviet Union that set a bad example, however.

Pol Pot, the leader of the Communist Party in Cambodia, was responsible for the deaths of two million of his own people in a four year period, with similar reasoning as the USSR. Communist North Korea today is one of the worst offenders of human rights in the world. Then we look at China, with its forced sterilization and enforcement of a one-child policy, which has resulted in what we now call "gendercide," the murder of baby girls because boys are more favourable and only one child is allowed. There are many other examples, but the point is that ideas matter.

What do you believe? Taking a hard look at Western Civilization today we see clear signs of an impending implosion. We no longer have a consensus of belief. While most believe in human rights, we're not sure from where they come. Many would certainly not adhere to the belief that those rights flow from our Creator - and if they do, He's certainly not the God of Christianity.

Formerly Christian European nations, turned off by the excesses of the State churches, have become functional if not literal atheists. Morality is now defined by popular opinion, and we've seen the spread of euthanasia, the breakdown of the family and the rise of anarchic tendencies. Canada and the United States are not far behind. We are beginning to reap what we have sown.

Hear English journalist Malcolm Muggeridge on the subject: "We look back on history, and what do we see?  Empires rising and falling; revolutions and counter-revolutions succeeding one another; wealth accumulating and wealth dispersed; one nation dominant and then another.  As Shakespeare's King Lear puts it, 'the rise and fall of great ones that ebb and flow with the moon.'  In one lifetime I've seen my fellow countrymen ruling over a quarter of the world, and the great majority of them convinced – in the words of what is still a favorite song – that God has made them mighty and will make them mightier yet.  I've heard a crazed Austrian announce the establishment of a German Reich that was to last for a thousand years; an Italian clown report that the calendar will begin again with his assumption of power; a murderous Georgian brigand in the Kremlin acclaimed by the intellectual elite as wiser than Solomon, more enlightened than Ashoka, more humane than Marcus Aurelius.  I've seen America wealthier than all the rest of the world put together; and with the superiority of weaponry that would have enabled Americans, had they so wished, to outdo an Alexander or a Julius Caesar in the range and scale of conquest.
"All in one little lifetime – gone with the wind:  England now part of an island off the coast of Europe, threatened with further dismemberment; Hitler and Mussolini seen as buffoons; Stalin a sinister name in the regime he helped to found and dominated totally for three decades; Americans haunted by fears of running out of the precious fluid that keeps their motorways roaring and the smog settling, by memories of a disastrous military campaign in Vietnam, and the windmills of Watergate.  Can this really be what life is about – this worldwide soap opera going on from century to century, from era to era, as old discarded sets and props litter the earth?  Surely not.  Was it to provide a location for so repetitive and ribald a production as this that the universe was created and man, or homo sapiens as he likes to call himself – heaven knows why – came into existence?  I can't believe it.  If this were all, then the cynics, the hedonists, and the suicides are right: the most we can hope for from life is amusement, gratification of our senses, and death.  But it is not all.
"Thanks to the great mercy and marvel of the Incarnation, the cosmic scene is resolved into a human drama.  God reaches down to become a Man and Man reaches up to relate himself to God.  Time looks into eternity and eternity into time, making now always, and always now.  Everything is transformed by the sublime dream of the Incarnation – God's special parable for fallen man and a fallen world.  The way opens before us that was charted in the birth, ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  The way that successive generations of believers have striven to follow, deriving themselves the moral, spiritual, and intellectual creativity out of which have come everything truly great in our art, our literature, our music, the splendor of the great Cathedrals, and the illumination of the saints and mystics, as well as countless lives of men and women serving their God and loving their Savior in humility and Faith.  It's a glorious record – not just of the past, but continuing now.  The books are open, not closed.
"The Incarnation was not a mere historical event like the Battle of Waterloo, or the American Declaration of Independence – something that's happened, and then was over.  It goes on happening all the time.  God did not retreat back into Heaven when the fateful words “It is finished” were uttered on Golgotha.  The Word that became flesh has continued and continues to dwell among us, full of grace and truth.  There are examples on every hand; we have but to look for them.  For instance, the man in Solzhenitsyn's labor camp who scribbled sentences from the Gospels that he pulled out of his pocket in the evening to keep himself serene and brotherly in that terrible place.  Then, Solzhenitsyn himself – a product of this world's first overtly atheistic materialist society who yet can tell us in shining words that 'it was only when I lay there, on rotting prison straw, that I sensed within myself the first stirrings of good.  Gradually it was disclosed to me that the line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either; but right through every human heart and through all human hearts.  So, bless you, prison for having been in my life.'  What insight, what wisdom, acquired in a Soviet prison, after a Marxist upbringing!
"Again, there's Mother Teresa and her ever-growing Missionaries of Charity going about their work of love with their own special geography of compassion moving into country after country.  Sisters, now of many nationalities, arriving in twos and threes at the troubled places in this troubled world with nothing to offer except Christ, no other purpose than to see in every suffering man and woman the person of their Savior, and to heed His words, 'Insofar as ye did it to the least of these, my brethren, ye did it unto me.'" (For the whole article, go here).
So, what do you believe? It matters. Do you have answers for the basic questions of life?
  • Where did we come from?
  • How can we find meaning?
  • How do we define morality?
  • What is our destiny?
And finally, do our answers form a coherent whole? Do they hold together? I find that many people pick and choose what they believe and, consequently, the worldview they hold to cannot hold water and is ultimately not liveable.

Have you tried to answer these questions? If not, take a stab at it, and please, share your findings. I'm thankful that I discovered the answer to the ultimate questions of life in the person of Jesus Christ. Where has your search lead you?

Related Articles:
Worldview - Part 1 - Origin
Worldview: Part 2 - Meaning
Worldview - Part 3 - Morality
Worldview - Part 4 - Destiny

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