Secularism is a Religion… and the State Cannot Endorse It

At least every week I see something in the news where the Freedom From Religion Foundation is suing some government entity for a Christmas tree or, their latest, a Facebook post.  The Constitution clearly states, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”  So, as long as the government entity pays homage to all religions equally, not endorsing one over the other, it’s well within its rights to do so and the Supreme Court has routinely ruled in ways that support this. Where governments have gotten in trouble is permanent displays of the Ten Commandments in courthouses and things of that nature.  But holiday greetings?  Nothing wrong with that.

As I’ve written in these pages before, everyone is technically agnostic.  None of us know right?  But that means every one of us has faith.  Either faith in something or faith in nothing.  That is your choice and no one, especially the government, should make that choice for you.  That’s why it is so important to note the distinction between freedom of religion and freedom from religion.  

Why is it only atheists get offended at holiday displays?  I never hear Jews complaining about the Christmas tree at Rockefeller Center. Nor do I ever hear Christians complain about a large menorah display on the courthouse lawn during Hanukah.  And I never hear either group complain about Democratic politicians tweeting out love letters to Islam during Ramadan (only that these particular politicians do not show the same love to Judaism or Christianity).  But the evangelical atheists?  Boy, even the Macy’s Christmas sale puts their underwear in a bunch.

I am not speaking about all atheists, I know many who, well, let’s face it, are libertarians.  However, if you are trying to eliminate all public displays of faith because you don’t agree with it, you’re trying to force the state to endorse your religion.  Which is unfortunate, because that same amendment to our Constitution that protected you from having to pray in school, you’re now using as a weapon against those who disagree with you.  

Secularism is a religion.  One whose only moral teachings are that everything is meaningless and to destroy anything that gets in your way by any means necessary.  It is to stand for nothing and to fall for anything. 

If you want me to fight to protect your rights to think, believe and express yourself however you like, I’m going to want you to do the same for me.  That’s the only way it works.  

Bench Pressing for Jesus

I cried at the gym today, but I’ve never felt stronger.

That’s not only a strange thing to say, it’s a strange thing to experience. You see, most of my life, I have lived without feeling the presence of God.  Much like Mother Teresa said that she acted in faith, but that she did not feel the presence of God, I have marched through life trying to do what is right without any spiritual confirmation that what I was doing was right.  But the outdoors changed that for me.

Sometimes, in some places, all the walls come down.  The walls that I put up to protect me from the garbage the world throws at me.  The walls I put up to protect the world from me when I am enraged by the injustices of the world.  Sometimes, usually for me, on the side of a mountain, looking off into the great distance, seeing this impossible world that God created, those walls come down and God runs into me like a linebacker and I am overwhelmed by His presence.  I am often moved to tears in these instances, just overwhelmed by the beauty of it all and knowing that I am created by the same Creator as these mountains, but yet I am loved more than these mountains and I am more special than these mountains.  That is hard to accept sometimes.

I have struggled to have that connection in other places, because when I’m in civilization, I don’t allow myself to be emotionally or spiritually vulnerable.  There’s too many forces trying to attack me spiritually, I am at war constantly, I know God is with me, but I cannot allow myself to feel him.  The one thing that has always broken through in this situation is music.  Some secular music, but Johnny Cash’s gospel music has always done it, as well as bagpipe versions of “Amazing Grace” or “Scotland the Brave”.  

Lately, I have been using music to try and have these experiences more often. Listening to the Louvin Brothers’ or Wade Bowen’s gospel music puts good thoughts into my head and facilitates more conversational prayer.  I find myself just talking to Jesus about all the awful things going through my head. The anger I feel towards certain people or certain situations and, especially at the gym, asking God, “Out of all the places in the gym to do squats, why did she have to do them in front of me and tempt me to look at her and have thoughts I shouldn’t be having?” As our pastor says, don’t try to fix yourself before coming into the Kingdom, but bring yourself and your problems with you into the Kingdom.  You can’t fix them by yourself, you can only fix them with the help of Jesus.  

So, I’ve tried to turn everything I do into an act of worship.  I’m often not successful at that.  However, when I am successful, it changes everything.  Today, while at the gym, I felt Jesus there with me. I bench pressed more than I had in years (not quite to my personal record, but getting close again – though I am probably stronger now than then, but I don’t have a spotter to push myself) and there was a strength in me that was beyond me.  I just felt like I wasn’t the only one pushing and at a certain point His presence was so strong I found myself crying a little bit.  I just couldn’t control the power of it.  

I think until you feel this feeling, it’s hard to believe that it exists or is even possible.  However, once you experience it, you want to work as hard as you can to live in a constant state of it.  If I could live my life like that, there’s nothing I couldn’t accomplish.

An Identity of Action and Values vs. Identity Politics

For thousands of years we lived in a Culture of Honor.  Then as society evolved, we developed a Culture of Dignity. But now, in the 21st century, we live in a Culture of Victimhood.  In a Culture of Victimhood, what I call The Oppression Olympics, is staged every day.  The more minority categories you can fit into, the more you can claim to be oppressed, the higher you climb in the social rankings.  If you’re a black, trans, lesbian, midget, vegan Muslim, well, hey, you’re King of the World (the use of a gender designated title is not by mistake).  

Setting aside arguments about “trans” and “gay” for a minute, the only things in that description that a person has any control over whatsoever are “vegan” and “Muslim”.  Every other thing that is descriptive about that person is passive, it requires no action, no morals or values.  It’s something you’re born as.  How do terms that could describe you as you take your first breaths be what defines you when you are thirty years old?  Shouldn’t you be more than your DNA by the time you reach adulthood?

I firmly believe, the only positive way to define yourself, is through your foundational philosophy and your actions.  I am a Christian, libertarian, father, husband, son, brother, friend, conservationist, hunter, philosopher, musician and writer, to name but a few. Every single descriptor I mentioned requires foundational philosophies and action.  My race doesn’t factor into this one bit.  My Scottish and Cherokee ancestry does not factor into this one bit. Even my sex or gender, it alone doesn’t define me, however, God gave me certain roles and responsibilities that are not the same as which are granted to my wife.  However, together, she and I are two halves of the whole that are required to produce life in the image of God.  But I am only a true man if I, through my actions, fulfill the responsibilities of a man that God asks me to.  

Case in point, being a male, biologically, allows you to produce sperm which can, if in contact with a woman’s egg, produce life.  But it is only a man who takes responsibility for that child and raises it to be a good person as God instructed.  The action of reproduction is only the first action, it requires years of work before the complete action is finished.  This would be like putting on a pair of ice skates and calling yourself a hockey player.  Lacing up your skates is only the first thing, after that, you have to get out on the ice and play 60 minutes as a good teammate and fulfilling your role on the team whether that is wing, center, defense or goalie.  

Do not define yourselves by things outside of your control and do not allow others to define you by those terms either.  Who you are is not defined by these things, nor simply by opinions you hold, nor by who the world tells you you are.  Who you are is who God says you are and hopefully, in agreement with God, who you say you are.  

Who You Say I Am

Your Actions Are Your Faith

Over the weekend, Ben Shapiro had his Sunday Conversation with a Catholic priest. I will first admit I didn’t watch it, however, one of the highlights in the Facebook post was about how the priest says that good-natured atheists will go to heaven.  Of course, the comments section was filled with angry Protestants quoting scripture about “faith alone.”  Personally, I think both of these folks have it wrong.  The priest is wrong because it is not your acts that will save you and the angry masses are wrong because, while it may be faith that saves you, your actions are a manifestation of your faith.  If you’re not out in the world doing God’s work, then how strong is your faith?

I don’t believe these two points are equally important to us.  Who God does or does not let into heaven is His decision, not mine, therefore I don’t spend a whole lot of time thinking about it. However, let us break down these two points of view.

 

You are saved by faith alone.

This is mostly a point of view given by those who throw scripture verses at people instead of mounting a logical, and theological, argument.  They claim to be Biblical literalists but eat bacon wrapped shrimp and let their wives sleep in the bed with them while they’re menstruating.  In this case, as my pastor said recently, I can say whatever I want to, but if you follow me around for a week or two, you’ll see what I really believe.

Do I believe that, as Paul said, I am saved by faith through grace? Absolutely.  100%.  It is because of that I want to live that life.  Not just go to church on Sunday, not just tell people I love Jesus, but I want to be like Jesus.  As much as I can be anyhow.  I believe that one day I’m going to be asked things like, “Why did you do this?  And why didn’t you do that?”  I want that questioning to be as short as possible (prediction, I’m going to be there for a while).  

I am a firm believer that what you put into yourself is what comes out of you. Whether that is physical, mental, emotional or spiritual.  If you eat like crap, you are going to feel like crap.  If you’re inputting hate into your heart, hate is going to come out of you. If you put Jesus into your heart, truly put Him in your heart and not just pay him lip service, something Jesus-like will come out of you.  You will live a life of service to your loved ones, to your community and to Him.  It is my observation that many Christians, too many Christians, like to play the part but they’re afraid to do the work on themselves and therefore, they do very little work to serve others.  

I believe that the folks who are always screaming about “faith alone” are doing so because they’re worried about their own faith.  Let’s be honest here, a judgmental Facebook comment is not going to convert anyone to Christ or change someone’s theology.  They’re posting that to try and alleviate their own fears. The reality is, if you talk the talk, you better walk the walk.

A good-natured atheist will go to Heaven.

I don’t know.  That’s the simple answer.  There is far more to God than what we can find in scripture.  The Bible is for humans, so that we get to know God and what God wants for us.  It’s not a biography of God, nor His memoirs or a list of questions and answers humans will have.  Sure, there’s a lot of that stuff in there, but it’s far from a complete picture.  While I don’t think a priest should be advocating for “saved through works,” I do think there’s a sound theological argument for it, but it has more to do with the eternal spirit than it has to do with works alone.

This idea first came to me from Fr. John Dear, a priest (former Jesuit) I was acquainted with in Chicago.  We had this conversation on my back porch over beers and brats along with my friend Doug. At the time, it blew my mind and caused me, as humans are wont to do, to go extreme in my counter-argument, “I just can’t believe Hitler is in heaven.”  The conversation went something like this:

Fr. John: What is God’s sole desire of us?

Jeremy: For us to love Him as He loves us.

Fr. John: Do you believe the soul and our consciousness is eternal?

Jeremy: Yes, of course.

Fr. John: So, what do you imagine a life-long atheist will say to God when he dies and comes face to face with the awesomeness that is God?

Jeremy: He would immediately realize he was wrong, beg for forgiveness and worship and love God.

Fr. John: And does God forgive, always?

Jeremy: Yes, of course.

Fr. John: So, then, the atheist, now being a believer, would be welcomed into the kingdom?

Jeremy: By that logic, yes.

Now, is that true?  I don’t know. While I studied theology as part of my degree from DePaul and I have wrestled with many of these issues over the years, I am by no means an expert.  I do believe that the theology is sound and I do believe that in heaven there will be none of the things that sew evil into the hearts of man like there is on earth.  There will be no mental illness, no hate, no greed, no lust for power, no abuse and no violence.  None of the things that cause us to harm one another here on earth.  I also want to believe in an inclusive God, who understands His children, what they went through and why they may not have been able to find faith in this lifetime.  As my buddy Rob said recently at our small group, maybe some people, after death, will still deny God and those people will go to hell.  

This second point is a fun and interesting intellectual exercise, but ultimately, it’s something I spend little time thinking about.  Your soul is your responsibility the same as mine is mine. Don’t worry about who goes to heaven and who doesn’t, that’s God’s responsibility, not ours.  

As to the first point, I believe that I have a duty to talk with fellow Christians and try to inspire them to do more, to help more and to live out their faith. Yet, even that, there is a limit to my ability to influence.  Again, your soul is your responsibility and mine is mine.  If I ask you if you are living out your faith, and you tell me yes, then I will believe you, but only you and God know if that’s really true. Though I will say, no matter how good of a person you are, the reality is, the honest answer for all of us is really “no” because there’s always going to be areas where we could be better.  

Ultimately, this all comes down to common sense.  If your desire is to spread the love of God, you just have to stop and ask yourself before you act, “Is this going to further God’s message or not?” If the answer is no, leave it.  No one is going to be converted to Christ through your Facebook comment, but they might be by your actions of love and generosity.  

Everyone Has Faith in Something, Even if That Something is Nothing

In my last post, I used a phrase I find myself using a lot these days, “absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.”  But what is evidence?  There’s empirical evidence and there’s spiritual evidence.  This is not to say that what I feel is scientific evidence, it is definitely not.  Feelings are not facts.  However, when there is a lack of empirical evidence and you’re putting your faith either in the existence of something greater or putting your faith in the presumption there isn’t something greater, what are you looking at to push you one direction or another?

Some people find it easier to believe in nothing because there is no evidence to show that there is something greater.  I get that, because “seeing is believing” is definitely easier.  We can’t see gravity itself, but we can see the effects of gravity, therefore we know it is real.  That is how I feel about the existence of God.  All the hard sciences are just studies of the universe God made and quite frankly, evolution is a much more powerful creation story than what you find in Genesis.  I know all the arguments, I love evolutionary biology, I find studying the way God made the world to be endlessly fascinating.  If Genesis was a biology text book, it’d be boring, but it’s a spiritual text book.  How God actually created the universe is such a wonderful example of what God is capable of that’s well beyond our human means of understanding.  

What I ask is, when you’re looking out onto a Pacific sunset, or watching the sun rise over the mountains, or see a baby calf nursing on her mother, when you look at your child, when you see all the beauty and love this world has to offer, don’t you feel something?  I know it’s easy to say that’s just an emotion, but why do you think you feel this way?  What is the evolutionary purpose for appreciating beauty and feeling connected to it?  Is it scary to think there may be something bigger behind your soul?

Forget Christianity for a minute.  Forget all organized religion.  Just walk into the woods, walk up a mountain, and look out on a magnificent vista.  Tell me we’re alone as intelligent, spiritual creatures.  I dare you.  I don’t think anyone being honest can do that.  You can believe in something greater or not, but every human is an agnostic because we don’t know, we believe in something or we believe in nothing, but not one of us, at least for the last 2,000 years knows scientifically.  This is the very purpose of faith.

Almost everyone has faith (I’m allowing for a few poor souls who may not). Faith that the sun will come up tomorrow.  Faith that their spouse is being the person they claim to be.  Faith that our children will grow up to be good people. Sometimes that faith is not rewarded, but we still have it until we choose not to have it anymore.  Maybe one day science will be able to prove that God doesn’t exist.  If that’s the case, I’m sure there will be a lot of folks who lose faith, but until that day, we’ll keep it.  And I highly doubt that it will ever be able to be proven or disproven, but I have been wrong before and there’s a good chance I could be wrong again someday.

For several years, I tried to let my doubts take over.  I tried to let my logical, data driven mind rule my consciousness.  I really tried hard.  However, when I went into the mountains, when I got away from my fellow man in the urban centers and looked up at the stars in a clear sky, I knew in my heart I was wrong. I tried to block it out, but it was way more powerful than me.  I realized that the choice I was making was no choice at all, but simply trying to ignore what I knew to be true.  I think people do this every day, not just in regard to the existence of God, but people ignore all kinds of things they know to be true because they don’t want them to be true.  

Ultimately, faith is a choice and it’s one you have to make on your own.  No parent, no pastor, no astrophysicist, no blogger can make this decision for you.  I just implore you to go spend a couple days in the wilderness, turn off your phone, quiet your mind and see what you can connect to.  We spend our lives so connected to so much that sometimes the most important connection we can make gets crowded out by thousands of insignificant little things.  No matter what you choose, take a minute and reprioritize your connections, you have nothing to lose and everything to gain.

Fathers in the Field

Somewhere around my mid-twenties, I started thinking about volunteering with Big Brothers and Big Sisters (BBBS).  I am not sure why I didn’t do it then, perhaps I was afraid, perhaps it was because we were still fairly nomadic or perhaps it was because I knew I wasn’t ready yet.  No matter the reason, by the time I hit my mid-thirties, I wanted to do it.  I went through the lengthy process to become a “Big” and the good folks at Big Brothers-Big Sisters, Los Angeles matched me up with A.J. and we’ve been friends ever since.  The two years we had together were one of the best things I’ve ever done and even though I moved away, we’re still in touch and I will always be a friend to him.

As great as I think BBBS is, I found it limiting in some ways and also, there wasn’t great support.  I had some really great Match Support Specialists in our two years, but I had a couple crappy ones as well, fortunately A.J. and I connected and his mom was awesome in that she was supportive, helped when I needed it but otherwise left us to our own devices.  I also wasn’t sure I wanted to mentor another kid because I still wanted to be in A.J.’s life, even if one thousand miles away.

All that having been said, I will never stop believing that fathers are important and I will never stop fighting against this cultural attack on men and fatherhood.  As a society, we are focused on raising strong girls, which I not only support but am doing every single day (even if our more traditional values are at odds with society’s), but boys are getting left behind by being told they aren’t important, or that they’re “toxic” and that they don’t need a dad nor do they need to be one.  So, several months ago, I signed up with a wonderful program administered through our church called, Fathers in the Field.

Fathers in the Field is a faith-based mentoring program for fatherless boys and is much more intense than BBBS.  This is intentional.  BBBS required two contacts a month for a few hours at a time.  Fathers in the Field requires weekly contacts and requires two of those contacts be trips to church and one being a service project, preferably for an elderly woman (it has to be helping people, it can’t be highway cleanup). Unlike BBBS, these boys are not allowed in the program if they have a man in their life, meaning if their mom has a live-in boyfriend, they’re not allowed in the program.  While not all of these men are going to mentor the boy, the idea is that they should and the program doesn’t want to stand in the way of that.  

I’ve written about nature as a healer and I’ve written about the fact that while the outdoors is not a “male” space, it can be a great avenue for male bonding nonetheless.  There’s a lot of real-life knowledge that be gained from the outdoors, for both boys and girls, but the outdoors also provides opportunities for certain life lessons that boys need to receive from other men.  Fatherless boys are also in need of healing and sometimes being able to get away from other people and all the trappings of civilization allows those things to be brought to the surface so that they can let God into their hearts to heal them.  

This morning, after church, I’m going to meet my Field Buddy.  While this is a meet and greet and both he and I (and his mom) have the right to veto the pairing at this point, this is usually nothing more than a formality.  All I know is his name is Robert and he is 14.  I’m nervous, I don’t know anything about what this kid has been through, but I’m excited because I’m looking forward to being able to take this kid to the gun range, on hikes, fishing, small game hunting and eventually, big game hunting. I also know, for all my faults, I have a lot to give to a kid who doesn’t have anyone else to receive it from.

Wish me luck, and if you’re so inclined, say a prayer for us.  

 

Fathers in the Field is a nationwide program, if you’re interested in getting involved, please contact your church and/or the national Fathers in the Field office at www.fathersinthefield.com