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Contemporary Culture and Commitment

by Charles 'Buddy' Whatley


Charles Krauthammer in Time magazine wrote an essay titled, "Will it be coffee, tea or He?" The subtitle is "Religion was once a conviction. Now it is a taste." Of course he is underscoring the naive commitment behind much of religion today.

He writes,

"As I checked in for an outpatient test at a local hospital last week, the admissions lady asked for the usual name, rank, serial number, insurance and ailment. Then she inquired, 'What is you religious preference?' I was tempted to say, I think Buddhism is the coolest of all, but I happen to be Jewish."

"My second impulse was to repeat what Jonah said when asked by the shipmates of his foundering skiff to identify himself: 'I am a Hebrew ma'am. And I fear the Lord, the God of Heaven, who made the sea and the dry land.' But that would surely have got me sent to psychiatry rather than X-ray. So I desisted."

"In ancient times, they asked, 'Who is your God?' A generation ago they asked your religion. Today your creed is a preference. Preference? 'I take my coffee black, my wine red, my sex straight and my shirts lightly starched. Oh yes, and put me down for Islam.'"

According to Chesterton [I assume he means Gilbert Keith Chesterton the English poet and novelist and devout Catholic] tolerance is the virtue of people who do not believe in anything. Chesterton meant that as a critique of tolerance. But it captures nicely the upside of unbelief: where religion is trivialized, one is unlikely to find persecution. When it is believed that on your religion hangs the fate of your immortal soul, the Inquisition follows easily; when it is believed that religion is a breezy consumer preference, religious tolerance flourishes easily. After all, we don't persecute people for their taste in cars. Why for their taste in Gods? Krauthammer gives a recent example: When presidential aid Sidney Blumenthal called Whitewater prosecutor Hickman Ewing a "religious fanatic"--Ewing's sins against secularism include daily prayer, membership in a fundamentalist church and a sincere belief in God--it caused barely a ripple in the press. He later apologized for his remark under Republican party pressure to do so. When Ewing was defended by associates they defended him by saying, "His open Christian faith, they insist, is left at the prosecutorial door."

Krauthammer sees this as "an interesting form of exoneration." He concludes, "Believers may serve in the public arena only if they check their belief at the office door." At a time when religion is a preference and piety is a form of eccentricity suggesting fanaticism, Chesterton needs revision: tolerance is not just the virtue of people who do not believe in anything; tolerance extends only to people who don't believe in anything. Believe in something and beware. You may not warrant presidential-level attack, but you'll make yourself suspect should you dare "enter the naked public square."

Charles 'Buddy' Whatley

Majac Touch: "A Christian Communications Company"


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