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Regis Nicoll Christian Blog and Commentary

Regis Nicoll

Regis Nicoll's weblog

Some years ago, I told a friend that I had visited a local evangelical church. Unhesitatingly, he remarked, “Oh, you mean that homophobic church!”

While such remarks reveal a lack of understanding about Church teachings, I can see why some people make them. It’s because of something I call, “selective tolerance.”

While Christians are known for their high regard for scripture, their acceptance of certain behaviors at odds with that standard has not gone unnoticed. As Anglican cleric Robert Hart has noted, “[Christians] have become more and more accepting of sexual relations that fall far below Christian belief in chastity, to the point where many churches accept unmarried couples, as long as they are not homosexual.”

Sadly, selective tolerance encompasses much more than acquiescence toward heterosexual immorality. Moral silence on various forms of self-indulgence, pride, gluttony and other “socially acceptable” sins has allowed Christians to remain in a spiritual orbit overlapping that of their secular neighbors, while the moral voice of the Church has dampened to a murmur

How did it come to this?

The Supreme Virtue
One factor is the desire to measure ourselves by looking around rather than up. We believe that a loving God would not condemn a majority of mankind to eternal destruction; so, we set our sights on the righteous midpoint—or maybe just a smidgeon above it.

Instead of looking to Jesus to become holy as he is holy, we look to our neighbor. If our sins are not too different than his, we can chill. If they are, we can either work ourselves up to the moral mean or assuage ourselves by what is legally permissible. In fact, civil law has been an effective tool in “defining deviancy down.”

Within a generation after Roe v. Wade, the number of abortions increased 30 percent. During the same timeframe, “no-fault” legislation helped skyrocket the divorce rate by a factor of two, affecting nearly half of all marriages. The de-criminalization of homosexual sodomy and the legalization same-sex “marriage” and assisted suicide continue the tradition of normalizing what were once considered deviant behaviors.

Another factor is cynicism. As noted by George Barna and others, belief in unchanging moral truth is held by a waning number of Christians. I’ve had Christians tell me that Jesus lovingly accepted everyone and wasn’t too particular about moral absolutes. It is a strange argument regarding someone who claimed to be the way, the truth, and the life.

However, the rejection of absolutes is never absolute. As the acid of cynicism dissolves the obelisk of objective truth into relativistic rubble, one spire remains: tolerance—the supreme virtue in a “live and let live” world that keeps seven billion “sovereigns” from mutual destruction.

An Insidious Ruse
Tolerance means that any biblical passage can be trumped by sincerity and goodness. As long as a person is sincere and lives an otherwise upright life, his lifestyle choices should be free from criticism or correction. Through that moral lens, even “loving neighbor as self” takes on a twisted shape. Continue reading here.

Has someone ever told you that you are perfect just the way you are? It’s a lie. Ask actor Chris Pratt who told a crowd at the MTV Movie Awards, “You are imperfect. You always will be.” And deep down we know it. Every time we feel a twinge of guilt, shame, or plain misgiving over something we’ve said or done we betray a gnawing sense that we are not what we should be.

So what to do?

Fixing Us
According to folks who take naturalism seriously, we are creations of Nature by biochemical processes that direct our thoughts, beliefs, and behaviors along deterministic paths amenable to scientific investigation, prediction, and intervention.

Richard Dawkins has gone as far as to claim that we are genetic robots mechanically responding to the “desires” of selfish genes. Such thinking motivates the ongoing efforts to discover the genetic “causes” for sexual preference and bio-physical “remedies” for anti-social behaviors and mental illness.

For example, education advocate Stacey DeWitt credits Darwinian processes for child bullying, as does psychologist David Buss for adultery. Dr. Thomas Insel, director of the National Institute of Mental Health, attributes “faulty circuits” in the brain for depression and various mood disorders.

Insel muses that treating mental illness may be “akin to ‘rebooting’ a computer that has become frozen.” His expectation is that our “science-based understanding of mental illness very likely will revolutionize prevention and treatment.”

In the “machine view” of human nature, improving the human condition is a matter of treating defective parts, scientifically and impersonally.

Against that view are a couple of Duke University neuroscientists. In 2010 Drs. Terrie Moffitt and Avshalom Caspi received an award for their research on the influences of genes and environment on human behavior. The summary of their key finding is that “you can’t choose your genes, but you face many choices in life which can determine how those genes will play out.” (Emphasis added.)

The late Bill Wilson would agree.

Wilson was a hardened atheist and struggling alcoholic who was frequently hospitalized for his addiction. It was during his fourth hospital stay that Wilson, at the end of himself, raised his voice in desperation, “If there be a God, let him show himself!”

Wilson would later say of the experience: “Suddenly my room blazed with an indescribably white light… I was seized with an ecstasy beyond description. Every joy I had known was pale by comparison.”

The following day a friend and recovering alcoholic convinced Wilson that surrendering to God was the only thing that could emancipate him from the grip of the bottle. That became the vision for the organization Bill Wilson founded over 75 years ago, Alcoholics Anonymous (AA).

Success Secrets
At the core of AA’s method is its “12-Step” program. Of the program, addiction-specialist Drew Pinsky states, “In my 20 years of treating addicts, I’ve never seen anything else that comes close to the 12 steps,” adding, “In my world, if someone says they don’t want to do the 12 steps, I know they aren’t going to get better.”

While the 12-Step program has been credited by millions of addicts for saving theirs lives, its effectiveness is a mystery to many observers.

Against our “science-based understanding, there is the acknowledgement of a higher Power, God.

Against the culture of self-esteem and personal power, there’s the call for surrender to God and change through submission and prayer.

Against the view of man as a genetic machine, there’s the requirement to acknowledge and confess moral failures and make amends to those hurt.

Against go-it-alone individualism, AA is a community of “one-anothers” built on trust, accountability, and mentoring.

Another organization has remarkably similar features: surrendering to God, confessing our sins, reconciling with our neighbor, growing in maturity through the spiritual disciplines, and fellowship in the community of faith. And, like AA, many of its members credit those “steps” with their salvation not only in the here-and-now, but in the yet-to-come. Continue reading here.

The recent spate of suicides by the rich and famous is a symptom of our growing sense of gloom. We enjoy social, technological, and economic conditions that would have been considered utopian less than a century ago. Yet, unhappiness, and even depression, are at record levels. Why?

In his impressively researched book, The Progress Paradox, Gregg Easterbrook observes that by every measure of well-being, our generation is better off than any of our forbearers. We enjoy more leisure time with better health, less air pollution, higher levels of education, higher per-capita income, and greater personal and civil liberties than at any other time in history.

Even compared to the halcyon 1950s, our generation has it better in terms of real income, home and car ownership, not to mention morbidity, mortality, education, environmental quality, and the fair treatment of minorities. Whereas, in the past, these benefits were limited to the rich and privileged, today they are realized by a wide spectrum of society. For example, in 1960, 22 percent of Americans lived under the poverty line, compared to 12.7 percent in 2016.

All these material measures should add up to an increased sense of well-being. But they don’t. Instead, the incidence of depression has skyrocketed (up to one thousand times higher) since the Halcyon Decade.

Gloominess in an age of unprecedented progress is a paradox in need of an explanation. Continue reading here.