Friday, December 23, 2011

Evicting the Sacred by Ravi Zacharias

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Dear Friend,

To repress worship is to repress the irrepressible.

Everyone is a worshipper. Every person has his or her God: The only difference is that some can defend what they believe with sound reasons while others do so in a vacuum. Not only individuals but nations have their gods.

I am an Indian, born and raised in India. Before I moved to the West I readily accepted the fact that during Hindu festivals the nation would be celebrating the occasion. This was understood, even though technically India is a secular democracy. But there is an underlying worldview behind the culture. Whether it was Ganesh puja or Diwali, India celebrates its festivals based in a Hindu worldview.

I am not a Hindu but I respect the Hindu's right to express the foundational ideas of the nation. The same applies to a Buddhist nation or to an Islamic nation. I am neither a Buddhist nor a Muslim. But I respect the right of those in these countries to express their faith during their festivals and am not offended by them.

I am a Christian. When I came to America decades ago, I was thrilled to see Christmas celebrated and the reason for the season so obvious: the birth of Jesus Christ. Did I assume that every American was thus a Christian? Certainly not. But I expected the charitable heart of even the dissenter to allow that which has been practiced in this country historically and traditionally to continue. But alas, it is not so. In Thailand and Indonesia Christmas carols are sung in shopping centers and Christmas trees adorn airports. But in America the anti-Christian bias of silly advertisements like Bloomingdales' "Merry, Happy, Love, Peace" reflect ideas firmly planted in midair and proclaim no reason for the season.

Who is offended by a public celebration of Christmas? The anti-Christian secularist who lives under the illusion that values are cradled in a vacuum. Peace and love for what? What do these terms really mean? Are they self-evident? Not by any means.

America may not be a Christian nation per se, but only the Judeo-Christian worldview could have framed such a nation's ideas and values: "All men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights." No other religion or secular assumption can affirm such a statement except the Judeo-Christian worldview. But today that very worldview on which our systems of government and law are based is expelled from the marketplace.

Democracies that are unhinged from all sacred moorings ultimately sink under the brute weight of conflicting egos. Freedom is destroyed not just by its retraction, but more often by its abuse.

Is it not odd that whenever it has power, liberalism is anything but liberal, both in the area of religion and politics? We now have something called "spirituality" because people don't like the word "religion." What does spirituality mean? It means you may believe anything you wish to believe but regarding ultimate things, "No absolutes, please." The relativism and spirituality with which our society lives have one thing in common: they are both sophisticated ways of self-worship.

It is not accidental that even as Christian values have been jettisoned, the world is economically and morally on the verge of bankruptcy. Oh, but Jesus' name still surfaces in the West. Maybe more often than any other name. Why? Because profanity still reigns. Oh yes, and God still figures in our philosophy: even when "Mother Earth" quakes and thousands die, we still blame "Father God." The banishment of Christmas may be the anti-theists' great longing. But they still want the gifts of Christmas—love, joy, peace and reason. Malcolm Muggeridge once opined that we have educated ourselves into imbecility.

What are we celebrating at Christmas? What is the message of Christmas? It is the birth of the One who promised peace, joy and love. Try as we will, we cannot realize such values without acknowledging the point of reference for these absolutes: the very person of God and his gift to us of a changed heart and will. That message needs to be heard around our world that is reeling with problems and rife with hate. For we have proven we are not fit to be God.

G.K. Chesterton was right: "The problem with Christianity is not that it has been tried and found wanting, but that it has been found difficult and left untried."

Some years ago, I walked into the Forbidden City in Beijing. It was a cold and grey January. I paused as I saw deep inside its walls a shop with the banner still fluttering, "Merry Christmas." That which was happily displayed in the Forbidden City is now all but forbidden in our cities. A Chinese professor once remarked to me, "You Christians need to thank God for Communism, because we left the souls of our people empty, making room for the gospel."

Maybe someday we will thank the rabid secularists as well, when Merry Christmas will no longer be forbidden in our cities. Exhausted and disappointed in self-worship, we may turn to God again and hear his story afresh.

Ravi explores these issues in greater depth in his forthcoming book, Why Jesus? available January 25, 2012.

God bless you dear friends.


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