Some, including some friends, celebrate the rise of “Nones” – those who are atheist, agnostic, or those who belong to no formal/traditional religion. Church attendance has fallen below 50%. Perhaps in a light-hearted way, they may poke the Bible as a collection of fairy tales or they observe Christians that align themselves with hateful rhetoric, even promoting a “holy” war.
I despise the hatred and violence, but perhaps we should be careful what we wish for. As Muslim Shadi Hamid points out in The Atlantic:
… if secularists hoped that declining religiosity would make for more rational politics, drained of faith’s inflaming passions, they are likely disappointed. As Christianity’s hold, in particular, has weakened, ideological intensity and fragmentation have risen. American faith, it turns out, is as fervent as ever; it’s just that what was once religious belief has now been channeled into political belief….This is what religion without religion looks like.
Like it or not, I think most people put their faith in something or someone. Hence, as Minnesotan Bob Dylan sang, you “gotta serve somebody.”
This Easter season, for me it is still about Christ.
For one, it is difficult to leave behind a faith which led to my own story. While carrying me, my mother was diagnosed with terminal cancer, without hope. Her life and my life were intertwined. She went home from the hospital and prayed, and, when she died, 33 years later, it was due to heart failure, not cancer. Her faith defied reason.
I find encouragement from verses like one from Hebrews: “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” Singing or hearing a worship song can lift me in moments of darkness.
In Jesus, I find an amazing life to follow. Some Christian leaders justify rebellion and violence based on one incident when he overturned tables in the temple. Once. But he was angry that the house of prayer had become a place of profit. Even now we have some pastors who parade in $3,000 sneakers, buying $10 million mansions.
More commonly, I find a model in someone who practiced unconditional love. No quid pro quo. He led without seeking political power. He upheld principles established in the Hebrew Bible, like the Proverbs direction to “Open your mouth for the mute, for the rights of all who are destitute. Open your mouth, judge righteously, defend the rights of the poor and needy.”
Indeed, in reading scholar Henry Louis Gates’ fine book "The Black Church," he emphasizes the teachings on justice, compassion and freedom that inspired Blacks, under slavery and Jim Crow. I was fascinated to learn European American slaveowners initially resisted teaching Christianity to Black slaves. Gates writes that slave owners, “[A]rgued that religious equality would breed social equality and that Christianity would only motivate enslaved persons to rebel.” Equality was a threat. They only relented by observing Bible verses on obedience, and then forbade slaves from reading at all. But Black slaves found a way, examining, even in secret, the story of Israelites fleeing Egyptian slavery, and through singing songs of deliverance.
My pastor asked us what Easter means to us. I mentioned “hope” and “victory over darkness.” For me, Easter marks a faith in a God who is valuable to serve.
Interested in a broad range of issues, including social and faith issues, Brickner serves as a regular contributor to the Forum’s opinion page. She is a retired English instructor, having taught in Michigan and Minnesota.