Saturday, February 28, 2009

Society Without God

I just finished reading "Society Without God" by Phil Zuckerman. Although a very repetitive book, it provides some useful insight into how "secular" people view religion, and, without the author fully understanding, how "secular" people confuse true Christian with Civic Religion. Of course, many Christians confuse real Christianity with Civic Religion as well, so there needs to be even more grace for those who are completely separated from God and lack understanding. Obviously, it's a deceptive topic.

Apparently Sweden has a national church of which people can pay taxes and become a member. Any person who truly follows Christ sees an obvious problem with that (many people who like organizations such as Vision Forum probably don't). However, it is apparent that the Swedes have bought into their own version of Civic Religion, just as many in America have, and that the Swedes have brought it to it's ultimate outcome: death. Sweden, despite it's national church, is a completely secular nation.

What was interesting to me in reading the book, was the outlook of the Swedes towards Christianity. None of them had a clue as to what Christianity was, including the author, and yet they were convinced that they did. In fact, by definition, someone could be a Christian, even if they didn't believe that Jesus was the son of God!

Some of the rather humorous things I found in the book were:

1) The belief that believing in an afterlife meant not investing in this life. I find that so humorous because the entire reason I am able to lay down my life in service to others and to give up material possessions is because I am confident that there will be an afterlife! An afterlife frees me to focus on what is truly important (relationships) and not concern myself with accumulating wealth or meeting my selfish desires. The great benefit to that is that the more I have laid down my life for others, the more joy that I've had. That's probably because, as I said, the knowledge of an afterlife frees me from focusing on the wrong things.

2) The belief that life is meaningless or that believing life is meaningless will give an individual a full life. Okay, I read the entire chapter on this and didn't know if I should laugh or cry. I'm just so glad that I'm not there! I guess a meaningless life is okay if you find enough ways to inoculate yourself against the aimlessness and isolation.

3) The belief that every Christian believes the exact same thing about the Bible, how to interpret the Bible, and how to apply the Bible. What a misconception! Obviously, this author didn't talk with enough Christians (or even Civic Religion followers) to get a complete grasp of the role of the Bible in Christianity.

4) Unbeknownst to them, the bulk of the "good" in their society is based on Christ's teachings. In fact, one guy actually said something to the effect of "I was taught don't do something to other people you wouldn't want done to you." Hmmm.... As my wise husband pointed out, Swedes claiming that they can have a "good society without god" would be like John Rockefeller's descendants writing a book about how you can be rich without working.

While I get very frustrated with American Civic Religion and I can't stand how Christianity gets mixed with patriotism and politics, I'm thankful that I live in a country where there is still some passion, some life and some desire for purpose. As Zuckerman described Sweden, I couldn't help but think of the novel "The Giver". It sounded like a society where everyone was taking their pill in order to not see color, not have "urges" and just go about their business. Not messy, but not too full of life either. I'm sure that that picture is not completely accurate, but it certainly is not ever going to be America. We are far too diverse of a culture to ever all think the same, and being the same appears to be, from reading this book, a necessary aspect to success in Sweden.

"Society without God" was certainly worth reading, or at least skimming, as it strikes me as a prophetic telling of where our nation is spiritually headed.

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