By Dr. Jim Denison
Imagine receiving $1.2 million in your brokerage account as the result of a clerical error. What would you do?
Here’s what Kelyn Spadoni of suburban New Orleans allegedly did: she refused to return the funds, moving them instead into a different account so the bank could not reclaim them, then used some of the money to buy a new car and a house. She has been taken into custody and was fired from her job as a dispatcher for the Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office. So far, about 75 percent of the money has been recovered.
Her story is a parable for a secular society that is spending the cultural “funds” we received from our Judeo-Christian heritage but refuses to acknowledge our debt. This refusal is growing more serious and damaging by the day.
For example, the Supreme Court ruled last Friday that California cannot bar meetings of more than three families from worshipping in a private home. According to the Wall Street Journal, “the decision is the fifth time the Court has overruled the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals on pandemic orders against worship, as an exasperated majority points out.” The Journal editorial adds: “The willfulness of the lower courts in defying the High Court underscores how much religious liberty needs protecting against the militant secular values that now dominate American public life.”
Many secularists think religious liberty is about the right to be wrong, an appeal to an outdated constitutional mandate that protected what educated people now know to be superstition at best and dangerous prejudice at worse. As New York Times columnist Ross Douthat notes, many cultural elites are “committed to a moral vision that regards emancipated, self-directed choice as essential to human freedom and the good life.”
But we should ask: Does this “moral vision” work? Does it deliver what it promises? A fascinating article by a religious skeptic offers a perceptive answer.
“Life without fellowship and shared meaning”
John Harris is a columnist with the Guardian, a British publication, and a nonbeliever. He is also brutally honest about the results of his skepticism during the pandemic: “Like millions of other faithless people, I have not even the flimsiest of narratives to project on to what has happened, nor any real vocabulary with which to talk about the profundities of life and death.”
As an irreligious person, he believes that the value of religious community lies in community rather than religion, focusing on the way religious people sing, pray, and eat together. He asserts that “rediscovering things need not be a matter of finding God,” claiming that secular society can provide similar structures for dealing with society’s problems.
This is an understandable position for someone who does not know God, but it’s completely wrong. Harris doesn’t understand that Christians gather and serve in community because we know God and thus find unity in him and fellowship with each other. Our Savior empowers us to forgive each other, love each other, and serve with each other.
Imagine people standing along the walls of a room with a chair in the center. The closer they draw to the chair, the closer they draw to each other.
Harris concludes honestly: “For many of us, life without God has turned out to be life without fellowship and shared meaning—and in the midst of the most disorienting, debilitating crisis most of us have ever known, that social tragedy now cries out for action.”
“Whoever trusts in his own mind is a fool”
In recent days, I have been outlining a case for Christian optimism: (1) it is too soon to give up on God’s grace; (2) the risen Christ can do anything he has done before, including the transforming of our lives and culture; and (3) God’s ability to change our fallen world depends not on our capacities but on his.
Today, let’s add a fourth component: secularism inevitably fails to keep its promises, demonstrating our need for faith in a transcendent God.
A Gallup poll recently reported that socialism is as popular as capitalism among young adults in the US. Baby boomers, by contrast, prefer capitalism to socialism by 68 percent to 32 percent. That’s because we remember the decadence and corruption of the Soviet Union and other socialist states. Those who have lived in socialism are among its most ardent critics.
Having been to Cuba ten times, I can testify that socialism simply does not work. A system that excludes biblical truth and morality is a house built on sand (Matthew 7:26–27). Solomon issued a warning that is especially relevant to our culture today: “Whoever trusts in his own mind is a fool, but he who walks in wisdom will be delivered” (Proverbs 28:26).
An amazing fact for Ramadan
The inevitable decline and decay of secularism does not justify inaction on the part of Christians, since this slippery slope will claim many victims along the way. To the contrary, you and I need to intercede for our lost culture boldly and compassionately, knowing that every soul for whom we pray is someone for whom Jesus chose to die.
In fact, the greater the spiritual need, the more passionate our intercession should be. When Jesus saw that the people “were like sheep without a shepherd,” he “had compassion on them” and “began to teach them many things” (Mark 6:34). John asked, “If anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him?” (1 John 3:17).
Here’s the good news: when we pray for people to come to Christ, God works.
In light of the start of Ramadan yesterday, theologian Ed Stetzer reports that 84 percent of all Muslim movements to Christ in history have occurred during the last thirty years. He notes that this should not be surprising since the Muslim World Prayer Guide began thirty years ago. My friends at GFM Ministries have served more than two million Muslims and have led more than 348,000 into Christian discipleship. Their ministry begins with intercession for Muslims, then God shows them how to answer their prayers with their service.
Will you pray today for our secular culture to experience the spiritual renewal we need so desperately?
Will you pray for a secular person you know in the same way?
Will you ask God to use you to answer your prayer?