Wednesday, September 8, 2010

A Friendly Warning to "Non Theists"

Don't believe in God? Join the club.
A million New Yorkers are good without God. Are you?
Are you good without God? Millions are.
Don't believe in God? You are not alone.

These messages on billboards are stirring up a great deal of conversation. They have been railed against, complained about, and in several cases defaced by “Christians”. I can't help noticing that while the intent is just the opposite, one word is the common theme between them, “God”.

The billboards and bus ad campaign they are a part of is being run by United COR. The Coalition of Reason is a loosely knit group of “nontheist” organizations across the United States. They claim there is no intent toward causing controversy, they are simply letting us all know that they are there, that they exist. They say they are hoping to attract more un-believers to join their club.

They had better watch out. They just might get their wish. As a man who has grown up in and around all sorts of Churches my entire life, I would send them a warning, beware institutionalization, it will kill your message.

Here's what I mean. As long as you remain a loosely knit band of individuals with a common bond you are free to believe as you always have, free to carry out your life mission with little outside interference. But once you have hung out the proverbial “shingle” that's when the jello hits the fan.

Take the Christian Church for instance. For the first two or three centuries everything went along pretty much as planned. Oh, sure there was the odd stoning now and then and the whole “feeding Christians to the lions” thing was kind of a bummer, but all-in-all the Church was a huge success. They had nearly completed the great commission when they got in bed with Rome and became an institution, Church buildings, professional clergy, worship on Sundays and the veneration of the saints were just a few of the upgrades that Roman Emperor Constantine brought to the table.

What had once been a thriving, flourishing, life giving community now became something to be reckoned with, a political and social juggernaut, complete with all that that entails. Now they had real power that was recognized in the real world, by governments ans stuff, not just “God”.

What the “non theists” have in their favor now and what the early Church had going for it was the ability to live out their faith, or lack thereof, in reasonable anonymity, making converts on a one-on-one basis and sharing life together. This organic approach resembled almost nothing of what the modern church has become.

The modern Church spends most of her time responding to whatever the world is up to. We support this or that political movement, we hiss and boo at Quran burners, we wave our flags and “support the troops”. We are very relevant to the culture around us, which we are learning to welcome with open arms. We have standing in our communities, many of our leaders are respected for their political insight. We have a position on just about everything, we have to, its expected, people are gonna ask.

What we don't have is a plan to share the gospel with the hurting in our communities. We spend so much time figuring out how to cammouflauge it so that they will swallow it without knowing that we have little time left for actual interaction. We are caught up in programming and “worship experiences”...

And its beginning to catch up to the un-believers too. Already the “non theists” are classifying themselves with a list of denominations. According to there are many groups that are a part of their network:

Ethical Culturists
Free Thinkers
Unitarian Universalists, to name a few.

They have already established non-profit status and have three full time members “On staff”. What's next? I suspect, as is the nature of human institutions, that these “free thinkers” are not as free as they might think. Before too long, business owners will grow weary of them meeting in their coffee shops, and even the hardiest members will resent the coffee stains on their living room sofas, and they, like many before them will be looking for a permanent home. All the while their agenda will be forming, from loose and free to "focused" and "effective".

Once this happens, more staff will be the likely outcome. Jobs need rules and once those are written there will need to be someone to enforce them, not to mention that the heads of organizations rarely submit to rules that their members are not also asked to abide by. Before you know it they will have their own “orders of worship” if you will. It is only a short step from here to needing to establish an “orthodoxy”, print bumper stickers and T-shirts and start their own counterculture music industry to support their non-ministry. In short, they are in danger of losing their organic, homespun, community and becoming a “church” complete with heretics who speak out against their “doctrine”.

Misery loves company as they say! The more the merrier! Just don't say we didn't warn you. Look on the bright side, since Mormons are now "christians" (Glenn Beck) I'm sure we can eventually make room for you too. It won't be too long before your best and brightest speakers can share that spotlight and rake in some of the easy pickin's in the televangelist game. Welcome to the neighborhood. What kind of childrens' programs do you guys offer?


Brannon said...

I really enjoyed reading this. Then by happy coincidence, my enjoyment doubled when I saw the contextual ad that I could "Meet Mormon Singles in My Area." LOL.

Also, one good turn deserves another. ;)

Mark R. Morris, Jr said...

Yeah I noticed that. They rotate. But if people want to really educate themselves about Mormonism, it is better to go straight to the source.