Update: please wait for the conclusion of this series before labeling me a wacko. This is part 1– and not the final conclusion on the matter.
The horrors of humanity never seem very far from the headlines—whether contemporary or historical.
Headline #1: Last week, George Clooney made another trip to Darfur, Sudan in his role as a goodwill ambassador for the United Nations. His increasingly bold comments about the genocide that continues in that region caused someone in the UN to pull his security detail and leave him vulnerable in a war zone.
Headline #2: Tensions between the Vatican and the Jewish community worldwide have heightened since Pope Benedict XVI reinstated Bishop Richard Williamson, a priest who has consistently denied that the Holocaust took place, said that no Jews died in the gas chambers and that, in fact, the Jews made up the Holocaust. It didn’t help when an Italian priest of the same order made similar comments a week later.
Even in a world where morality has gone increasingly soft and truth is often relativized, there remains a certain revulsion against genocide. Genocide—the systematic, intentional eradication of a people on the basis of race, ethnicity, belief, politics or other trait—is still a horror in people’s minds. It flies in the face of universal principles of human dignity, freedom and more.
But genocide is not just about getting rid of a people; it can also apply to ideas and beliefs. Now that is not the same as, for instance, the gradual advance of civil rights for African-Americans. The loss of bigotry and racism is not genocide; it is the victory of a moral right It is also not the same as when one political philosophy advances over another; that is simply the ebb and flow of politics in a free society.
The genocide of an idea happens when there is a broad movement to remove it from the larger conversation in the marketplace of ideas. And there is some clear evidence that a sort of theological genocide is happening to the ideas of Biblical and evangelical Christianity in the West.
Now, I know that seems incendiary and probably paranoid, so let me explain. Here’s some evidence to consider:
+ The latest edition of the Oxford Junior Dictionary (for children aged 7-9) has removed several terms associated with Christianity. One account noted that “crucial words used to describe these traditional topics have been stripped…. in favour of more ‘modern’ terms.” One analyst compared six editions over the past thirty years and noted that there seems to have been an intentional purging of words related to Christianity.
What words have been removed? Pentecost, carol, abbey, altar, bishop, chapel, christen, disciple, monk, nun, pew, saint and yes, even sin. A concerned parent said, “’Children can be so easily manipulated when they’re learning things – if they don’t come across these words at a young age they’re never going to use them.” A priest noted “’I think as well as being descriptive, the Oxford Junior Dictionary has to be prescriptive too, suggesting not just words that are used but words that should be used.”
Why did the editors make those choices? “The environment has changed. We are more multicultural. People don’t go to church as often as before.” In the place of these words, the editors added words like broadband, blog, database, biodegradable, vandalism and euro. Those apparently reflect the current state of society more accurately.
Why all the fuss about words? It’s a basic principle of public relations. If you want to control something, control the language. When you change the language, you change the course of the conversation. If you take words out of play altogether, they become archaic and irrelevant. If words are irrelevant, the subject is irrelevant. So, if this continues, both sin and saints that avoid it are irrelevant, as is the God who gives both their definition.
+ Numerous studies have begun in the past few years to explain religion as an expression of biology and of brain function. The European Union is investing over $3 million in a study called Explaining Religion— exploring biological reasons for why people believe in God and religion in general. One article on the study notes,
Religion cries out for a biological explanation. It is a ubiquitous phenomenon—arguably one of the species markers of Homo sapiens—but a puzzling one. It has none of the obvious benefits of that other marker of humanity, language. Nevertheless, it consumes huge amounts of resources. Moreover, unlike language, it is the subject of violent disagreements. Science has, however, made significant progress in understanding the biology of language, from where it is processed in the brain to exactly how it communicates meaning. Time, therefore, to put religion under the microscope as well.
At the same time, there is the ongoing search (see here,and here) for the so-called “God particle” (officially called the Higgs boson). In simple terms, this is the one particle that is supposed to be the singular force that holds all matter together, that gives fundamental particles their mass. As such, it may explain the origin of everything that exists.
On the one hand this can be simply dismissed as the inquisitive ravings of geeks who think in physics equations. On the other hand, one of those researchers observed, “As science explains more and more, there is less and less need for religious explanations. Originally, in the history of human beings, everything was mysterious. Fire, rain, birth, death, all seemed to require the action of some kind of divine being. As time has passed, we have explained more and more in a purely naturalistic way. This doesn’t contradict religion, but it does takes away one of the original motivations for religion.” Note how very quickly we cross the thin line between science and faith.
Similar studies with similar background biases have been applied to prayer, meditation and all manners of belief. The idea seems to be that there must be some reason that rational human beings would choose to believe in God, act like faith works and engage in religious behavior. Some reason beyond the fact that it might actually be genuine. So, because since the Enlightenment, science has been the ascendant authority in the West, everything must find its reason under the rubric of science. If something is outside science, it is outside reason and if outside reason, it has no validity. Thus, faith has no objective validity; it is a merely subjective quirk.
Now, if faith is removed from our everyday language and is dismissed as silly in our definitions of what matters, it’s not long before it disappears altogether from the fabric of our society. And it seems systemic and intentional. We may be on the front edge of the genocide of the Christian idea in the West.
Please do not confuse these observations with talk of engaging the cultural war, values voting and product boycotts. It’s much, much, much larger. More in part 2.