I am a patriotic American. I believe in the United States, in the Bill of Rights, and in the principle that all humans should be created with equal opportunity. I still get choked up when I hear I'm Proud to be an American, and I love to hear songs and read poems that extol what a great country we live in and how blessed we are in every way. I also believe that the lesson of history in America is an apologetic for the Christian system that is still being developed. In my lifetime, I have seen that apologetic be fulfilled in a positive way, and now it appears it may be verified in a negative way.
As a senior in high school, I faced a rather pessimistic future. The Korean Conflict was in full swing, and most high school graduates could count on being drafted as soon as the ink on their diplomas was dry. I remember vividly an argument that erupted among my classmates at one point when the class pessimist pointed out that resisting Russian Communism was an exercise in futility. The Russian leader Kruschev had vowed "we will bury you" to the American public, and our pessimistic classmate had no doubt but that the promise would be fulfilled. Waving at the map of the Soviet Union, he pointed out that the Russians had it all. In that vast land with much more oil, iron, water, etc., than the United States would ever think of having, there was no way that anyone or anything could prevent the Russians from conquering the world. Margaret Thatcher, the former leader of Great Britain, summarized it beautifully in a recent speech when she said, "If resources were the key to wealth, the richest country in the world would be Russia, because it has abundant supplies of everything from oil, gas, platinum, gold, silver, aluminum, and copper to timber, water, wildlife, and fertile soil."*
One of my classmates and close friends was a strong, forceful young man named Mackey. Mackey became a career soldier in the United States armed forces and, when he heard this prophesy of doom, his response was, "Yeah, but they're Russians and we're Americans and that makes a difference." This was followed by Winifred, who was quietly into religion, who said, "Yeah, God is on our side." As an atheist, I was not going to buy into that explanation, and suddenly I found myself on the negative side of an issue that I really could not answer to my own satisfaction. By any human standard of logic, Russia should have overpowered and destroyed the entire free world, and yet even in the 1960s and 1970s when I talked to students from Russia, it was obvious that things were not going well in their homeland. It is not my contention that God has rained down fire on the Russian people because of the atheist state that controlled them for so long any more than I believe that God sent AIDS to punish the homosexual. It is my contention that choices in lifestyle--morally, politically, and socially--have all kinds of consequences. I believe that these consequences are a powerful argument for the validity of the Bible and thus for the existence of God.
Margaret Thatcher, in the speech mentioned earlier, gave an eloquent statement of the importance of the spirit of man being free: "Why isn't Russia the wealthiest country in the world? Why aren't other resource-rich countries in the Third World at the top of the list? It is because their governments deny citizens the liberty to use their God-given talents. Man's greatest resource is himself, but he must be free to use that resource."*
Any system that enslaves the human spirit is doomed to failure. Force never works in subjugating any human to a cause, and that is true religiously as well as politically. Atheists are always quick to point out that some of the greatest atrocities in the annals of history have been perpetrated upon innocent people in the name of Jesus Christ. This cannot be denied but, like the political systems they copied, these oppressive religious systems have either already died or are in the process of dying. They represent christianity, not Christianity.
The difference between christianity and Christianity involves exactly what we have been describing. When Jesus taught people how to live, his admonitions were totally at odds with what christianity has done. Jesus said:
When these practices have been taught and practiced in schools, politics, and in all community activities, the result has been prosperity. America was a country of high moral integrity--even puritanically so, during its period of greatest growth and strength.
Another major difference between christianity and Christianity is the freedom of the individual to approach God. Christianity is not a spectator sport, nor is it a system of rites and rituals conducted by a select clergy. When I am told to do something by another person who is claimed to be spiritually superior and when that same spiritually superior person is totally in charge of and in control of worship and approach to God, then I become a spectator. This tends to strangle me spiritually just by its structure; but when I see that the spiritually superior person has flaws and weaknesses too, I am very likely to reject the whole system and God with it.
In the past, when America was primarily an agrarian society and people were close to the land and in direct contact with nature, there was a individual spiritual closeness with God. People were reinforced in their faith because they saw the majesty of God in the stars and in all of life. Romans 1:20 was confirmed and Psalm 19:1 was real. A person could have an unsatisfactory experience religiously on Sunday and still be reinforced in his relation to God as he spent the better part of his waking hours during the week in close proximity to the natural world. This produced people with strong moral convictions and integrity. As America has become urbanized, this closeness to the natural world has diminished; and, as people have been more focused on things and more dependent upon other people, there has been less and less spiritual reinforcement. As religious leaders have struggled to deal with this, there has been a growing dependency on entertainment and gimmicks. In addition to this, these leaders themselves have become more interested in showmanship and less committed to a strong spiritual character. This has caused more and more leaders to fail morally, further compounding the problem.
As Christianity has diminished and christianity with its frills and gimmicks has become dominant, logical natural consequences have taken place. The family has disintegrated, aberrant lifestyles have developed, and any form of morality that maintains that there are absolutes of right and wrong has been systematically purged from our politics, our schools, our courts, and our businesses. The number of cases of government persecution of anyone with religious beliefs that are expressed publicly is growing at an astronomical rate. American society is not only charging headlong into being an anti-religion police state, but we are very close to being totally amoral (without morals of any kind).
How can all of this be an apologetic for the teachings of the Bible? We have already seen that, when America emphasized freedom of all people and promoted morality based upon individual rights, it prospered. No one who has lived through this last century needs to be told how much change there has been. From communities where you never locked your door or worried about something left out being stolen, we now have locks and electronic security devices on everything that can be moved and even our computer software. Our lack of sexual morality has turned sexual activity into a mosaic of every kind of indulgence imaginable and some that are unimaginable. God has warned us repeatedly that our conduct will bring logical results--"Whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap."
If America continues its slide into atheism, christianity instead of Christianity, and a refusal to maintain any national moral character, the promise of the Bible will be fulfilled. As in the past, we will see waves of disease sweep across the land, with AIDS being perhaps the first wave followed by even more destructive infections. Instead of being a world leader, America will fall in the shadow of other nations with more resources and a willingness to adopt a strong morality--even if rooted in a false prophet who gives that strong moral code. As we become more selfish and self-centered, our social institutions will fail and we will see a drift into a state-run society.
These are not predictions of what will happen; these are observations of what has been the lesson of history. In Sir Edward Gibbon's book The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Gibbons says that the Romans wanted security more than anything else. They lost everything because "they wanted not to give to society, but for society to give to them. The freedom they were seeking was freedom from responsibility." Being moral means being responsible for your actions. America today is showing the results of not following the biblical pattern. As we drift further and further away from the pattern, things will get worse and worse. This is being proven on a daily basis. When--locally or nationally--there is a return to the biblical system, things will improve.
I am optimistic that this apologetic is so clear that vast numbers of people in this country will see it. Already, many parents are refusing to allow schools to promote immorality and force atheism upon their children. There even appears to be a rare politician that lives morally and stands for positive standards of right and wrong. We are going to see bad times and good times, and these experiences will be a direct function of how closely we follow God's teachings. What we sow does indeed control what we reap.
*"The Moral Foundations of Society," by Margaret Thatcher, Imprimis, Hillsdale College, Hillsdale, MI, page 4.