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Posts Tagged ‘Christian Values’

When I was in eighth grade at a Christian school, our teacher had us debate whether or not, as Christians, we should or shouldn’t read books like The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman.  The Golden Compass is part of a trilogy known as the Dark Materials series that is considered to have themes that are anti-Christian.  Many of my classmates had had parents who had forbidden them from reading the books or later from seeing the movie or had had similar experiences with other books.  Many people see the books as an attack on Christianity, Christian tradition, Christian values, and the Church. 

 

To my surprise, a large number of my classmates said that we shouldn’t read books like that.  The main argument that they had against them was this: it might cause us to question our faith. 

 

First, do we really think our faith is that weak and that fragile and we have so little faith in our own faith that reading the book will cause us to question all our religious beliefs?  Secondly, if reading a fiction book does cause us to question everything we believe, doesn’t that say that that faith wasn’t very strong in the first place?  And that maybe we should be questioning why our faith isn’t that strong?  Third, why is questioning always a bad thing?

 

To address the first part of this post which is censorship, I think that while some reasonable limits should be put on making sure that truly inappropriate literature does not find its way to young children, I think that in general that trying to shelter our children is a futile and often dangerous thing to do.  For instance, Laurie Halse Anderson’s book Speak portrays a girl dealing with the aftermath of a rape after a party.  It has been banned in many libraries.  I think though that while we would like our children not to know that these kind of things don’t happen, the fact is that they do, and that people need to understand this and be prepared to better protect themselves and their friends.  If the character in the book or one of her friends had had more awareness she might have been saved a lot of pain.  People should be allowed to freedom to read.  After a certain point they should have a degree of autonomy over what literary content they choose to digest.  Most of the best literary works have been banned at some point or another. 

 

The second issue at play here is questioning.  I’ve noticed that a number of Christians seem to fear questioning their faith.  While I can sympathize with wanting to avoid those periods of disorientation, isolation, doubt, and confusion, I think we can’t live in fear of them.  First of all, periods of doubt, particularly during difficult periods in our life, are inevitable for many of us.  Second of all, questioning is not always a bad thing.  Questioning can make our faith stronger, it can push away doubts, it is often vital to our faith.  Questioning strengthens us and real faith, faith that has a solid rock, is rooted in answering real and honest questions.  Religion means little if it does not answer the questions that we ask ourselves, if our questions about the universe, destiny, ourselves, humankind, are not found in our faith.  Much of the Old Testament is filled with prophets questioning God.  John questions Jesus in the New Testament.  Periods of doubts in our faith are part of our faith journeys.  I gave a sermon on this earlier in the year at my church (if anyone’s interested I can post it here at another time).  Jesus himself experienced moments of doubts.  If Jesus, supposedly our perfect example, had doubts, why are we ashamed of them?  Doubts are a natural part and they are not a sign of being a bad Christian, I believe that periods of doubts and questioning are part of God’s plan for us.  Instead of discouraging our children not to question, or to fear these periods of questioning, we should support them in their questions and try to provide what answers we can give and encourage them to find their own.  We have little faith in our own faith if we continually fear it being torn down.

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I remember sitting with my friend one day, looking at amazon book reviews and for some reason we were on Harry Potter.  To my surprise, multiple of the reviews were bashing the series for its inclusion of magic and “satanic symbols” and one even went so-far as to call J. K. Rowling a witch.  A percentage of people seem to think that the use of magic in a book, by filing it under the fantasy genre, that somehow it is now irreconcilable with Christianity, that the two are polar opposites that belong in two separate worlds and hold nothing in common.  However, I frankly think the opposite, that one can find in the Harry Potter books many Christian teachings and corner pieces of Christian theology and in Harry a modern Jesus figure.

 

In the final battle, Harry discovers that he must die because a piece of Lord Voldemort’s soul is attached to his own and therefore Voldemort can never be defeated without his own death.  Just like Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, Harry knows that even though he is afraid and wishes that there was a different route, he still knows that there is only one choice and one path for him to take.  He goes willingly to be killed, just as Jesus was willingly killed on the cross.  Also, just as Jesus then rises again, Harry also comes back from the dead after spending a brief period of time in a limbo state.  In this, having gone willingly to be killed and then to be resurrected in a way, he parallels Jesus.  However, the real clincher of Harry as a Jesus figure is when it is revealed that because Harry went willingly to die and because he went for the sake of everyone he was leaving behind, he has therefore left a protection over everyone in the castle and Voldemort can no longer hurt them, he has sacrificed his life for them.

 

Love and love’s strength are focal points of the series.  It is this quality and an appreciation of love’s value that Lord Voldemort lacks, and also that Harry has in abundance.  It is his love, and his continuation to love in the face of horrible trauma, that Dumbledore says marks him as a remarkable person.  It is also the love of one to sacrifice themselves for another (Harry
with his friends, or Lily for Harry), just as Jesus’ love caused him to sacrifice himself for us.  Death also plays a significant piece in the books.  Lord Voldemort’s fear and paranoia of death is what causes him to create the Horcruxes, the focal point of the last book.  Harry’s willingness to meet death stands in stark contrast. Questions about the afterlife are also raised in the form of the Resurrection Stone.  Themes such as souls, power, goodness, innocence, et cetera all work throughout the book.

 

 

Harry Potter is not a perfect Christian allegory, it likely (though only the author can confirm or deny) was not written with that intent.  But it does ask the same universal questions that Christianity, along with most major religions, ask.  It also has many of the Christian themes, such as love and sacrifice, woven within it.  The Christian story, of Jesus’ sacrifice for humanity, can be found within its pages.  While Harry Potter is certainly an enjoyable, well-written, and entertaining story, it also is a story with depth for those who want to look and it is also a story that parents can use as an example to their children of what Christianity is all about.

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This book by Tony Campolo gives an view on much of the political and social issues of our time through the outlook of our Christian faith and Jesus’ teachings.  He describes a set of Christians who identify themselves as evangelicals but do not identify with the so-called Religious Right.  This group has taken the name Red Letter Christians, a reference to the many Bibles where the words that Jesus spoke are written in red letters for emphasis, the implication being that this group is dedicated to following the teachings of Jesus and his message with a strong emphasis on social justice.

 

There is a chapter on each of the following issues in the book: the environment, the Iraq War, the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, AIDS crisis, gay rights, gun control, education, abortion, immigration, crime, the federal budget, the minimum wage, the debt, wasteful government spending, political lobbyists, campaign finance, and candidates.  The issues covered are broad and encompassing. Campolo offers an outlook on each issue through the lens Jesus’ teachings and Christian faith.  He suggests possible solutions to large problems and some new ideas and perspectives.  At the very least, the book can help one create an informed opinion.

 

I think this book is excellent, it is easy to read and very thought-provoking.   It is particularly relevant as we begin to go into another election cycle and we are considering which candidates to give our votes to.  It’s a fresh outlook that allows us to consider what role we want our values and our faith to play in our politics and might hit a nerve with moderate Christians who feel stuck in the middle.

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Budgets.

 

Who just had a mental twitch?  Anyone?  Anyone?  Some sort of instinctual reaction of disgust after hearing the words?  Let’s admit it.  We all know that they’re important and that they are a necessary point of discussion on all levels of government and business and even personal lives.  But we’re all really sick of them at this point.   What with all the shouting and the name-calling and the endless arguments over the budgets that fill our newspapers, our news broadcasts, our Insert Your News Outlet of Choice web browsers, and even our personal conversations…most of us, I think, are fairly drained with all of this bickering (and probably secretly—or not so secretly—wish the issue would just disappear), I just thought that we should all admit that before we went any further.

 

We’ve all heard pundits talking about “values issues”.  “Values issues” tend to be the issues of the infamous “values voters”.  Some examples of what people see as values issues: gay marriage, abortion, condoms in schools, stem-cell research, et cetera.  However, one thing that people don’t often see as a values issues is one of our largest issues in the political debate: budgets.

 

It was several months ago, while reading an article on economics, that this idea was first put in my mind, that a budget is a set of values.  Where we put our money is our way of expressing what is important to us as a nation, as a family, as an individual, as a town, as a state, or as a company.  If someone took our budget and looked at it, what would that reveal about us?  And more importantly, what do we want our budgets to reveal about us?

 

The entire budget discussion is looked at in different terms when it’s seen as a declaration of values.  What does it say about our country if the first thing that we cut from our budget is aid to people who are struggling to feed their families?  What does it say about our priorities when subsidies are put in for oil companies and money for environmental clean-up and regulation is taken out?  What is important to us as a nation?  What is it that we care about?  And what is important to us individually or as families?  What would someone think if they knew your budget?  What would that tell them about you?  What do you want your budget to tell them about you?  And what do we want our budget to say as Americans?  In a way, our budget says more about our American values than any opinion poll or statistic.  I’m not going to argue what should or shouldn’t be in someone’s budget, or in government budgets, because the entire point is that it should represent your values and we all have different ideas about what that should be.  Looking at our budgets as statements of values can often help us make decisions about what we want to cut back on, what do we want to add in, and it starts to transform the way we look at budgets.  Such as, well yes we have money allocated for insert issue of choice in our budget, but in relation to the overall budget do we think that’s representative of how important that issue is to us?  What we spend our money on, and how much money we spend on each thing, is inherently as much a values issue as anything else.

 

So as we sit down to our personal checkbooks or as our lawmakers continue to debate where our money should be spent, we should think about what we want our budgets to say about us, about our values, and factor that into our decisions.

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