As cancel culture comes to a mind near you, basic differences between Americans are becoming more and more stark. We used to describe such differences as being between “conservative” and “liberal” persons. Those words, apart from being long-since separated from their true, etymological meaning, do not do justice to this divide anymore. The divide must now be seen as more fundamental than that. The divide is between the godless and the God-fearing.
By “godless,” I mean man seeing himself not as a product of a higher mind and a greater good, but as an autonomous agent, free to pursue life by following his nose and creating his own moral landscape. By God-fearing, I mean that man sees himself as having limited freedoms and being bound to God’s rule and Law. Independence is used in service of others, not to pursue vanity projects or to determine what is true apart from revelation. I am not so concerned about those who officially bother to label themselves an “atheist” or even a “Christian.” Those descriptions are good for surveys but not so good for assessing dramatic social change.
God-fearing Authority vs. godless Power
I am more concerned with one’s general disposition towards authority, either in reality or even in concept. When I see transgenderism pushed, abortion defended, and “whiteness” described as a sin, I am no longer content to let these be seen as merely political or moral issues, as though they can be debated using a shared framework and language. These are issues on which there is a “godless” take and a “God-fearing” take. And it is time to point out the depth of the disagreement, for honesty’s sake if nothing else.
In a sense, no one is truly “godless.” We are all made in God’s image and His Law is “written on our hearts”. In the same way, I do not believe there are real atheists, only professing atheists. I believe that all men know that God exists, but there are simply different degrees by which man, as Paul tells us in the first chapter of Romans, “suppresses the truth in unrighteousness”. So, when I refer to the “godless”, I am thinking of those who, without regret, live in open rebellion to God’s rule. I believe they truly know better, but like our primordial parents in Eden, they still believe they are better off charting their own course and following their own counsel.
I also do not want to suggest that conservatives are always God-fearing and liberals are always godless, although there is a statistical connection to religious participation and one’s worldview. Political conservatives tend to be more religious in practice and have fewer doubts about God’s existence, but I suspect those differences will see dramatic movement in the next five years. And yes, I know there are those who profess to be progressive or liberal Christians, as well as many “limited government” types that do not believe in God. Shades of gray and all of that. But where, really, are the points of contact? Where do and how have these divergent worldviews split in so quick a fashion?
Two Worldviews Passing Past One Another...
I was first comfortable making this observation in my former church body, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA). Even before leaving, as the ELCA embraced every conceivable progressive dream, it dawned on me that we did not worship the same God, have the same reverence for His revelation, or measure ourselves against the same standard. When they justified the adoption of LGBT practices, abortion, or the equality of all religious views, it was clear they were fundamentally godless people.
And, again, by “godless” I do not mean that they had lost the image of God in which they were made. And I certainly do not mean that they did not have a trove of idols. I mean that they had ceased to place themselves under the one, unquestionable authority in this universe. Like a professing atheist, they came against the unmovable object and instead of worshiping Him for His power and beauty and might, and instead of accepting His Law and His Gospel that is needed in the wake of our disobedience, they just said, “No thanks.” They preferred, instead, to define for themselves what sex was, when life began, and whether God had the right to demand our exclusive worship.
Now, of course, they did all of this quite cleverly, still cloaked in Christian liturgies, even still while saying the historic creeds of the Church. And conservatives, or traditionalists, would seek to argue with them about all of the presenting issues, even trying to appeal to “shared” scriptures. But the godless would hear none of it. For by that point the division was already much deeper than an interpretation of some scriptural passages. One group was committed to the proposition that if God existed, He is sovereign in all of our affairs and His Word is authoritative. The other had already set themselves up as the arbiters of all things, and those who possessed the right to even teach God a thing or two.
And having left that denomination has proved to be one of the single best decisions one could ever have made, for the godless have only continued to prove themselves as such. There is no end to the common notions held among “progressive” Christians and the political left. They are practically one and the same.
To be sure, I am not saying that the “godless” are pursuing the worst lives they possibly could, that they are all, for example, desperate vagabonds committed to carnality and drunkenness. I am only saying that the point of contact has been lost between those who stand under God’s Law and those who believe they can rewrite it. And that is in the visible church! How much more divided is our society in general?
...And Drifting Further and Further Away
Certainly, if we can pare down our differences in such a simple manner, it will help clarify our national situation. And when we speak with those with whom we disagree, we can really avoid debating the merits of BLM, whether someone of one gender can really be “trapped” in the body of another, or when the science says a human life begins. If there is not agreement that God exists and our existence is dependent on Him and He has the unequivocal right to tell us how to live, I see very little basis for a productive exchange. And no, I do not see Natural Law as sufficient.
It was recently reported by Gallup that fewer than half of Americans are members of a church for the first time in over 70 years. The precipitous 20 percentage point fall since the 1990s is only one data point, but it is still disturbing. As more Americans cast off religion, it will become easier for others to follow suit. Short of an authentic revival, the non-religious voice will be the majority voice. And that voice will not listen to reason, at least as we define reason in God’s world.
So I am reminded of the message with which Jesus commissioned his disciples: “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance for the forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.” (Luke 24:46, ESV) Repentance comes first. If you want to know why your views are so utterly different from your neighbors, it is probably due to an imbalance of repentance.
Until the Church reclaims this word and, really, this idea, we will continue to kick at the goads, hoping the godless will set aside their rebellion long enough to reason with us. What we don’t understand is that without a fear of God, there will be no reasoning at all. It has been cut off at the knees.
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