Saturday, November 22, 2008

I'll be good for God's sake

The Christmas season is fast approaching us, and for many of us this means stringing out lights that probably don't work, putting up a tree that requires hours to get straight up and down, tons of ham and turkey, time with family, etc. The holiday of Christmas has undergone a well, transformation in recent years in terms of becoming more of a religiously vague secularized day of celebration. There is not a central event or person of celebration, just a celebration. And this is something we tolerate so long as we get toys and fruit cakes and a couple weeks out of school.

Recently though, the push to remove Christ from Christmas has become a much more aggressive position, rather than passive opposition it is now much more active and aggressive. The humanist/secularist/atheist movement is now finding itself on best seller lists and within the greater culture as well as the Academy. In Washington DC, there has been a recent advertising push from the American Humanist Association, with the slogan "Why believe in a god? Just be good for goodness' sake." The article from CNN can be found here.

This approach is problematic for several reasons. The first is the concept of being "good." What is the definition of good behavior? We believe in the existence of good because God in His personhood is good. There is a standard for good and bad, and this standard of objective truth can be found from the revelation of God, which is the Scriptures. We must also recognize than when the individual (or even the society) exists sovereign over itself and to determine what is true and right, we are left with a subjective understanding of this, and therefore now clear-cut call of what is good. In the words of Judges, everyone did what was right in their eyes. One person has the option of doing certain things that could be considered good, because as an autonomous determiner of truth and goodness, the degree of goodness is in the eyes of the participant, not from an outside other. This ultimately is where we have found ourselves in light of the post-modernity movement.

The second area of concern comes from the idea that the denial of an existence of God frees us from any sort of moral or social responsibility. To deny the existence of God does not diminish His reality or His rule over creation. It doesn't work like Santa, whose sled is fueled by the "Christmas Spirit" whatever that is. So to free oneself from the moral constraints of believing in a god is a foolish attempt to place oneself on the throne and declare the self to be the decider of what is moral. The widespread denial of God is only a recent thing, as the word "atheist" did not come to be coined in English until the Enlightenment period (not surprising...).

We are then left with the third area of concern, the being good for goodness' sake. I understand this is from the song Santa Claus is Coming to Down, but really? The reason for being good was because Santa was coming to town. The concept of being good just for the sake of being good is problematic in the sense that this assumes that there is no reason or purpose in good conduct and "being good." There are no rewards for good behavior, and the telos in being good is found simply in being good. This contrasts a Christian worldview which sees all things as working towards the telos of the coming Kingdom of Christ. Christians are expected to "be good" for the purpose if glorifying the Father and being the light to the nations. The expectation for the believer is to be of good character because the fruit of our character is reflective of the salvation we experience through Christ. There is so much more to being good for the sake of being good, for a Christian the reason to be good is because it is with our lives we have the opportunity to glorify God in whatever we do.

While this is a fringe movement in a local setting, there is some concern considering the recent advances of the atheist/secularist movement in American society. We should remember that our reason for solid character is found in the person of God and all things are to be done for His Glory. There is much more to life than being good for the sake of being good, we are to submit all things under the Lordship of Christ and to that end our lives should be directed.

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