One lonely Christian responds to Madonna and Sam Harris

When I was a kid we had, arguably,  the most ridiculous public service film in the history of civilization. It was called Duck and Cover and the film featured a turtle named Bert. You can enjoy a couple of chuckles

by watching this film here.                                         Bert2

The film spent nine terrifying minutes telling you a nuclear bomb could detonate at any moment. To be fair, the film primarily advocated finding appropriate shelter. But if such shelter was not readily available you should duck and cover when you saw the bright flash of detonation. While I guess such an action is better than nothing it seems ludicrous that this would be of much value in the event of nuclear attack. I remember the fear that this film generated for an elementary student. But even then my mind wasn’t normal. When I took a break from being terrified I wondered about important questions. Like why does a turtle wear a safety helmet?  How could the helmet fit inside the shell when Bert ducked and covered? Told you my brain isn’t wired to factory specs.

That apparent wiring deficiency is showing up in areas of my Christian experience. I just can’t work up the righteous indignation that some other Christians seem to possess in vast quantities. Does that mean I don’t care? I don’t think so. I hope not. I care deeply about my faith and how I represent Jesus to those around me. So as I address two hot news topics I am prepared to “duck and cover” when I check my e-mail and website feedback. Please understand that I am examining myself even as I write these words.

Topic One: Madonna

Madonna has included a tasteless and, to me, repulsive “mock” crucifixion as a part of her stage show. This caps a very long list of tasteless and repulsive actions on her resume. My Cal Ripken like streak of not buying Madonna CDs’ or tickets will definitely continue. The controversy is that there are (or perhaps were) plans to air her concert on NBC. The anger from the religious community has been intense and I understand it. I do not condemn or question the motives of the organizations or groups that do want this mocking display on the air. What I am wrestling with is a couple of bigger questions.

  1. Is this the best strategy?
  2. Do we misrepresent Jesus in our attempts?

I wrote about the Christian response to negative portrayals at length when the awful show the Book of Daniel aired briefly on NBC. I mentioned how much I loved the controversy because it gave me a chance to discuss Christianity and Jesus in the natural flow of conversation. While I can not and will not ever agree with Madonna’s gratuitous use of a cross in her show it can and does open opportunities to discuss. What is the meaning of the cross? Why is it important to people of faith? When a topic is all over the news the opportunity is there to have a dialogue. I wonder if we lose that chance with our anger? When Jesus showed anger it was because His Father’s House, the Temple, had been defiled. I don’t think Jesus much cared what was going on down at the local amphitheater and entertainment venues. His focus was on individual hearts and minds. Changing hearts and minds would change a culture and the world. That was the Jesus strategy. I am not saying that efforts to improve the content of popular media and culture are not important. I do fear that we have lost balance in that area.

The second question is the really troubling one. I do not wish to throw Donald Wildmon under the bus because I believe he is sincerely trying to do the right thing. He has developed a powerful voice with the American Family Association and I am not going to question what he believes God is calling him to do. I am pretty sure (make that positive) he doesn’t agree with everything I say and do. His comments in a recent story were intriguing. The first I completely support.

“We don’t see this animosity toward other religions,” he said. “They’re antagonistic toward people of the Christian faith.”

That is true. I believe it gives us a chance to demonstrate a real difference in how we, as Christians, respond. And I fear we are not passing the test. I sometimes receive the angry, condemning, personal attacks when readers disagree with me. And I am a member of the family! So I really fear that the communication that NBC receives is ungraceful, mean, and not representative of the love and grace of Jesus. I am not saying you need to be soft and weak. Just don’t be mean and ugly and gleeful in your evaluation of their eternal prospects. Be firm but not threatening. Speak truth but mix in a healthy dose of grace.

Wildmon’s next comment made me cringe.

“I think NBC is going to feel the wrath of the righteous right,” he said.

I believe he simply means that NBC will understand they are offending a large percentage of viewers. I just wish he had chosen another word besides wrath and I really wish he had not used the phrase righteous right. Again, I understand what he is trying to say. I speak Christian. Then I remember how Paul spoke about his righteous zeal before he met the Lord Jesus.

I once thought all these things were so very important, but now I consider them worthless because of what Christ has done. Yes, everything else is worthless when compared with the priceless gain of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. I have discarded everything else, counting it all as garbage, so that I may have Christ and become one with him. I no longer count on my own goodness or my ability to obey God’s law, but I trust Christ to save me. For God’s way of making us right with himself depends on faith.  Phil 3 NLT

One other thing really touched my heart as I examined the Madonna controversy. I did some research about a young girl born in Michigan. Madonna Louis Cicconne was five years old when her mother died of breast cancer at the age of 30. Yes, Madonna offends me. Yes, her cross act is repulsive. But I wonder how much that tragic loss changed a little girl in Michigan? Perhaps Joni’s battle with breast cancer makes me realize how difficult this had to be for a Kindergarten student. And I wonder if a more gracious response from Christians could have made a difference later in her life? I wonder if it still could? Her venture into Kabalah indicates she is searching. And I wonder if the response of Christians has driven her away from the Cross she really needs to seek?

Topic 2: Sam Harris

The second controversial person is an author named Sam Harris. He has written a couple of books (“The End of Faith” and “Letter to a Christian Nation”) that advocate that religion is the problem in the world and that reason is the answer. Read the newspaper today and you can easily see why his ideas are getting traction. I disagree on most counts about his views on Christianity. And I believe his ideas that we can all sit down together and reason are hopelessly idealistic.  But my focus with Sam Harris is a letter he wrote in response to a Christian.

Since the publication of my first book, “The End of Faith”, I have received thousands of letters and e-mails from religious believers insisting that I am wrong not to believe in God. Invariably, the most unpleasant of these communications have come from Christians. This is ironic, as Christians generally believe that no faith imparts the virtues of love and forgiveness more effectively than their own. Please accept this for what it is: the testimony of a man who is in a position to observe how people behave when their faith is challenged. Many who claim to have been transformed by Christ’s love are deeply, even murderously, intolerant of criticism. While you may ascribe this to human nature, it is clear that the hatred these people feel comes directly from the Bible. How do I know this? Because the most deranged of my correspondents always cite chapter and verse.

Why do we feel the need to attack those who deny Jesus and God? His most devastating point is that those who claim to be transformed are incapable of speaking the truth with that transforming love. I do not need to persuade Sam Harris that I am right. In fact, I cannot persuade him that I am. I would like to tell him that I don’t hate him for his views. I don’t fear Sam Harris. If I am wrong about God then Sam Harris is harmless and perhaps helpful. If I am right about God then Sam Harris can not damage or thwart His plan for mankind. God does not need me to defend Him from attack. If I believe in the Creator of the universe I suspect He is quite capable of dealing with an author. What I believe God does expect and desire from me is that I reflect His love. Harris often makes comments like this.

If Christianity is correct, and I persist in my unbelief, I should expect to suffer the torments of hell.

I do not wish ill on Sam Harris. I do not take delight or satisfaction in thinking about his eternal fate. I am simply sad that he has such a low view of adherents of faith. Here is my bottom line. I have called myself a Christian for over 30 years. I have wrestled with doubt. I have read the views of all sides. I have absorbed the arguments of the best thinkers on every side.  I have decided that Jesus is the Son of God. That is my decision. His presence and reality in my life have only been amplified in our recent trials. I guess I don’t have the energy to spend on indignation. There is so much more to be accomplished by reflecting the love and grace of Jesus. That is the way we will make a difference to a suspicious and skeptical world.

And now excuse me while I “duck and cover”. I will be under the dining room table if you need me. And I think I am going back to the iPod devotional series. It is much safer.