Sept 28, 2007, Wausau, Wi — As I detailed in my book Christianity and Secularism, throughout the much of the twentieth century, the rising dominance of secularism, combined with a church that was form the most part sleeping and unengaged with the culture, has had a devastating impact on the culture. As a result the popular culture is now not only dominated by secularism, but it is also markedly anti-Christian where negative stereotypes of Christianity are the norm, and outright attacks are common, not only against Christianity and Christians, but even against Jesus.
The damage this has done, was demonstrated once again in a recent study by the Barna Group, which showed “one of the most significant shifts [in American culture] is the declining reputation of Christianity, especially among young Americans.” One of the studies more disturbing findings is that ” only 3% of 16 – to 29-year-old non-Christians express favorable views of evangelicals.”
The study found that for many young people, even including Christians, Christianity was viewed as judgmental, hypocritical, old-fashioned, and too involved in politics. Not too surprisingly these are also the stereotypes that are so common in the popular culture. The study shows that, at least in the PR war, the secularist are winning.
Combating these perceptions will be difficult because these perceptions not only reflect the steady drumbeat of anti-Christian stereotypes, but also that the broader Christians worldview that once dominate in our society even among those who were not Christian, has been replace by a secular one.
Take the first two items on the list, that Christians are judgmental, and hypocritical. A major problem is that both of these terms have been radically redefined. Being judgmental, once referred to someone who was hypercritical, picking on every little flaw or mistake. As it is now applied to Christians, it refers those who make virtually any moral judgment at all. In the secular world view all morals are relative. Thus the common argument against Christians asking “who are you to judge?”
As for hypocritical, that once referred to someone who claimed that an action was wrong for others, but it was ok when they did it. The new secular understanding is that anyone who makes moral judgments, and yet does not live a perfect life themselves is a hypocrite.
This is one of the tricks of secularism, take terms that are commonly seen as negative, and redefine them so that they apply to things which secularist oppose. For both judgmental and hypocrite, the main goal is undermine (rather than defeat in open debate) Christian morality. As a result, under the new secular understandings of these terms, of course Christians are judgmental hypocrites, so how can we defend ourselves?
Secularist have been very successful with these redefinitions, but they have a two huge weaknesses. First they depend on the fact that the redefinition goes unnoticed, so that the negativity of the old definition is automatically transferred to the new meanings. Secondly these new definitions are not, and cannot be uniformly applied if the negativity is to remain. In fact, they are applied very selectively. Thus one ways to defend against such attacks, is to go straight to the core weakness of the secular redefinition.
For example, when the subject of being judgmental came up in my college classes on critical thinking, I would simply point out that the term had been redefined and it was important to know whether one was using the older meaning or the newer one. More importantly I would point out that under the new definition, being judgmental is not always a bad thing, and in fact that everyone is not only judgmental in some areas, but that they should be. One example I would give is, what if someone stole something you valued, such as your IPod. Would you say that to steal was simply their personal choice and who are you to judge; or would you be judgmental and say that they were wrong? Put in such a light suddenly the entire class would become “judgmental.”
Likewise for hypocrite, you can point out that there has been a change, and that either everyone is a hypocrite at which point the term become pretty much meaningless, or it is being wrongly and very selectively used. Which way will work the best will vary from individual to individual, and term to term, but the main goal here is to get onto a level playing field where everyone is speaking, and hearing the same thing.
Yet this problem is much deeper than just the redefinition of some terms. For many of those outside the Church, and even for many Christians, their view of Christianity is one shaped by the anti-Christian bigotry and falsehoods of skeptics. For example, I have found that even among Christians the belief in thing like Columbus having to fight the ignorance of Christians who believed in a flat earth, or that most wars are caused by religion are very common, even though both completely false. While well schooled in the negative aspects of Christian history, such as the inquisition, most have no idea of the important and positive contributions made by Christians such as the abolition of slavery, nor the intellectual foundations Christianity provided for things like science and human rights and democracy.
Such errors and falsehoods can be correct, but to do so we must know the truth, and as Peter said, “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do so with gentleness and respect” (1 Pet 3:15).
This is Elgin Hushbeck, asking you to Consider Christianity: a Faith Based on Fact.