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Always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience (1 Peter 3:15b-16a ESV)

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11/21/2004

Does Western Christendom Still Believe in God? 

I need to define my terms first, because I'm using the word 'Christendom' in a different way than I usually do. I'm going to use Christendom to describe Western society in general, assuming (I think correctly) that much of Western culture, especially it's morality, is rooted in the Judeo-Christian tradition.

I started thinking about this topic on Thursday in my Intro to Philosophy class, as we discussed Nietzsche's The Madman and it's claim that God is dead. I'll start by letting the text speak for itself:

Have you not heard of that madman who lit a lantern in the bright morning hours, ran to the market place, and cried incessantly: "I seek God! I seek God!"---As many of those who did not believe in God were standing around just then, he provoked much laughter. Has he got lost? asked one. Did he lose his way like a child? asked another. Or is he hiding? Is he afraid of us? Has he gone on a voyage? emigrated?---Thus they yelled and laughed

The madman jumped into their midst and pierced them with his eyes. "Whither is God?" he cried; "I will tell you. We have killed him---you and I. All of us are his murderers. But how did we do this? How could we drink up the sea? Who gave us the sponge to wipe away the entire horizon? What were we doing when we unchained this earth from its sun? Whither is it moving now? Whither are we moving? Away from all suns? Are we not plunging continually? Backward, sideward, forward, in all directions? Is there still any up or down? Are we not straying, as through an infinite nothing? Do we not feel the breath of empty space? Has it not become colder? Is not night continually closing in on us? Do we not need to light lanterns in the morning? Do we hear nothing as yet of the noise of the gravediggers who are burying God? Do we smell nothing as yet of the divine decomposition? Gods, too, decompose. God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him.

"How shall we comfort ourselves, the murderers of all murderers? What was holiest and mightiest of all that the world has yet owned has bled to death under our knives: who will wipe this blood off us? What water is there for us to clean ourselves? What festivals of atonement, what sacred games shall we have to invent? Is not the greatness of this deed too great for us? Must we ourselves not become gods simply to appear worthy of it? There has never been a greater deed; and whoever is born after us---for the sake of this deed he will belong to a higher history than all history hitherto."

Here the madman fell silent and looked again at his listeners; and they, too, were silent and stared at him in astonishment. At last he threw his lantern on the ground, and it broke into pieces and went out. "I have come too early," he said then; "my time is not yet. This tremendous event is still on its way, still wandering; it has not yet reached the ears of men. Lightning and thunder require time; the light of the stars requires time; deeds, though done, still require time to be seen and heard. This deed is still more distant from them than most distant stars---and yet they have done it themselves.

It has been related further that on the same day the madman forced his way into several churches and there struck up his requiem aeternam deo. Led out and called to account, he is said always to have replied nothing but: "What after all are these churches now if they are not the tombs and sepulchers of God?"


As of 2002, 85% of all Americans considered themselves to be Christians, according to the data at the Barna group. 87% of Americans say that they believe that God created the world. Only 69% believe that God is all-powerfule, all-knowing, etc. But clearly, there is a majority of people who claim to have some type of faith in God, most of them considering themselves Christian. But what kind of God do they really believe in?

  • 54% believe that being good enough gets someone into heaven. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. (Ephesians 2:8-9 ESV)
  • 60% say that Satan is not a real being, but the personification of evil. And he said to them, "I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven.(Luke 10:18 ESV)
  • Only 20% have volunteered time to help out a church. Only 25% volunteer time to help a non-church-based nonprofit organization. And the King will answer them, 'Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.'(Matthew 25:40 ESV)

We aren't consistant. We pay lip service to God, and deny Him by the way we live our lives. We're like the people in Nietzsce's parable: we are shocked when someone actually comes out and says there is no God, or that He is dead, but we live so that people cannot see Him through us. We lament the fact that our society has no moral base, that in essence God is dead, but we ignore the fact that we are the ones who killed Him, through our apparant unbelief.

We get upset about the risque commercials airing before Monday Night Football. What do we expect from a fallen society? What do we expect, when we have by and large abandoned popular culture, choosing to live in our Christian ghettos -- listening to our Christian music, reading our Christian fiction, watching TV on our Christian satelite channels. We rarely engage anyone who is not a Christian, and when we do, we find we have nothing to say. We cannot relate to them at all, on any level.

We have bought into the lie that faith should have no impact on our lives outside of the church building. We've also bought into a false notion of what the Christian life really is. We've forgotten that living the Christian life is more than "giving Jesus a try." It's more than becoming Jesus' best friend. Jesus really has become our "homeboy" -- He's one of the gang, He fits in. He doesn't tell us to change our lives. He doesn't tell us what to believe -- matters of religion are personal things. He doesn't expect us to make an impact on society.

We need to rediscover a faith that impacts every aspect of our lives, a faith that makes it impossible to live contrary to our beliefs. We need to recover a belief in a Savior who commanded us to go and make disciples.





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