I’m debating now whether I want to go see “Lincoln”, Steven Spielberg’s vision of that president’s life. I’ve seen enough promos and heard from enough reviewers and friends to know that Spielberg’s vision does not agree with the view I have long held about the man’s character. I have spent a lot of time studying Lincoln, but in truth, I’ve come to realize that everything I claim to know about him is someone else’s opinion. They are opinions that I have come to accept on faith. But what if they’re not true? What if I have based my faith on a lie? Shouldn’t I want to know that? Shouldn’t I take personal responsibility for the accuracy of the claims I am willing to accept on faith? I think I should and, as a teacher, that level of responsibility is held to a higher standard.
My concern about this subject has been long standing. It began with the growth of the internet and its dissemination of huge amounts of data and information, most of which can be categorized as “opinion”. Years ago I began to receive vast quantities of e-mails containing errant opinions from my Christian friends. I was so overwhelmed by this continuing flood of falsehood that I gave up on trying to correct it. In fact I changed my e-mail address and only gave it out to a select few, designating the old address, “junk mail”. That process continues to this day. I now have no less than ten e-mail addresses, most of which are trashed and I continue to generate new ones as needed. At times it seems to me as if the church is the greatest proliferator of false information that I know. What a horrible accusation to make. But it seems that Christians are more open to accepting things at face value than looking behind the curtain. Perhaps it is because they are less cynical than the world around them.
This has all come to head today because I was perusing World Magazine and I came upon an article that was an open debate about the religious beliefs of one of our most respected founding fathers, Thomas Jefferson. The debate is fostered between David Barton, of Wall Builders fame, prolific author on the subject of America’s founding fathers, and Dr. Gregg Frazer, Professor of history and political science at The Master’s College and author of “The Religious Beliefs of America’s Founders: Reason, Revelation, and Revolution” As I read the current article, a response by Gregg Frazer, I was again struck by how far my personal beliefs about Jefferson were misaligned from the facts, the obvious truth about his own beliefs. I don’t want to claim that I have been misled with any kind of intentionality, but I was told long ago “not to believe anything I heard and only half of what I see.” That may sound cynical, but there is much wisdom in it.
Looking beyond the disturbing reality being exposed by this debate and the motivations of those encamped on either side, I have a deep concern for a Christian faith that has no regard for truth; or worse, a Christian faith that is willing to deny or disregard the truth if it doesn’t fulfill some widely held paradigm of orthodoxy. There is nothing new here, however. The religious tendency to deny, or ignore the truth as presented in scientific fact is long standing and wide spread. It consumed Galileo and resulted in a life sentence when he tried to convince Pope Urban VIII of the truth of heliocentrism, (the theory that our sun is the center of our solar system and that the Earth revolves around it.) He was brought before the inquisition for supporting the theory, threatened with torture and placed under house arrest. He remained there for the rest of his life because, though he loved the Lord, he refused to deny the truth.
It is, perhaps, more important to realize that the leadership of the church, people of faith and their followers, chose to deny the truth, preferring, instead, ignorance. That kind of ignorance, intentional ignorance, is the result of a mind that has closed itself to learning, to exploring and to seeking the truth. It is the harbinger of darkness that gives birth to evil. It is the kind of “faith” that kept the world in darkness from Constantine’s Holy Roman Empire to the time of the renaissance in Europe, nearly a thousand years.
In the end, the truth about Lincoln, may not be what I want to believe about a man who, in my opinion, was so obviously used of God, but then I am forced to consider the imperfections of the Patriarchs of the Bible and the Apostles themselves. Just ordinary men filled with the imperfections of a fallen race. One only has to look at the motivation of those who would distort the truth to advance their own agenda. If that agenda includes a government by theocracy then it is no different than the Sharia Law of Islam. Theocracy was never the intent of our founding fathers. The founding concept of freedom of religion is as far from theocracy as the East is from the West. Better to defend freedom and the constitution that gave us a secular form of government that is bound by law to protect our right to religious belief as we choose. Preserving that government and constitution requires that we choose the truth, based in fact and reality, rather than blindly accepting the opinions of others, even if it seems to support our preferred view. Whatever you choose to believe that is not rooted in truth is mythology. Be careful and diligent about what you choose to believe.