Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Public Displays of Religion

With all the hullabaloo recently over Tim Tebow and his very public prayers--
complete with his famous one-knee pose and augmented by his faith statements
virtually every time a microphone appears -- the topic of "Public Faith" has
gained renewed steam both in the media and in everyday conversation...

From bus and cab drivers who argue for the "right" to snarl traffic 3 times a day
to get out and kneel in the street to pray, to the name "Jesus" being banned from
City board meetings, to these "new Atheists" who are suing to remove all vestiges
of "faith" from public life... Seems like everyone has an axe to grind these days
on God, Religion, World Views, and nearly anything else that can be described in
terms of "morals" or "values" or "truth". "Heaven", or "Nirvana", or "Utopia",
it seems, all look drastically different from one person to the next...

Over against all this cacophony, and despite the pervasive Pluralism which typifies
modern life, I find that PUBLIC demonstrations of even the faith that I myself subscribe
to -- indeed, that I deeply believe to be the Absolute Truth -- make me... well...

My Skepticism (left over from my atheist years, and still a fundamental part of
how I pursue Truth) already causes me to quietly avoid much of what I see in
modern Christian faith and practice; but beyond that, even as a practicing Christian
myself, public prayers, public (unsolicited) declarations of faith in Jesus, being
confronted by (or watching someone else be confronted by) some "soul-winner"...
These things cause me to experience an odd sense of discomfort, embarrassment,
even uneasiness. It's not because I am "ashamed of the Gospel of Christ", as some
fundamentalist might bark at me; it's just that...

Well, picture this: You walk into a Starbucks and off in the corner are two
teenagers (a guy and a girl!) who are seriously "making out", as if they are
completely alone; they are, unfortunately, completely oblivious to the discomfort
they are causing in everyone else around them, completely absorbed in their selfish
behavior and seemingly unaware of the unspoken, shared sentiment hanging in the air:
"Get a room!"

So it is -- for me -- with regard to public displays of religion: It's one thing
to IDENTIFY oneself with a particular religion (say, a Jewish co-worker wearing a
Yarmulke, or a Muslim neighbor wearing a Hijab, or a Catholic friend displaying
a figurine of the Blessed Virgin on his dashboard); but to create what is essentially
a "worship moment" in a public place -- to publicly PRACTICE a religion -- is, to me,
a different thing, a mis-placed private thing, something that ought to be subordinated to the tastes and comforts of those in the immediate vicinity...
It's hardly "Christian" to completely disregard the feelings and sensibilities and
comforts of those around us so that we can perform some Christian act, eh?
Who are we fooling, here?

Would you pick your nose in public? Scratch yourself, pass gas, tug at your
underwear, or belch loudly, in a public place? Would you break out in song at
a funeral, or play Sousa marches at a wake? Why not? Well, because you want to
be the sort of considerate, humble, kind, thoughtful, and polite person who keeps
the thoughts and feelings and sensibilities of the people around you always at the
forefront of your mind; in a word, you don't want to be RUDE.

It is interesting to note that far more often than not, Jesus Himself prayed in
solitude, away from the crowds (and, today, we could add, cameras and microphones
and cell phones); the kneel-down, public prayer spectacle of Tebow -- sandwiched
between Dorritos commercials and "December to Remember" ads -- only serves to
expand the absolute Media circus we all have to put up with these days, which now,
unfortunately, includes "amazing!", "unbelievable!", YouTube-worthy attractions featuring
"all that religious stuff"...