Friday, May 30, 2008

You’d be surprised with what you can get away with

By Rich Bordner

Recently, I had a religious discussion in my classroom for some colleagues of mine. I put fliers in all staff mailboxes, bought food, etc. During lunch for four weeks, I played snippets of debates on topics like "Do all religions lead to God?" and then I discussed the topic with those in attendance. The discussions have led to a few more in depth conversations outside of lunch at school.

The whole experience was very enlightening for me, but not in the way you'd think.

When I tell my friends, colleagues, and students I teach about the religious lunch discussion in my room, the almost unanimous reaction has been one of surprise: "Can you do that? I mean, is it legal? Are you going to get in trouble?" I can only chuckle a bit inside. When I first told Dr. Geivett, one of my Talbot professors, of my project idea, he had a quite different reaction:

"You'd be surprised by what you can get away with."

I have taken that comment to heart. In fact, it has become a bit of a rallying cry for me. "The separation of church and state" legend has become such a pillar for American secularism that it has almost risen to "metanarrative" status. To ask "what, exactly, is that supposed to mean, and where did it come from?" is for us the same as the proverbial fish questioning what wet feels like. Even very devout Christians toe this line!

In fact, the most surprised responses came from Christians. They were just stunned I could do and DID DO something like that.

Very few pause long enough to figure out that this one's nothing but a paper tiger. Many of us are intimidated and so fearful of faux repercussions that rather than testing the waters, we opt instead to not challenge the status quo. To paraphrase the sarcastic journalist's jibe, "When the legend overtakes the facts, believe the legend."

All this reminds me of a modern-day, Dr. Phil-type parable:

A group of marine scientists once conducted a series of experiments with a tank full of barracuda. At first, they fed these fish their favorite food, live mackerel, every day for a month. Of course, the aggressive fish would devour the mackerel in an instant. Then the scientists placed a clear glass panel between the barracuda and the bait fish. As soon as the mackerel were lowered into the tank, the barracuda immediately moved toward them, smashing their noses on the clear glass.

The predators continued to attempt to get past the glass until, finally, they realized their efforts were futile. Then the scientists removed the glass and allowed the mackerel to freely swim. The mackerel, of course, stayed behind the perceived wall. And the barracuda, with nothing standing between them and their prey, contentedly stayed on their side of the tank.

The wall was gone. The barrier had been removed, but the fish still stayed in their newly created "cage". All the food the barracuda could stomach was just waiting to be eaten, but was never touched. The false barrier of past hurt kept the fish from making any move at all.

While we Christians ought not think of ourselves as "barracudas" on the lookout for "prey," the more I pay attention to the zeitgeist of the public square and Christians' moods towards it, the more I realize we are like the barracudas in a key respect; we have allowed ourselves to be put inside a "worldview ghetto."

To insist on even discussing issues of faith, morality, and religion in public will often get you weird looks. Or at least many of us think we'll get weird looks. To insist that faith, morality and religion are areas of knowledge that deserve a place in the public sphere will get you even stranger looks. But really, what's the worst that could happen? Will we bump into a glass barrier? The barrier isn't there!

Granted, a few will not like those ideas. Many will be stunned at your chutzpah. A few might even oppose you. So?

To adopt a post-modern attitude of "tolerance" would be, to paraphrase Dr. J.P. Moreland, the cure that kills the patient. Such a response is not worthy of the movement that was born of the martyr's blood (another Moreland-ism).

The phrase "You'd be surprised by what you can get away with" has become a reminder for me that in today's increasingly secular world, Christians must, in an attitude and stance of ambassadorship, boldly thrust the worldview of Jesus into the marketplace of ideas, where it belongs.

Even if such a stance ends up costing me a job, so be it; the furniture in heaven will not be suddenly thrown topsy-turvy. I'll go do something else and cause trouble in some other place.

I am not advocating foolishness. There is a difference between boldness and stupidity (just call me "Captain Obvious"). My points are simply A) that life will go on, and B) On the "You did what?" list of reasons for being fired, spitting in the face of secularism is not on that list. My attitude probably won't even come to that; after all, you'd be surprised by what you can get away with.

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