One of the ideas now spreading in contemporary American society is that religion is dangerous to public life. And the more religious people are, the more dangerous they are. There is some reason for this. Witness the appearance of “Christ” in Texas with his cache of weapons. And religious mutilations in Pakistan and India. And the murder of homosexual men by an unstable religious man in Minnesota.
But there is another side to the story. George Gallup has developed a way to measure the segment of our population that is “highly spiritually committed.” Here is what the Gallup organization has found:
While representing only 13 percent of the populace, these persons are a “breed apart” from the rest of society. We find that these people, who have what might be described as a “transforming faith,” are more tolerant of others, more inclined to perform charitable acts, more concerned about the betterment of society, and far happier. (These findings, in my view [George Gallup’s], are among the most exciting and significant we have recorded in more than a half-century of polling.) (First Things, March, 1993, p. 59-60)
In other words, if unstable and sick people are often drawn to religion as a way of expressing their quirky moral delusions, it may not mean that true religion is the problem. On the contrary, if one is really interested in showing that religion is bad for public life, one will have to take into account Gallup’s study alongside the deranged fanatics.
One would also need to keep in mind that a growing number of violent crimes are committed by utterly irreligious people. Moreover the reason fraudulent religious leaders are such a sensation is because the religion they profess has taught millions of people not to steal or kill or commit adultery or lie or covet, but to love others as they love themselves. They make news because they don’t make sense. Ten thousand honest, self-sacrificing, care-giving pastors are not news precisely because it is simply expected that they will be that way. Why? Because we take for granted that their religion produces good behavior. The justified media outrage is an indirect testimony to long patterns of uprightness that Christianity has produced.
Our job is not to force secular people to think we are not dangerous. Our job is to live according to the truth with hearts of love in reliance on God’s grace. This will mean declaring destructive behaviors that many secular people champion to be immoral (e.g. gambling, extramarital sex, homosexual behavior, abortion). It will also mean that we are engaged in constructive behaviors that bring healing and wholeness and God-exalting eternal joy to as many people as we can.
If the secularists ask, “What does your faith do for unwanted children?” we will answer, “It inspires ministries like the Micah Fund.” If they ask what our faith does for the unemployed, we will answer, “It inspires ministries like Masterworks and Helping Hand.” If they ask, “What does your faith do for lower income seniors?” we will answer, “It inspires ministries like the ministries to Elliot Twins.” If they ask what our faith does for the thirsty in Ethiopia, we will point to the Eshenhauers. If they ask what our faith does for the rural poor in Uganda, we will point to the Varnos. If they ask how our faith responds positively to the struggles of homosexual men, we will point to the Joshua Fellowship.
“Good deeds are conspicuous; and even when they are not, they cannot remain hidden” (1 Timothy 5:25).