An airline pilot flying over the southeastern U.S. called the local tower and said,
"We are passing over at 35,000--give us a time check." The tower said,
"What airline are you?" "What difference does it make? I just want the
time." replied the pilot. The tower responded, "Oh, it makes a lot of
difference. If you are TransWorld Airline or Pan Am, it is 1600. If you are United or
Delta, it is 4 o'clock. If you are Southern Airways, the little hand is on the 4 and the
big hand is on the 12. If you are Skyway Airlines--it's Thursday."
Peter Dieson, The
Priority of Knowing God, p.91.
There was a time when most Americans respected the Bible, and you could quote it with
authority. In 1963, according to Gallup, 65% believed the Bible literally; today the
number is only 32%. There was a time when most Americans were familiar with biblical
doctrine. You could say, "Believe in Jesus," and at least they knew what you
meant. But today most would be mystified. Newsweek tells of a child who saw a
asked, "Mommy, what's that man doing?" There was a time when most Americans
accepted absolute standards. They might disagree on what those absolutes were, but they
knew that some things are really right or wrong. Today 70% reject moral absolutes.
Colson, Christianity Today, November 9, 1992, p. 112.
A recent Barna Research Group survey on what Americans believe confirms what this brief
scenario illustrates: we are in danger of becoming a nation of relativists. The Barna
survey asked, "Is there absolute truth?" Amazingly, 66 percent of American
adults responded that they believe that "there is no such thing as absolute truth;
different people can define truth in conflicting ways and still be correct." The
figure rises to 72 percent when it comes to those between the ages of 18 and 25.
Christianity Today, October 26, 1992, p. 30.
In his 1983 acceptance speech for the Templeton Prize for Progress in Religion,
[Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn] recalled the words he heard as a child, when his elders sought to
explain the ruinous upheavals in Russia: "Men have forgotten God; that's why all this
has happened." He added, "If I were called upon to identify briefly the
principal trait of the entire twentieth century, here too I would be unable to find
anything more precise and pithy than to repeat once again: 'men have forgotten God.'"
John Wilson, reviewing Solzhenitsyn and the Modern World, in Christianity
7, 1994, p. 57.
Modern thinkers have rejected the very idea of objective morality: Darwin, who reduced
morals to an extension of animal instincts; Freud, who regarded repression of impulses as
the source of neurosis; Marx, who disdained morality as an expression of self-interest.
Charles Colson, Christianity Today, March 7, 1994, p. 80.
A March (1994) poll for U.S. News and World Report's April 11 issue found that 93% of
Americans say they believe in God or a universal spirit. Of those polled, 65% say religion
is losing its influence on American life, although 62% say religion is increasing its
influence in their personal lives. Other findings:
The Bible is the actual word of God to be taken literally, word for word: 34%
The Bible is the inspired word of God, but not
everything in it can be taken literally:
The Bible is an
ancient book of legends, history and moral precepts, recorded by man:
God is a heavenly father who can be reached by prayers: 76%
God is an idea, not a being: 11%
God is an impersonal creator: 8%
We have to keep church and state
completely separate Agree 53% Disagree 42%
There is no one set of values
that is right Agree 48% Disagree 44%
individual must determine what is right or wrong Agree 70% Disagree 25%
The president should be a moral
and spiritual leader Agree 78% Disagree 17%
Our government would be better
if policies were more directed by moral values Agree 84% Disagree 9%
Individual freedom is critical to democracy in this country
Agree 91% Disagree 4%
God is the moral guiding force
of American democracy Agree 55% Disagree 35%
Nearly 60% of Americans say they hold their current religious beliefs because of their
parents' example. More than 8 of every 10 Americans today believe that it's possible to be
a good Christian or Jew even without attending a church or synagogue.
U.S. News &
World Report, April 4, 1994, p. 48 - 59.
In his book Dying for Change, Leith Anderson cites a 1988 survey of 18,000 respondents
published in McCall's magazine which found that 55% claimed to be "born again"
and 41% said they attended church every week: "Yet most said they relied primarily on
their own consciences rather than the traditions of their religions to make moral
decisions. Less than 3% said they would go to a clergyman for guidance. A typical comment
came from a Cincinnati woman who clearly stated that out-of-wedlock pregnancies and
divorce are sin, but added that 'the Bible is definitely against divorce, for instance,
but sometimes you don't have a choice. God will forgive you...and He will give you the
strength to go on with your life and be happy.'"
A pastor I know, Stephey Belynskyj, starts each confirmation class with a jar full of
beans. He asks his students to guess how many beans are in the jar, and on a big pad of
paper writes down their estimates. Then, next to those estimates, he helps them make
another list: their favorite songs. When the lists are complete, he reveals the actual
number of beans in the jar. The whole class looks over their guesses, to see which
estimate was closest to being right. Belynskyj then turns to the list of favorite songs.
"And which one of these is closest to being right?" he asks. The students
protest that there is no "right answer"; a person's favorite song is purely a
matter of taste.
Belynskyj, who holds a Ph.D. in philosophy from Notre Dame asks,
"When you decide what to believe in terms of your faith, is that more like guessing
the number of beans, or more like choosing your favorite song?" Always, Belynskyj
says, from old as well as young, he gets the same answer: Choosing one's faith is more
like choosing a favorite song.
When Belynskyj told me this, it took my breath away.
"After they say that, do you confirm them?" I asked him. "Well,"
smiled Belynskyj, "First I try to argue them out of it."
Christianity Today, September 14, 1992, p. 36.
At a recent gathering of seminary professors, one teacher reported that at his school
the most damaging charge one student can lodge against another is that the person is being
"judgmental." He found this pattern very upsetting. "You can't get a good
argument going in class anymore," he said. "As soon as somebody takes a stand on
any important issue, someone else says that the person is being judgmental. And that's it.
End of discussion. Everyone is intimidated!"
Many of the other professors nodded knowingly. There seemed to be a consensus that the
fear of being judgmental has taken on epidemic proportions.
Is the call for civility just another way of spreading this epidemic? If so, then I'm
against civility. But I really don't think that this is what being civil is all about.
Christian civility does not commit us to a relativistic perspective. Being civil
doesn't mean that we cannot criticize what goes on around us. Civility doesn't require us
to approve of what other people believe and do. It is one thing to insist that other
people have the right to express their basic convictions; it is another thing to say that
they are right in doing so. Civility requires us to live by the first of these principles.
But it does not commit us to the second formula. To say that all beliefs and values
deserve to be treated as if they were on a par is to endorse relativism -- a perspective
that is incompatible with Christian faith and practice.
Christian civility does not mean refusing to make judgments about what is good and
true. For one thing, it really isn't possible to be completely nonjudgmental. Even telling
someone else that she is being judgmental is a rather judgmental thing to do!
Richard J. Mouw, Uncommon Decency, p. 20-21.
Allan Bloom writes: "Openness - and the relativism that makes it the only
plausible stance in the face of various claims to truth and various ways of life and kinds
of human beings -- is the great insight of our times. The true believer is the real
danger. The study of history and of culture teaches that all the world was mad in the
past; men always thought they were right, and that led to wars, persecutions, slavery,
xenophobia, racism and chauvinism. The point is not to correct the mistakes and really be
right; rather it is not to think you are right at all."
Charles Colson, Against the Night, p. 84.
As Dorothy Sayers observed, "In the world it is called Tolerance, but in hell it
is called Despair.. the sin that believes in nothing, cares for nothing, seeks to know
nothing, interferes with nothing, enjoys nothing, hates nothing, finds purpose in nothing,
lives for nothing, and remains alive because there is nothing for which it will die."
Charles Colson, Against the Night, p. 93.
In the survey taken in early 1991, interviewees were asked, "Do you agree
strongly, agree somewhat, disagree somewhat, or disagree strongly with the following
statement: There is no such thing as absolute truth; different people can define truth in
conflicting ways and still be correct." Only 28% of the respondents expressed strong
belief in "absolute truth," and more surprisingly, only 23 percent of born-again
or evangelical Christians accepted this idea! What a telling revelation! If more than 75
percent of the followers of Christ say nothing can be known for certain, does this
indicate, as it seems, that they are not convinced that Jesus existed, that He is who He
claimed to be, that His Word in authentic, that God created the heavens and earth, or that
eternal life awaits the believer? That's what the findings appear to mean. If there is no
absolute truth, then by definition nothing can be siad to be absolutely true. To the
majority, apparently, it's all relative. Nothing is certain. Might be. Might not be. Who
knows for sure? Take your guess and hope for the best!
James Dobson, December 1991 letter,
quoting George Barna, What Americans Believe.
How rich is rich? According to a survey of people who ought to know, the answer is $1
million to $5 million in assets. Investment managers Neuberger & Bergman sponsored the
survey of people who stand to give or receive inheritances (median household assets:
$500,000). Paradoxically, 55% of those whose assets ranged from $1 million to $5 million
don't consider themselves wealthy.
USA Today, November 11, 1991, D1.