America, Christianity’s Nutritional Value

Here are a few thoughts, before I go outside to enjoy this beautiful day:

1. I watched America last night. You know, there are some settings in which I actually like Rosie O’Donnell. I couldn’t stand her on the View or her own show, particularly the one in which she was grilling Tom Selleck for being a member of the NRA (heaven forbid!). That just screamed “self-righteous liberal”! But, on the movie last night, she was caring, humble, serious yet hip, patient in the midst of rejection, eager to listen. People called her “Dr. B.” She reminded me of a lesbian teacher I once had, who helped me overcome a learning disability when I was a child. And Rosie cares about the issue of foster care, since she has adopted a number of kids.

Rubie Dee was also on it. I mentioned her in my post, Queen vs. Roots: The Next Generation, but I wasn’t entirely sure who she was. Actually, she’s Mother Abigail in the Stand, a 1990’s miniseries based on Stephen King’s novel. “Folks around these parts call me Mother Abigail…” To be honest, I can’t recall ever seeing her play a young person. In all of the movies in which I’ve seen her, she plays an old lady: Queen in Roots: The Next Generation (which was in 1977!), Mother Abigail, Miss Harvey in America. She did a good job in her role last night, playing the sweet old lady who raised America.

I taped over the movie this morning, since I probably won’t watch it again. It was good, but there are good movies, and there are keepers. America reminded me too much of Antwone Fisher!

2. I was thinking of something my Aunt C. wrote under my post, Goodness: “Helping innocent children find hope (in Christ) in spite of their situations is something the government can’t do. Relying on the government to fix the problem is like eating potato chips. Might fill you up, but no nutritional value.”

Although Barack Obama and Aunt C. would probably disagree on a number of issues, he can see the same point. He states in Audacity of Hope: “…I also believe that when a gangbanger shoots indiscriminately into a crowd because he feels somebody disrespected him, we have a problem of morality. Not only do we need to punish that man for his crime, but we need to acknowledge that there’s a hole in his heart, one that government programs alone may not be able to repair” (215).

This morning at church, the priest was talking about Lent, saying that we give up certain things so we can learn to hunger after God. I wonder what exactly there is about God that I should hunger after? What about Christianity can fill me up and give me nutritional value?

Is it the belief that God is powerful? I don’t want to offend my Muslim reader, but that doesn’t always fill me up. The message that recurs over and over in my reading of the Koran is, “Do good, or the all mighty God will judge you harshly and throw you into hell” (my paraphrase). There are times when the Koran inspires me, as when it describes God’s power and glory in creating the heavens and the earth. But that doesn’t really fill me up at a deep, personal level.

Is it God’s love, or the hope of an afterlife, or the belief that things in this life will turn out all right, or the sense of purpose that accompanies Christianity, or the actual activity of doing good to others? What is it about God or Christianity that can nourish us?

A while back, I read a book called Society without God: What the Least Religious Nations Can Tell Us About Contentment, by Phil Zuckerman. Zuckerman’s thesis was that people can be happy without religion, since there’s plenty of contentment in the secularist nations of Sweden and Denmark. The secularists there are not necessarily hostile to religion: they just don’t think about it all that often! They cope Stoically in the face of death and other adversities, and they are happy because of their friends and a political structure that guarantees them financial security.

Zuckerman’s book is valuable because it shows that nations without a firm religious belief are not necessarily moral cesspools, and that not everyone on the face of the earth asks religious questions about God, the meaning of life, and their place in the universe. Many are just content to plug through their day-to-day lives, thank you very much!

But I wonder something: Is the picture that Zuckerman presents an ideal that we should desire? Isn’t it shallow not to care about God and life’s meaning–to search for something deeper in life? Sweden and Denmark are probably not totally like the society in Brave New World, in which people go on their happy way, enjoying pleasures and medicating their pain with soma. But that’s the picture that enters my mind when I think about Zuckerman’s thesis, notwithstanding my realization that everyone encounters problems in life, even those in Sweden and Denmark.

I think about something I heard Lee Strobel say on the Bible Answer Man a couple of years ago, as he discussed a book that he and his wife wrote about their marriage. Basically, Lee’s wife became a Christian before Lee did. Lee remarked that their lives and their marriages were not bad before their conversion, but they were incomplete. He compared the situation to the difference between black-and-white and color television. In his eyes, there’s something richer that religion can add to one’s life. I wonder what it is.

Any thoughts and musings?

About jamesbradfordpate

My name is James Pate. This blog is about my journey. I read books. I watch movies and TV shows. I go to church. I try to find meaning. And, when I can’t do that, I just talk about stuff that I find interesting. I have degrees in fields of religious studies. I have an M.Phil. in the History of Biblical Interpretation from Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio. I also have an M.A. in Hebrew Bible from Jewish Theological Seminary, an M.Div. from Harvard Divinity School, and a B.A. from DePauw University.
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