Do You Have Hope? Where Does it Come From?

After recent posts on abortion, transgenderism, and the right to pray, I am criticized as a religious zealot, one attempting to impose my religious doctrine on others, one who believes Christianity should be advanced over other religions by our government, and one who would not act consistently to protect other faiths. My critics are often atheists who appear to see Christianity as a hegemon re-exerting itself through government or any other means. They have a strong distaste of Christians and their expressions of faith. I have been called all sorts of names and my motivations continually called into question for what, in my estimation, is simply offering my point of view. If you take a stance (as I do), the fight will most certainly come to you.

I said the decision to allow a high school football coach to pray on the field after games is a re-establishment of a protected right, but others imagine the U.S. Supreme Court, the one somewhat conservative institution in power today, as kicking off a new form of the Spanish Inquisition; Christians will soon be rising up in support given the right signals from above–or maybe they have never stopped unduly influencing and meddling in everyone else’s lives.


Such views of Christians and Christianity today are so removed from reality. The only way to address them is to hear the concerns and confront them directly. Tell me why you believe these things and allow me to respond. Christianity ultimately is about hope, bringing hope and purpose to our lives, and hoping in good things to come.

In the USA today, at least, we recognize everyone can practice religion on their own terms and that compelling others to follow our own faith has no chance of success. Our First Amendment codifies that belief and protects it for everyone in our country. The overwhelming majority of Christians today (certainly the ones I know), believe in this principle. We want to persuade, never compel, and even then the persuasion is rather limited. We are not going to stand on the street corner and condemn you. What good does that do?  Most people don’t want to go to that much trouble to persuade another. It is just too hard. I make the case for the hope of things to come. Take it or leave it, but please hear me out.

I received the following comment regarding the prayer of high school Coach Joe Kennedy (note: the name “Christ” is excluded by this individual).

If that praying jackass was a Muslim, praising Allah on the football field, would you hold the same view?

No. You are wrong. I believe in freedom of religion, a bedrock principle of our nation. It doesn’t matter who is doing it. The First Amendment makes no exceptions to the free exercise of religion except if doing something harmful to others (which was never proven in this instance).

I tell you what I think in my post. Why do you think you know more about me and my views than what I actually said?

Very interesting. It sure came off as a perspective from a religious wing nut. Maybe that’s just what I expect these days…

How is it you feel like this praying jackass on the football field is excusable? Acceptable? When the very act of doing so expects everyone at that football game to be a true x-ian, and/or to participate in the odious activity whether they want to or not. Let’s face it, this country is made up of way more people/religions than x-ianity.

Any and every person at that game that’s not xian, whether they be Muslim, Jewish, Catholic, Taoist, Buddhist, Rastafarian Pastafarian, atheist, pantheist, satanist, whatever-ist, is forced to play along while one religion they have no interest in, gets its moment in the sun.

How is it that this SCOTUS decision is not in fact supporting x-ianity over everyone else’s belief or lack of?

You use many pejorative terms for religious people: wing nuts, odious, jackass, etc. What makes you so disdainful of religious people? Are we responsible for all the world’s problems? You and others label me when I express opinions on contemporary topics. It seems holding an opinion which might be influenced by my religion or Judeo-Christian values is problematic. Is it okay for us to practice our faith as long as we don’t advertise it and don’t mention the Bible or that other name you are so loath to mention? We can have our opinions as long as we fully suppress the religious side of our nature when offering up our points of view?

There is no evidence others were compelled to join in the coach’s prayer. The coach using his position of authority to force others to participate would actually be a problem. This should be free exercise of religion for everyone–coach and players. However, the school board, the media, the justices did not refer to intimidation from the coach. It is all about the Establishment Clause: using government institutions to establish or advance one religion over others.

I have seen NFL Players kneel at midfield after games, a ritualistic prayer of some sort. I know nothing more. I noticed, but 99% exiting the stadium didn’t. They didn’t care. They weren’t “forced to play along”. I never heard any comment on this practice. Over the years, I have seen many Catholic MLB players make the sign of the cross after a hit. Even if it makes others uncomfortable or nauseated, such action is protected under our Constitution.

You should not want it any other way. Go to Cuba and see what they do to anyone who enters a Catholic Church on a Sunday morning. Look what happens in Muslim countries when you express any form of religion other than the state approved one or when a Muslim converts from the state approved religion. We have First Amendment protections for religion because it makes our country a better, freer place to live. We don’t want to give them up; we apply them equally and fairly or they mean nothing.

You see no one physically coercing someone to join in. Most of us know that’s not how it works. It is a societal pressure. Peer pressure. “if I don’t act like they do I’ll be shunned (and the religious love the shun game) ostracized, beat up, or worse.”

I am an atheist. I tried religion a long time ago. You want to know what turned me away from religion? Religious people. That and the fact that there is nary a fable, a tale, a story, a proverb, an allegory, an anything in that damnable book of theirs that makes any sense whatsoever in a 20th century setting. We know humans don’t spontaneously get pregnant. We know people don’t live in whales. We know the sun does not stand still in the sky. We know the blowing of a magic horn 3 times does not cause walls to crumble. We know people do not come back from being dead without resuscitation. We no longer need a warm fuzzy blanket of belief because we no longer need fear the dark. We know what goes bump in the night. We know earthquakes, tsunamis, and weather events happen on this planet. No gods required.

If that praying jackass had been a Muslim, there would have been a backlash and if you don’t get that, you need a long hard look in the mirror. So called good x-ians would have booed, yelled obscenities, maybe not all of them but enough to matter. The Muslim would be ostracized in their community, their children as well. A good possibility of physical injury. A good car keying, or egging. No we are not talking state sponsored oppression. Nope that would come straight from all them good damn x-ians.

The coach used peer pressure to get the kids on the field, and the people in the stands, regardless of their personal views to play along with the disgusting spectacle on the field. I do not want me or mine subjected to anyone’s religious nonsense. Your NFL and MLB analogies sounds a bit like special pleading to me. I do not agree or condone any of it. These people are getting paid to do a job, not be a public display of their religion.

I would not take away your religion, but don’t expect me to play along with the public spectacles foisted upon me.

Where is Our Hope?

At this point, I have a sense of this person’s views. I don’t discount anything said regarding feelings or experiences. They seem genuine and honest (although I disagree). Others who have turned away from religion have shared similar experiences with me. But how should we respond to such experiences?

I am Catholic and have attended the same parish for almost twenty years now. I know many people in my Church. I attend Church weekly, go to confession, and attend adult education as much as I can. My kids attended the parish school for eight years.

We also see the kinds of people you complain about. My kids complained about classmates, kids they think are far removed from true Christian values despite years of religious training, like the ones who turned you away from religion. Such people exist everywhere, both in religious institutions and in non-religious institutions. You can find hypocrisy, self-righteousness, holier-than-thou attitudes, lack of commitment, phoniness, and all the rest everywhere in our culture. You are just as likely to find such people in Congress or in Hollywood as you are at your local church. We probably have all been guilty of some such behavior at times in our lives. It is human nature for us to fail in such a way.

It is unfortunate many Christians are poor ambassadors and half-hearted practitioners of our faith, but that doesn’t mean the message of our faith is wrong. It doesn’t mean our standard bearer was not indeed the Way, the Truth, and the Life. It just means we don’t live up to the standards set for us.

Let’s get real though. Who in this world completely fulfills any meaningful standard? You must have some standard you follow. We all need a set of values to guide us through life’s vicissitudes. Do you always live up to that standard? Do you cut yourself some slack or change the standard to suit your own limitations? As a Christian, I am called to follow a standard set above me. I am unable to change that standard to excuse or ignore my own failings. The standard applies to all, applied equally to all. It is one I will never completely fulfill, but simply trying to meet the standard makes me a better person: a better husband, a better father, a better friend, a better neighbor, a better Christian. I am not saying I am better than you or anyone else, just that I am better than the person I might have been without such guidance. I need that standard. It is critical to my success in life.

We all exist in the same moment of time, but we are at different points along that path, some do better than others, some have progressed further, some keep falling down, but the point of our faith is that we keep seeking to improve. I tell my kids all the time: trying matters more than success. The only true failure in life is giving up. Recognize too that others are struggling and need help to do better. Don’t condemn them. Help them do better. Show them where they are wrong. Jesus said don’t treat them as they treat you, but as you yourself would want to be treated.

You say “most know how it works”. You say societal pressure led others to join the coach in prayer. It certainly wouldn’t have led you or others like you to join him, would it? There are many who think like you, my friend. There are many more who don’t care or would rather ignore it all. Perhaps those who participated were genuine, or maybe just voyeurs? My parish friends would not agree societal pressure led so many to unwillingly participate. The people I know would not condemn or ostracize a Muslim who did the same as Coach Kennedy. Maybe religious people you know would do so, but not my parish friends.

Furthermore, if the pressure was real, it should have been central to the case. I agree the coach’s actions are a problem if others were compelled to join him, but nobody proved implicit societal pressure was at play. They sought to prove something else. Believe what you want. I would be in agreement with you if I saw the problem you describe. I don’t see it. It wasn’t proven after eight years of litigation. Instead, I see an attack on religion, on the legitimate free exercise rights of people like the coach.

Let’s face it. In this day and age, societal pressure is in the opposite direction. Americans are less religious than ever. Those who follow their faith are seen as prudes or wing-nuts as you call them. People keep their religion under wraps because they don’t want to be thought of in a certain way. Maybe they go to church because they feel it is important to retaining their position in society or something, but that’s the wrong reason. I don’t care if people think negatively of me for expressing my faith, but many people do care and they suppress their faith when outside of church. I might be wrong about the football case, but I see no proof of anything nefarious. You haven’t provided any either except to say “we all know how it works”. Yes, of course. We all know.

My experience is that Americans are very tolerant of each other. We have the most diverse society with regard to races, faiths, and nationalities of any country in the world. Many claim we are a racist and intolerant society, but I see the exact opposite. I see the tolerance of others’ differences every day: at work, at school, in my neighborhood, at Wal-Mart, at church, everywhere. I hear about problems mainly from the media and politicians, but I discount much of what they say. I know many who don’t practice a faith, but are still good people. I don’t look down on them. I don’t condemn them. Some may, but that’s not what our faith calls us to do. I don’t see the Muslims practicing their faith openly as a problem. I think most Americans don’t either.

I would suggest a couple of sources if you are open to hearing more:

  1. Flannery O’Connor was a devout Catholic who wrote about the not-so-good religious people like the ones you have met. She exposes them, mocks them, shames them. Most of her writings are short stories that can be read in a sitting.

    In a “Good Man is Hard to Find”, the grandmother is the type of person most of us find insufferable. In the last moment of her life, before she is shot and killed by the “Misfit”, she finds redemption. There is a brief conversation between her and this hardened criminal. The “Misfit” has no use for religion or God, still the grandmother forces him to admit thoughts he has long suppressed. The grandmother goes to church regularly, but hasn’t lived her faith the right way, yet the “Misfit” brings her to self-awareness and true compassion just before shooting her. Her view of life changes completely in that moment. Despite this horrible act, it seems the Misfit has been reached profoundly and his life may change for the better. O’Connor saw these broken and blinded people clearly, but she never lost her faith. Why did they force you to give up yours? They may have been misguided souls, but you should find a better way.

    O’Connor understood life. She showed how two people who the world sees only as failures can bring each other to redemption in such an improbable way. It happens all the time.

    People who have moved away from religion, judge the grandmother and the Misfit harshly. You write them off for their obvious failings, but you don’t see the whole journey. You don’t see opportunity for change and redemption. You don’t see any part of yourself in them. Also, you have only your experiences, but there are so many other experiences you have never known. You haven’t seen the whole tree by any means. Expand your view just a little.

    Folks come to redemption at different times and in different ways, some never at all. Jesus called the worst of his society to Himself: prostitutes, tax collectors, thieves, drunkards, etc. Such people have done little to merit our attention. Not surprisingly, Jesus was condemned by the religious for associating with them. Isn’t it interesting the religious of his day hated Him too? If you see many such broken folks inside a church, you might think it is an awful place. If I see them excluded from a church, I think it is an awful place. A church should be like a hospital. We come to be healed and to give thanks for that healing. In addition, the people in Church are a reflection of the society as whole, no better or worse. You’ve missed that important distinction.

  2. Try the Bible one last time. Read Matthew, chapters 5 through 7, the sermon on the mount. You will recognize many of the passages: go the extra mile, turn the other cheek, love your enemy, you will be judged as you judge others, judge others by the fruit they produce, build your house on the rock, etc.

    Call it the “Christian handbook”. Its words are not all outdated for a modern 21st century society. It is easy to understand, but hard to live by. What is a more challenging passage for people of the past or of today than to “love your enemy”? Yet, couldn’t those words profoundly change the world? You don’t need whales or magic horns or any of the rest. You need to know how to live your life today; this tells you exactly how. It is just as relevant today as it was in ancient Israel.

    The main difference between people of faith and people without faith is hope. We have hope for a better future, a better life to come. We provide hope to others with the words of Jesus. We are not better people than those who do not believe, but we have the thing you are ultimately without: hope. You have hope only in this life, but no hope for the future. You cling to life as long as you can because you believe there is nothing more to come. People of faith can surrender to the end of life when our time has come because we know something better follows.

    Our world will never be perfected, human nature will always be prone to evil, and the world will end badly someday. You and I both know these things, but what you don’t realize is there is no hope for a better life to come without God. If you lose God, you have lost hope. You should find that hope.

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