Another Look at Diversity

Today, there is talk of the need for “diversity” everywhere.   Around every corner we see a push for greater diversity in all things.  It is assumed that diversity is always a good thing.  Without going to far, one could probably argue that “diversity” is the mantra of our time and place.

I’m not going to dispute the “goodness” of diversity.  God created a universe full of diversity.  What I wish to dispute in this post is that diversity should be the measure of all things, especially Christianity.

Many young Americans today reject organized religion because it appears narrow and exclusive.  Sadly, this is the impression that many have of Christianity.  Tim Keller in his book The Reason for God writes on the very first page of chapter one:

During my nearly two decades in New York City, I’ve had numerous opportunities to ask people, “What is your biggest problem with Christianity?  What troubles you the most about its beliefs or how it is practiced?”  One of the most frequent answers I have heard over the years can be summed up in one word: exclusivity. 1

Another way of framing the idea of exclusivity is to see it as a lack of diversity.  Christianity is not “open” or “tolerant” of other viewpoints and is therefore, “exclusive”; it is not congenial to a diversity of opinion or practice.

But is this a fair evaluation of Christianity?  Does this claim hold water?

Two thoughts on this matter will be enough for now.  (1) Often when this objection is put forward what the person means is that Christianity claims to be the one true religion; it’s core doctrines do not leave room for a plurality of “true” perspectives.  (Nearly every religion claims this in one way or another.)  For a great deal of people today such a claim sounds ludicrous on the surface.  They might say something like “How can you know the truth?  Nobody really knows whose right and whose wrong.”  Or they might say that it’s arrogant to insist your religion is right and to seek to convert others to it.  These are all common critiques of religion, especially Christianity.  2

These critiques are usually presented by a person who is an advocate of “diversity” and plurality in the marketplace of ideas and perspectives.  But Christianity is just that.  In fact, as we will see in a moment, Christianity is one of the most diverse movements in all of recorded history, and certainly in today’s world.  The real problem with the critiques above however, is that they fall on their own sword.  If a person insists that no one can adjudicate with confidence between one view and another, why should we be persuaded of what they are saying?  Or, if a person says that it’s arrogant to try and convert others to your point of view simply ask them what they are trying to do with you.

In the final analysis, you cannot make “diversity” the measuring rod of all other belief systems, without being exclusive and narrow yourself.

(2) The second thought is simply this, despite the impression that exists in many places in our Western culture today, Christianity is in fact a religion of enormous diversity, inclusion, and breadth.  For one, Christianity the most diverse religion on the planet in many respects, just as a point of fact.  There is no religion, ever, to my knowledge, that has been embraced by so many different cultures and people groups.  Currently, to the surprise of many, Christianity is predominantly a non-Western religion.  The largest numbers of Christians, in fact, live on the continents of South America, Africa, and Asia.  Philip Jenkins writes in his book The Next Christendom: The Coming of Global Christianity:

If we extrapolate the [current growth model data for Christianity] to the year 2025, the Southern predominance becomes still more marked.  Assuming no great gains or losses through conversion, then there would be around 2.6 billion Christians, of whom 695 million would live in Africa, 610 million in Latin America, and 480 million in Asia… By 2050 only about one-fifth of the world’s 3.2 billion Christians will be non-Hispanic whites.  Soon, the phrase “a white Christian” may sound like a curious oxymoron, as mildly surprising as “a Swedish Buddhist.”  Such a people can exist, but a slight eccentricity is implied. 3

It is difficult to grasp how a “narrow”, “exclusive” religion could be so widely embraced by so many peoples of different backgrounds, language, cultures, and values; the diversity found within Christianity seems to imply otherwise.

Maybe Christianity is not as “exclusive” as some suppose.

 

  1. Keller, “The Reason for God” (Dutton: New York, 2008), 3.
  2. These examples are used by Tim Keller in his book The Reason for God, 9-12.
  3. Jenkins, “The Next Christendom: The Coming of Global Christianity,” (Oxford University Press: Oxford, 2011), 3.

“The Bills”: An Interview with Wired Magazine

I just read an interesting article in the December issue of WiredThe cover story of this edition is about an interview with the “Bills”, that is, Gates and Clinton.  As you may be aware, these men are founders of massive philanthropic organizations.  Gates founded the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and Clinton founded the Bill, Hillary & Chelsea Clinton Foundation.

The article (and interview) discusses some of Gate’s and Clinton’s ideas about how to better the future of the world.  The essence of their argument was this: if we want the world to improve, then we need to work together.  Globalism was inherent in nearly everything to the two tycoons said.

Of course, the benefits of globalism are debatable.  But there are bigger fish to fry at the moment.  Yes, I said it that way intentionally.  Globalism is a really big deal, literally (a really big problem in my book), but there are still bigger problems.  Let me explain.

Maybe the easiest way to get at it is to ask a question: what is good?  When Gates says “It was not ‘good’ for the world for the U.S. to generate 30 percent of the economic activity” what does he mean?  Or when Bill Clinton says things like “Congress needs to keep our future in ‘good’ shape” what does he mean?

And that’s the rub.  Who decides what the standard is?  Who decides the definition of good?  Who determines the yard stick by which we will understand “goodness”?  Take a guess.  I’ll give you three, and the first two don’t count (as my dad used to say).  Well, the billionaire philanthropists get to decide.  Which means the top 1% of the world are calling the shots about the future of the other 99%.  And you know what?  You don’t get to be a billionaire by being philanthropic; you become a billionaire by being a business man.  And I’m not convinced that “the Bill’s” philanthropy is not just more business in disguise.[1]

But there’s another big problem.  Technology is NOT going to fix the world.  I hate to break it to you, but it’s not.  Over and over again in the interview this assumption is made.  Technology is the key to our global threats.  Technology only makes human wickedness more sophisticated and appalling.

Technology isn’t “good” or “bad” in itself, what makes technology good or bad is how its employed, and that’s something that technology has very little to do with.  In other words technology is only as “good” as its inventors and consumers.

The world’s solutions do not lie with billionaire businessmen concocting new technological ideas and scheming about how their products can shove their foot in the third-world door first.

Jesus said that “There is nothing outside the man which can defile him if it goes into him; but the things which proceed out of the man are what defile the man… For from within, out of the heart of man, proceed… all these evil things” (Mark 7:15, 21, 23).

A man’s heart will determine whether or not he uses his baseball bat to play baseball or beat his wife.

The future of the world hinges infinitely more on the condition of man’s heart than it does the gizmo’s he holds in his hands.

And neither of the Bill’s said anything about that.

 


[1] In the article Clinton admits that his foundation is really a glorified “launching pad” for “projects benefiting the global good.”  It’s hard to imagine that the “global good” is not directly tied to the Clinton family’s financial portfolio.  Clinton gives a couple of examples of how his foundation facilitates business in the article.  I’m amazed at how his political side still comes out in all of this, conveying and packaging controversial ideas in a way that makes them publicly appealing.  Speaking of Google’s idea to use balloons that provide internet connectivity to the rest of the world where there is none, Clinton says “Connectivity can be incredibly empowering to the people at the bottom of the economic pyramid.”  But he then goes on to give examples in which he arranged deals where the “the six big banks” and the “biggest cell phone company” where involved in solving problems in South Asia.  Who benefits more here is highly debatable: the big banks and corporations, or those on the “bottom of the economic pyramid.”

What is a Hymn?

At the Council of Toledo in Spain, A. D. 633, the definition of a hymn was canonized and written into the law of the church. The definition was adopted from St. Augustine who wrote over 200 years earlier that “a hymn…containeth these three things: song (canticum), and praise (laudem), and that of God.”

This understanding endured for years, with the minor exception (or major, depending on your perspective) that laudem was also given unto many saints and not just to God. Many hymns thus included praise for those saints who were revered by the church and did not solely reserve praise for God alone. It was also not uncommon for hymns to include content on the various seasons of the church year.

Later, Calvin and many of the Reformers asserted that only the Psalms were inspired. All other songs were of human origin and therefore deemed unworthy of divine worship. The Psalms were cast into metrical language and became the music of the Church in England, Scotland, and Holland, and in the parts of the American colonies that were settled by people from those countries. “Hymn”-singing was thus stigmatized in these places until the coming of Isaac Watts (died 1748), though some peoples (even some Reformed) continued the practice in spite of some of Calvin’s teachings (i.e. Germans, Scandinavians, and Hungarians). Today the psalm-singing churches make up only a tiny fraction of the English speaking world.

In modern times, the word “hymn” has come to mean many various things and the content greatly expanded. Hymns today cover a range of topics including: forgiveness, Christian unity, loyalty, missions, good will, fellowship, the Church, social justice, and countless other topics and objectives of the Christian life and of the Kingdom of God. By the early twentieth century The Hymn Society of America had adopted a definition (though not necessarily representing the views of “the Church” everywhere) which reveals this great expansion of meaning. The Society adopted Carl F. Price’s (died 1947) definition, which goes:

A Christian hymn is a lyric poem, reverently and devotionally conceived, which is designed to be sung and which expresses the worshipper’s attitude toward God, or God’s purposes in human life. It should be simple and metrical in form, genuinely emotional, poetic, and literary in style, spiritual in quality, and in its ideas so direct and so immediately aparrent as to unify a congregation while singing it.

Whatever one’s thoughts on the ethics of hymns, good hymns generally have the following characteristics according to Price (with some additions by Armin Haeussler):

(1) Simplicity.
(2) Depth of religious feeling.
(3) Didactic.
(4) Propositional.
(5) Hortatory.
(6) Commitment to various patterns which include (a) Trinitarian, (b) Conversational, (c) Hebrew based on thesis, antithesis, and synthesis, (d) Paradoxical, (e) Petitionary, (f) Litany, (g) Words of Jesus, and (h) penitence.

There is also much debate about whether or not a “hymn” includes both text and tune, or is it confined to the text solely. Suffice it to say for now that the word “hymn” seems to include both text and tune in modern usage. David McKinley Williams (died 1978) said in an address delivered on Oct. 19, 1941: “A hymn is not good because of the merit of its verse or for the excellence of its tune, but for the felicitous union of both words and tune.”

Maybe, in my opinion, the most important piece of the discussion is reflected in what Kierkegaard (died 1855) said of hymns: “God is the audience.” Because God is the audience, hymns must be guarded by certain principles, most importantly the word of God. In other words, a hymn must not simply contain religious language or phraseology, but must be submitted to the teaching of Scripture. A hymn can only said to be properly Christian in as much as it reflects the truths of the Christian faith. Psalm 66:2 captures this: “Sing the glory of His name, make His praise glorious!” (NAS). In other words, the music won’t be glorious unless it accurately reflects the glory of God’s name. It would not be fitting to sing a song to God that doesn’t accurately describe him, his Church, his dwelling place, his actions, or his purpose in the world. The content is crucial.

In closing, I quote Williams again,

When we sing, through our emotions the door of our understanding is opened to things beyond the meaning of words. We sing ourselves into the grace of believing; too often we talk ourselves into doubt. So then, let us once in a while be filled with the freedom and the ecstasy of singing. The reward will be great. It will be that we are numbered among the immortals who sing the never-beginning, the never-ending, the ever-old, the always-new song to the praise of God.

Amen, “Sing to him, sing praises to him; tell of his wondrous works! (Psalm 105:2).

Note: Most of the content from this entry was adapted or quoted from The Story of Our Hymns by Armin Haesussler. See specifically pages 1-10 on “What is a Hymn?”