I have always considered myself a free-thinker who is open to new ideas, and I appreciate that trait in others. I don’t accept ideas or statements on face value (much to the dismay of those around me, at times) and I like to know why people believe what they do. I – like you – believe my opinions are correct 100% of the time. Nobody walks around saying “I believe this with my whole heart – but it is a very wrong thing to believe”. When confronted with a different perspective, however, I really try to think about it, pray about it, and decide if I am wrong – and that decision comes more often than you might think.
This open-mindedness has a dark side. It has led to anyone with an opinion putting it next to people who are actual experts, and both getting equal time. The internet has been a big reason for this. It has led to our society being more accepting of hate speech as free speech, and ignorance as fact. Take, for example, the discussion about climate change. Even though 97% of experts in this area believe that humans are contributing to the dramatic change in the world’s climate, the other 3% are given equal press. Or, how about evolution and how the earth was created – a 2012 Gallup poll found that 46% of Americans believe that God created humans in their present form at some point in the last 10,000 years. Yes – please read that again. And, an NBC Science poll in 2014 found that 40% of Americans believe that God created the earth in the last 10,000 years. Regardless of the geological proof – almost half of us believe this nonsense. And these beliefs haven’t changed in the last 35 years – this isn’t a new problem.
You might say that each person has the right to believe what they want, 1st Amendment and all – and when it comes to the private, personal practice of faith, I would agree with you. The problem is that these ideas – that rocks falling into the oceans are causing rising sea levels, for example – are being put into our public school text books and are being used to create public policy. Some states are teaching Creationism – a theology that posits that God had a hand in creating the world (I personally believe that God did create the universe, and that everything is evolving over time) – alongside Evolution. We are seeing public education being dismantled before our eyes, and religious fanatics are the cause.
There are many ways a nation can be destroyed – nuclear war being the scariest. But if we allow America to become a theocracy, we will see the end of this noble experiment. We must be ready to promote an approach to faith that is deeply committed to its tenets, while at the same time being open to diversity. I have said it many times – when Religion and Politics get into bed together, nothing good comes of it. People of faith need to be unencumbered by the State so that they can speak to the powers and principalities when they are wrong. I think we are seeing some very troubling shifts taking place, and we should be worried. When our leaders are being guided by end-time preachers, we need to take note. We have a lot of work to do – for God and for Country. Peace.
Steve Ohnsman has been the pastor of Calvary UCC in Reading, PA since 1999. He has a BA in Religion & Philosophy from Wilmington College (OH), an MDiv from Drew Theological Seminary (NJ), a DMin in Christian Ethics from United Seminary (OH), and a PhD in Leadership from Alvernia University (PA).