Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Dangerous Smorgasbord

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They each had one of those "Dad must be a space alien" looks on their faces.

"What do you mean three?"

"That's right, guys. ABC, CBS and NBC. That was it."

"What about ESPN and Fox"

"Yeah, and CNN and CMT and. . ."

"Just three channels. And when the President spoke, you actually had to watch him."


It took my sons a while before they understood that the world didn't always have 100 channels. At least, I think they finally got it. It may be one of those concepts that the mind of a modern child can't quite grasp, I don't know. But the memories are still quite vivid in my mind, trying to find something worth watching on one of the three networks. Of course today I can sit on the sofa, flicking through over 100 channels, and still not find anything worth my time. But I sure do have a lot of choices.

It works that way with a lot of things. We used to have just a few choices. Now we have around 3 ka-jillion things from which to choose. The three or four radio stations we could hear beneath the static used to be enough for us to get by. Now I have satellite radio with over 120 stations on the dial. There used to be a handful of magazines available in newsstands. Today there is a magazine for almost any interest. Trying to stock them all would mean the neighborhood newsstand would look like a shopping mall. Today we face a vast number of choices in most everything.

Working in retail, I've watched some people trying to make a decision. Give a person three possibilities and the choice could take three minutes. Give a person 75 choices and the clerk is allowed at least two coffee breaks during the wait. Choices are difficult because there's always the thought that you made the wrong decision. Then there's the temptation to try all the choices. Obviously that doesn't work well while shopping, but...

In How Shall We Worship, Marva J. Dawn writes:
We live in a society of choices, often to our own befuddlement. We have innumerable choices of breakfast food, countless possibilities for entertainment, more options than we can intelligently manage for purchasing technological gadgets and tools, more alternatives for spending our time than we have time to decide. Too many choices is one of many reasons that Christianity is declining in North America -- there are far too many supposedly better things to do on Sunday mornings and far too many other possibilities for making sense of our lives.

That paragraph got me thinking. Are the myriad choices offered in this world really pulling people away from Jesus Christ and from the church? I think there may be something to it. There are a ton of other things I could do on Sunday mornings -- sleep late for one. Get the lawn mowed and the basement cleaned out for two and three. And if I really put my mind to it, I could get a few hundred more.

And to someone who is wanting some sort of "spirituality" in life, Christianity is but one choice. And it's not the cool choice. There's New Age and Buddhism and Islam and Jehovah's Witnesses and plenty more. The mindset that Christianity is too exclusive gets people picking up Dianetics, considering becoming Tom Cruise's spiritual kin.

But the natural extension is that there aren't just a couple of dozen choices for entertainment or something to do or spirituality -- you can manufacture your own schedule or your own belief system by picking your beliefs from the Spirituality Smorgasbord. Pick up a plate and fill it up any way you like. Take a little from Hinduism, a dollop of astrology and a big scoop of Shirley McLaine-ism. Throw a little Jesus on the side for desert, and the unsuspecting diner thinks he has a well balanced Christian dinner. But he doesn't.

There are theological debates within Christianity to be sure, but replacing biblical teaching with something picked up in yoga class is like throwing a little garlic in the banana pudding. It doesn't go with the other ingredients. But people, especially in America, have developed a "Have It Your Way!" mentality that applies to everything in their lives. You hear it from people who start sentences with the phrase, "Well, the God I worship would never..." This is as if our preferences actually determine God's character. What a crock.

The existance and the acceptance of a spiritual smorgasbord makes it especially dangerous territory out there. The reincarnation smells appetizing. The God-who-says-homosexuality-is-just-fine looks so inviting. And my, but the universalism is fresh today! Yet we know that the buffet is full of choices which are spiritual poison. Christianity straight from the menu is the way to go.

We must never compromise our faith by substituting the world's side dishes for the real meat of Christianity. God isn't about "Have It Your Way" -- He commands us to do things His way. Even Jesus Christ said to His Heavenly Father in the garden, "Thy will be done." Even with a smorgasbord of choices, should we choose any differently?

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