NOTE: Former First Lady Rosalynn Carter died yesterday at the age of ninety-six. I will be reflecting on her life and legacy in tomorrow’s Daily Article.
On November 4, 1979, Iranian students seized the US embassy in Tehran and captured fifty-two Americans, holding them hostage for 444 days. I remember the “Iran Hostage Crisis” very clearly. The hostages were headline news seemingly every day. Millions of us prayed for their safety, health, and release. Ten days after they were finally freed, they were given a ticker tape parade in New York City.
On October 7, Hamas terrorists took more than 240 people hostage. Among them are babies, children, women, the elderly, and the disabled.
Unlike the Iranian hostage crisis, Hamas’s hostages have been a back-page story in this unfolding crisis. When four were released and one was rescued by Israeli special forces, their stories made the news briefly, but the world’s attention has been far more focused on Palestinian civilians in Gaza and charges of genocide and brutality leveled against Israel.
Now we are learning that negotiators are nearing an agreement with Hamas to release fifty hostages in exchange for Israel allowing more aid and fuel into Gaza, along with a limited pause in fighting.
Why have the two hostage crises been reported and viewed in such starkly different ways?
What does this question say about our culture on this Thanksgiving week?
“What is the meaning and purpose of life?”
Ayaan Hirsi Ali is a research fellow at Stanford’s Hoover Institution and a former senior fellow at Harvard Kennedy School. She speaks six languages and has written numerous bestsellers. Raised a Muslim, she lived for many years as an atheist before announcing a few days ago that she is now a Christian.
She set her decision in cultural context:
Western civilization is under threat from three different but related forces: the resurgence of great-power authoritarianism and expansionism in the forms of the Chinese Communist Party and Vladimir Putin’s Russia; the rise of global Islamism, which threatens to mobilize a vast population against the West; and the viral spread of woke ideology, which is eating into the moral fiber of the next generation.
In her view, our secularized society’s response through military, economic, diplomatic, and technological means is failing. She explains why: “We can’t fight off these formidable forces unless we can answer the question: What is it that unites us?” Ali then answers her question: “The only credible answer, I believe, lies in our desire to uphold the legacy of the Judeo-Christian tradition.”
She finds in this tradition “an elaborate set of ideas and institutions designed to safeguard human life, freedom, and dignity—from the nation state and the rule of law to the institutions of science, health, and learning.” She cites Tom Holland’s book Dominion to claim that “all sorts of apparently secular freedoms—of the market, of conscience, and of the press—find their roots in Christianity.”
She adds that she turned to Christianity because “I ultimately found life without any spiritual solace unendurable—indeed very nearly self-destructive. Atheism failed to answer a simple question: What is the meaning and purpose of life?”
“Christianity” nowhere appears in the Bible
Ali’s announcement has sparked two very different responses: while many Christians are happy for her and grateful for her endorsement of our faith, others have noted that her article focuses on Christianity as a contributor to society rather than on Christ. She says nothing about a personal experience with Jesus. Her conversion could be described as having faith in faith.
In a subsequent interview, Ali did in fact focus more on the story of Christ and its personal significance for her decision. But her article celebrating the social benefits of Christianity omits this central fact: there is no Christianity without Christ.
The word Christianity nowhere appears in the Bible. In fact, the word Christian is found only three times in Scripture: Acts 11:26; Acts 26:28; and 1 Peter 4:16. The latter two references seem to suggest that the term was used derisively.
By contrast, the word disciple appears in the Gospels and the Book of Acts 261 times. Clearly, biblical Christianity is about following Christ as a learner follows their teacher. When we do this, Jesus produces in and through us the benefits of Christianity that Ali commends. Christians do not change the culture—Christ does.
It is when we are “in Christ” that we become a “new creation” (2 Corinthians 5:17). It is “Christ in you” that is our “hope of glory” (Colossians 1:27). The Bible says of Christ, “in [him] are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Colossians 2:3). His Spirit produces the “fruit” that our secularized society so desperately lacks, the “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, [and] self-control” that we need for cultural flourishing (Galatians 5:22–23).
A vital question to begin Thanksgiving week
When we truly love our Lord, we love our neighbors as ourselves (Matthew 22:37–39). People take precedence over politics.
And, with regard to my earlier question, hostages become more important than ideologies.
Tragically, in the decades since the Iranian hostages were released, our culture has been taken hostage by the “woke ideology” Ali describes as “eating into the moral fiber of the next generation.” People have become a means to the end of political narratives and personal advancement. Even among many Christians, as Dallas Willard noted, “The idea of having faith in Jesus has come to be totally isolated from being his apprentice and learning how to do what he said.”
Consequently, across this Thanksgiving week we’ll focus in my Daily Articles on Jesus. We’ll identify reasons to give thanks for who he is every day in every circumstance.
Let’s begin today. When last did you thank Jesus, not just for what he does, but for who he is?
When last did you tell him you love him?
Why not now?