“My eyes just about popped out of my head. We had put up Christmas lights and I wondered if we had put them up wrong.” That was Mary Horomanski’s reaction when she went online to check her electric bill and discovered that she owed $284,460,000,000.
The electric company graciously allowed her to defer the full amount until November 2018, but her minimum payment for December was $28,156. Her son called the company and was told that the amount was an error. Her statement was soon corrected to $284.46.
Mary says that after getting the $284 billion bill, she told her son she wanted a heart monitor for Christmas.
Why “religion is not going away”
While you may not have gotten what you wanted yesterday, it’s likely that you celebrated Christmas anyway. Nine in ten Americans did. However, only 46 percent said they observed the day as primarily a religious (rather than cultural) holiday. The consumerism of Christmas continues today: 9 percent of retail sales and up to a third of online sales are returned.
While we can bemoan the secularism of our culture, I think it’s a remarkable fact that nearly everyone in America celebrates a day that is intended to honor Jesus’ birth. In fact, according to Pew Research, 81 percent of non-Christians celebrate Christmas. Included in their number are a third of Jews, three-quarters of Hindus and Buddhists, and 87 percent of people who identify as nonreligious.
The popularity of Christmas is just one example of a trend that is both countercultural and encouraging. In a fascinating recent article, humanities professor Peter Harrison explains “why religion is not going away and science will not destroy it.”
Harrison cites a prediction made in 1966 by anthropologist Anthony Wallace: “Belief in supernatural powers is doomed to die out, all over the world, as a result of the increasing adequacy and diffusion of scientific knowledge.” Wallace’s prediction was conventional wisdom among social scientists, who were convinced that all cultures would eventually converge on something approximating Western liberal secularity.
Then, as Harrison notes, “something closer to the opposite happened.”
Even though the number of atheists and agnostics in Western society has risen, religion remains strong and demographic trends predict a future of religious growth. According to Harrison, science has not secularized our culture.
One of the culprits behind the science-will-replace-religion mantra was what Harrison calls the “conflict model” of science and religion. Despite conventional wisdom, “renowned collisions, such as the Galileo affair, turned on politics and personalities, not just science and religion. Darwin had significant religious supporters and scientific detractors, as well as vice versa. Many other alleged instances of science-religion conflict have now been exposed as pure inventions.”
Nonetheless, atheist Sam Harris continues to declare that “science must destroy religion,” while Stephen Hawking predicts that “science will win because it works.” But according to Harrison, “Historical evidence simply does not support such contentions. Indeed, it suggests that they are misguided.”
The most significant “but” in all literature
What explains the growing popularity of religion in our world? Harrison points to our need for personal security as we face life’s uncertainties. Technological advances are not enough for our souls: “The US is arguably the most scientifically and technologically advanced society in the world, and yet at the same time the most religious of Western societies.”
Harrison is right as far as he goes. We know intrinsically that this world is not all there is and that we need more than it can give.
However, just because we need something doesn’t mean it has to exist. Our existential need for God’s presence and power may explain the continuing popularity of the world’s religions, but Christianity uniquely offers more.
Our faith is not based on feelings but on facts. As Paul noted, “If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain” (1 Corinthians 15:13-14). He added, “If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied” (v. 19).
Then comes the most significant “but” in all literature: “But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead” (v. 20). As a result, Jesus is Lord and will “reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet” (v. 25).
Science cannot defeat Christianity because Christianity is true. Christmas matters because it happened. And it still matters today because the Baby born in Bethlehem now lives in billions of hearts around the world.
On this day after Christmas, let’s pause to reflect on the reality that transcends the season: The Creator of the universe visited our planet and is with us still today (Matthew 28:20).
If the King of the realm visits your home, is anything more important than serving him well?
C. S. Lewis: “Christianity, if false, is of no importance, and if true, of infinite importance. The only thing it cannot be is moderately important.” How important is your faith to you today?