Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Festivus For The Rest of Us

Since Bill O'Reilly proclaimed that there is a war on Christmas, Randy Kennedy of the New York Times wondered if and how an atheist would celebrate Christmas.  So he contacted two of the most influential Atheists, Sam Harris, author of The End of Faith and Letter to a Christian Nation, and Richard Dawkins, the Oxford professor who opposes all belief in God as “dangerous.”   What Kennedy discovered is that both men do celebrate Christmas.  Harris has a Christmas tree in his house with ornaments and decorations.  Dawkins reasons that Christmas has been so divorced from any religious significance, that it ceases to be a "religious" experience.  Dawkins adds,  "I unhesitatingly wish everyone a Merry Christmas."

I guess I expected Dawkins and Harris to be consistent with their belief system and do what Cosmo Kramer and Frank Costanza did on Seinfeld.  Those two created their own un-Christmas-like seasonal celebration and called it "Festivus.” Instead, Dawkins simply reduces Christmas to a post-Christian observance and recognizes the times in which we live.  Ironically, Professor Dawkins complains that the holidays are over-commercialized and secularized to the degree that they no longer have significant religious meaning.  Dawkins shares this same opinion with many Christians who also find that the holiday has lost its spiritual significance in part or in whole. 

The dilemma for Christians is more significant than it is for an Atheist.   As Christians, are we living inconsistent with our belief system?  Are we going through motions out of tradition and missing the significance of the incarnation of Jesus Christ?  Has the birth of our Savior become more aesthetic than significant?  Is there any difference between how an Atheist celebrates Christmas and how you and I celebrate Christmas? 

We celebrate not just the Advent of Christ, but we use this time to refocus our lives on why He came.  "She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins."  Matthew 1:21 NIV.

Ed Litton

Thursday, December 07, 2006

A Crisis of Confidence

The number of unmarried couples living together has increased tenfold from 1960 to 2000 in America.  The U.S. Census estimates that about 10 million people are living with someone of the opposite sex.  That totals about 8% of U.S. coupled households.  Most unmarried partners who live together are between 25 and 34 years of age.  It was once stigmatized as "living in sin," or "shacking up," but now cohabitation has replaced dating.  It has become mainstream as a way to discover if
a person is a suitable partner for life.  While marriage as an ideal is not dead, it does seem to be staggering and falling into the ropes. According to USA Today, more than two-thirds of married couples in the USA now say they lived together before marriage.  The number of unmarried, opposite-sex households is rising dramatically.

A crisis of confidence exists among younger Americans, not just in the institution of marriage, but in the process of finding a suitable life mate.  The most divorced generation in history is struggling to trust the traditional courting process, choosing instead to dive right into the most intimate aspects of a relationship.  Thus, logic states that since divorce is a reality, it makes sense to measure compatibility, and what better way to discover compatibility than to do a trial run at marriage.  There is great confidence today in this new found process, but the question is, does it work?

In a groundbreaking study that examines the effects of cohabitation on the long-term quality of marriage, the Alabama Policy Institute (API) conducted a study of more than 1,300 married couples.  The results are eye opening.  The study shows that the longer a couple cohabits before marriage, the less satisfied they are with their marriage.  Dr. John Hill, API's Director of Research, states, "Specifically, couples who cohabit before marriage tend to be more depressed, more dependent and
are more likely to believe their relationship will end as compared with married couples who did not cohabit."  In times of stress and conflict, the API study indicates that they are more likely to handle their conflicts with heated arguing, hitting and throwing.  According to USA TODAY, couples live together about two years and then either marry or break up.

Marriage is more than who you sleep next to and with whom you may shares expenses.  It is the deepest sharing of the most intimate part of your life.  This is not easy to graph on a chart,  but every human soul longs for it.  God created us for intimacy and He  built an environment in which we can experience it.  Cohabitation has all the powerful elements that make up intimacy but lacks one major ingredient -  commitment.  Commitment is the fence that protects, the lock that guarantees, and the alarm system that insures that vulnerability is not easily compromised.  Marriage is a covenant of mutual protection,
devotion, sacrifice and love.  It is binding for this very reason.  It is not only safe for our most vulnerable moments but also for the most vulnerable people in the world - children.

When we remember what marriage was designed to do and who designed it, the contorted, sophomoric logic of those who conclude that living together is a good choice evaporates. It is not inconsequential that the loss of confidence in marriage coincides with a loss in confidence in God and the Bible.  The children and grandchildren of the sexual revolution need to examine what that revolution has caused:  a skyrocketing divorce rate and a frustrating loss of intimacy.    The best experiment may be to experiment with the ancient writings of a timeless God who loved us enough to construct a safe place called marriage in which to flourish.

Ed Litton