WHISPERS WE SHOULD NOT HUSH
Christians should not feel obliged to hush up their faith just because some don’t like to hear about it
I am sure you will have wondered what it must be like to live as a Christian under a totalitarian regime. Maybe you like to picture yourself as a heroic dissident, in the manner of those who witnessed to their faith while enduring the brutal vagaries of Soviet communism. Yet the truth would perhaps be less glorious. The account of ordinary citizens living in communist East Germany, described in Anna Funder’s marvellous book ‘Stasiland’, demonstrates the depressing ease with which decent citizens were co-opted by the State, making shabby but necessary compromises to ensure they could keep their jobs and their children’s education. People internalised the demands of the State to such an extent that they modified their behaviour without the need for threats or coercion. And Christians were not immune to this.
More courageous dissidents talked about an inner exile, where they retreated in their minds to a place the State could not touch, believing heretical things while outwardly conforming to expectations.
More courageous dissidents talked about an inner exile, where they retreated in their minds to a place the State could not touch, believing heretical things while outwardly conforming to expectations. The former Czech president and philosopher Vaclav Havel spoke of the need to ‘live in truth’, where personal belief and outward action were consistent (a concept that Christians can identify with) as a way of overcoming this discrepancy. Most people nevertheless became ‘whisperers’ (in the compelling phrase of historian Orlando Figes), keeping their voices down for fear of being overheard.
The blessing of political freedom makes it hard for us to understand these dilemmas, but we are not immune from the challenge of an unsympathetic culture. The new atheism, as heralded by Christopher Hitchens, Richard Dawkins and Polly Toynbee, is vigorously intolerant of Christianity raising its voice in the public arena. Meanwhile the emergence of a more multicultural society has unnecessarily become a stick with which to beat those who believe in unique claims to truth.
Social scientists speak of a spiral of silence governing the relationship between private opinion and public assertion. People have an innate sense of what public opinion is on most issues and they also dislike becoming socially isolated, so the theory goes. This suggests that the wider the perceived distance between a majority view and a personal view, the less likely people are to express what they think. This may be the uncourageous groove into which many British Christians, with notable exceptions, are slipping in their faith.
The insidious way in which personal evangelism is deemed intolerant of others’ beliefs has contributed to a growing hesitancy among Christians to express their opinions publicly. It’s funny how at election time, politicians and party workers are allowed to go door to door to speak with residents about why they might vote a certain way and it’s called healthy democracy but when Christians share their beliefs it’s considered brainwashing. There is a lot of humbug in the area of evangelism that we should resist.
The Gospel is relational, a matter for debate and conversation, for engagement and disagreement. It is public news as well as private faith, something the early followers of Jesus instinctively understood. Some of us may struggle to pluck up the courage in the fleeting opportunities of daily life, but it only takes a whisper here and there for the word of God to fly.
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