Sunday, January 15, 2006After the West Virginia mining tragedy, Michael Spencer wrote a three part series on The Gospel for Appalachia. (Click here for part one, part two and part three) This is a very compelling read about the state of one of the nation's poorest regions, and Michael makes some strong suggestions about what Christians can do to help revive this region of the nation.
Michael makes a lot of commentary about the nature of the Church in Appalachia as it currently exists:
"Religion in Appalachia is devout, and it stands at the center of the culture. Its message is everywhere. No matter what the sign out front, most churches have the same message: Life is a battle between God and the devil. Hard times are to be expected. The Good Book and the good Lord are there for those who are believers. Satan, drugs and alcohol are there for the sinner. When a person comes to understand that death is near, and heaven is our only hope for happiness, then he will get saved. He will get right with God."
This sort of thinking reminds me of one of the central tenets of conservatism, both political and theological. It is this: ideas matter. The philosophical understandings of human nature are not always abstract concepts for the college classroom. They eventually find themselves in the halls of government; in Congress and the courts. The ideas of Rousseau profoundly influenced political liberalism just as Burke influenced conservatism. And those ideologies mark the two major political parties within the United States. Each party enacts legislation that can, more often than not, be traced directly back to the philosophical roots of their own ideologies.
In this regard, theology also matters. It has consequences beyond the personal beliefs of its adherents. This is what I seem to understand in Spencer's discussion of Appalachia. A theology that does not graciously and voluntarily eschew possessions, but instead suggests that desiring "stuff" is sinful on pretty much any level, will depress a local economy if the notion gains any significant traction over a period of years. A theology that suggests the Bible is all a man needs in terms of education will do very little promote serious education. Similarly, and this is as true in the inner city as it is in the mountain regions, any theology that looks at hard times as just part of life, with the believer bearing no ability (or responsibility) to change his or her condition in life, may indeed create believers without a strong work ethic.
I am not talking about believers, like Spencer, who voluntarily choose a life of ministry that brings less in terms of material wealth, nor am I talking about the Biblical command to value Christ above all our possessions. I am not suggesting that there is any replacement for a clear understanding of the Scriptures. And yet we see in our culture a small but significant number of believers who advocate, as nothing short of orthodoxy, the notion that money and education are almost always tools of the devil. That a hard life is just a common life and we can't change nothin' so we'll just cling to the Lord. These things do happen, but to suggest that the command to all believers is a life of poverty and ignorance is dangerous, offensive and, above all, unBiblical.
I once heard a very well-known Southern Baptist pastor suggest that kindergarten teachers should not be holding bakesales; college professors should be doing this instead. I cannot possibly remember what portion of the sermon necessitated such a comment, but I fear that a subtle point was reinforced to the congregation. The point being that the work of the elementary school teachers is more important. Therefore in a sense, it is suggested that college is not important. What an absurd thing to say in a world where educated Christians are needed more and more.
I do not want to suggest that I have all the answers to such matters, but I find Spencer's essays to be a clear example of the maxim that ideas have consequences, whether political or theological. Secular humanism has consequences. Existentialism has consequences. And theology that denounces money, in even the most innocent of circumstances, and education will lead to a culture that is economically depressed in a way that cannot be good for anyone involved.