When Alice came to a fork in the road during her Adventures in Wonderland, she asked the Cheshire cat which way she should go.
“That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,” the cat grinned.
“I don’t much care where,” Alice responded.
“Then it doesn’t matter which way you go,” said the cat.
Alice adds: “… so long as I get somewhere.”
The Cheshire cat grins again: “Oh, you’re sure to do that, if only you walk long enough.”
The Cheshire cat reminds us that destination determines direction.
If where we finally “want to get to” is quite flexible – if our destination doesn’t truly matter – then any road will get us there. Alice doesn’t want to stand still; she wants to go “somewhere”, she’s just not sure exactly where. The Cheshire cat reassures her that if she just keeps walking she will indeed get “somewhere.”
When it comes to religious faith, there are millions of Americans – in fact a record number – just like Alice – and plenty of grinning Cheshire cats to urge them forward on their path to “somewhere”.
Just when Protestants were losing their majority status in this country for the first time, dipping to a record low of 48%, the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life discovered that nearly 20% of those it surveyed chose no religious affiliation. As Protestants, who historically dominated a Judeo-Christian America, sunk to a new demographic low, the “Nones”, as they are called, rose to a new high. Forty-six million place themselves in this category. They like the ambiguity, freedom, and tolerance of an open- ended religion.
What do these “Nones” believe? Nothing in particular and nothing too strongly, it turns out.
Most of them affirm God and prayer “somewhat” and in some form. As one None put it, she “embraces the sacred in all religions”. Here is a smorgasbord spirituality that fits the tenor of our times and the disposition of our culture. You may know a None. He or she is your neighbor, your co-worker, perhaps a member of your family.
When it comes to matters of faith, these folks “don’t much care.”
Greg Smith, senior researcher for the Pew Forum, told USA TODAY reporter Cathy Lynn Grossman:
“The rise of the Nones is a milestone in a long-term trend. People’s religious beliefs …play an important role in shaping their worldviews, their outlook in life and certainly in politics and elections.”
This is The Theological Crisis. It is a crisis of belief.
At the conclusion of his parable about a persistent widow and a relenting judge, Jesus promises an ultimate and compassionate justice for his chosen people. Then he poses a rhetorical question regarding the close of history:
“But when the Son of Man returns, how many will he find on the earth who have faith?” (Luke 18:8, NLT). The King James Version is more direct: “Nevertheless, when the Son of Man cometh, shall he find faith on the earth?”
It’s an important question.
The Pew Forum may have recently discovered the Nones. Jesus always knew they were coming. And Jesus knew that remaining faithful to the truth – his truth – would be a decisive and courageous test for his followers in this new secular age of disbelief.
Sound doctrine and theology; right thinking and unconquerable faith have always guided the Church – through even the darkest periods of widespread skepticism and apostasy. These must firmly anchor us – and guide us – today.
It’s true, of course, that it’s always easier to blend in than it is to stand out. There is a price for courage and conviction. That price has, at times, been high but Christians have always been willing to pay it – even with their own blood if necessary.
Let us examine our faith.
Let’s reflect on it, study it and measure it in our own hearts and minds. Let’s know what we believe and why. Let’s make sure we attend churches where God’s Word is preached and taught without compromise or apology.
We must be always ready to “give an answer” ( I Peter 3:15).
Then let us go out into the world.
A world where so many do not know God, or worship him or even give him thanks; a world that, professing to be wise, thinks up “foolish ideas of what God is like”; a world where minds have become “dark and confused” (Romans 1:21, NLT). Let us go into this world and there, by God’s grace and strength, live out daily the faith we profess.
Theology is not some dusty and antiquated system of irrelevant and idle speculations. It is the very heartbeat and sinew of Christianity. Our faith must be the most important thing about us. We must know it, embrace it, defend it, contend for it, love it and live it.
Only right understanding can result in right living.
Keeping faith in an age of doubt is never easy – but it is a thrilling adventure.
The path we choose to travel has always been narrow and hard to find but the journey’s always been worth it. This may be the “road less traveled” but it makes “all the difference”.
It is a road that doesn’t just lead to “somewhere” – it leads us to eternal life and God’s heavenly kingdom.
It leads us to our destiny as his children.
It’s the right road. Let’s stay on it.