There are stories this Christmas of Muslims putting up Christmas trees and putting gifts under them. I have read at least two of these stories in the news. The Muslims, in the stories, are immigrants living in places where most people celebrate Christmas.
This seems strange; the holiday is Christ-mass, the celebration of the birth of Jesus. Until now, Muslims never celebrated Christmas; they had their own special events on the calendar. From the descriptions, it looks like some Muslims chose to celebrate a cultural Christmas, with a decorated tree and presents, and maybe some thoughts about a jolly fat man coming down the chimney. There were probably no herald angels on the tops of the trees, and probably no manger scene with a baby Jesus.
They were having fun, and enjoying the season.
It’s easy for me to understand, and smile, and I am sure some strict conservative Muslims do not approve. These events happened in places where Muslims were immigrants, and a minority in the population.
There is another side to this; I know a soldier who served in Afghanistan and he told me about the Muslim festival of Eid, at the end of Ramadan. The vast majority of people in Afghanistan identify as Muslims. Eid is very much a Muslim tradition, and it involves eating good food and giving gifts. That’s what the soldiers knew. Most of the soldiers in the unit would describe themselves as Christian, but when they were asked if they wanted some really good food, and some presents, they only had one answer; Yes.
Something is happening here, and it’s important. A change is happening to us all.
The temperature is rising, and low temperature religion is disappearing.
Low temperature religion is belief that costs nothing. At the coldest temperature, there is a price to pay if we don’t believe, and we must go along with everyone else.
What do you believe? Do you live in a place where everyone around you believes the same thing, or at least pretends to? Has everyone believed that for generations, as far back as we can remember? If someone decided to be different, would they pay a heavy price for not conforming? That is the lowest temperature. Believing is easy, and it’s the only thing to do.
I remember, when I went to school, we had a Catholic school nearby. On the way to our public school, we could see nuns in full habit, supervising the playground of the Catholic school. They described us all as “Protestants” including the daughter of a Jewish Rabbi.
The children in the separate Catholic school were raised in a low temperature environment where their faith was not challenged, and it was convenient to believe. I’m not criticizing Catholics, every religion had the same idea back then. And remember, we had no Internet and no cell phones. Today, those isolated children would be checking things out on the web, with their phones, in that playground. They could never be isolated.
Until recently, most Muslims lived in a place where everyone was like them, and traditions from other religions, or belief systems, were unknown. That was true for most people; Protestants, Catholics, Muslims, Mormons, Jews, Hindus and Communists. Everyone had a place, and believing and conforming was easy. That was a low temperature time.
Now the temperature is much higher, and the cost of believing has gone up. Now, whatever we choose to believe, we will always be challenged. We have the Internet, and we can’t be isolated.
So, how can we believe? I am writing as a Christian. Can we keep our faith in Jesus, in the modern world?
This is not a new question. In the Bible, the prophet Jeremiah was warned about rising temperatures, for spiritual things:
“If racing against mere men makes you tired, how will you race against horses? If you stumble and fall on open ground, what will you do in the thickets near the Jordan?” (Jeremiah 12:5)
Jeremiah had to trust God when he was challenged, when the temperature was high. He had to run the race when it wasn’t easy and convenient.
I believe we are in a time when most major religions are declining. Soon, it won’t be easy to believe, and many people will drop out. Probably there will be some convenient low temperature belief system that we can pretend to believe, when the authorities are watching.
Christians were told that this is normal. A man named Jesus spoke to people and said “follow me.” He did not say ‘come to an isolated place and hide among people who think the same as you.’ We were told to be lights set on a hill, in a dark place. Someone who follows Jesus naturally lives in a spiritual high temperature. We start by making a decision that is not convenient, and probably not popular.
The truth has a high cost.
We have the words of Jesus:
I have told you all these things so that you will not fall away. They will put you out of the synagogue, yet a time is coming when the one who kills you will think he is offering service to God. They will do these things because they have not known the Father or me. But I have told you these things so that when their time comes, you will remember that I told you about them. (John 16: 1 to 4)