According to a Wall Street Journal/ NBC survey, only about 30% of Generation Z and millennials report that religion or belief in God is very important to them. This is a dangerous sign for the world. To paraphrase G.K. Chesterton, when people do not believe in God they are capable of believing in anything.
I wrote a book about this phenomenon, called In Good Faith: Questioning Religion and Atheism, where I explore the ancient idolatrous gods of our past and how monotheism set the stage for a more moral code of living. Man is a religious creature and the choice is not between rationalism and belief, but between good faith and bad faith. It is the Bible that teaches good faith and warns against the dangers of bad faith; bad faith is called idolatry.
Most people think that idolatry is merely some sort of quaint and harmless bowing down to statues or believing in pantheons of gods or magic making. But the reality, as the Bible explains is far worse. Idolatry is a set of lies about power and this message I have shared with many audiences through various news interviews, from Talks at Google to i24 News. Idolatry is about ascribing superpower or super authority to finite beings (certain individuals). We may have thought that we beat the god-king Pharaoh 3300 years ago. Just think about the 20th century, which had many idolatrous figures such as Mao, Hitler, Pol Pot, Stalin, the Assad family, the Kim family and the list goes on.
Yet, such tyrants face a fundamental paradox. All humans are limited by nature; they are not gods. Thus from Pharaoh to Stalin, these dictators have masked the reality of their common humanity through poetry, pageants, myths, theatre and most of all demonstrations of brutality, all to trick people that they are like gods. Idolatry is not confined to murderous dictators, lesser figures have exploited and abused power by mistakenly thinking they were above everybody else, untouchable, the “it” men. Think Harvey Weinstein, Charlies Rose, and Elizabeth Holmes. In fact, every time we do not treat others as we would want to be treated, what philosophers call the Golden Rule, we put ourselves above others.
In contrast to these false gods, the Bible teaches about good faith. It describes the God of Abraham as all good, all-knowing, and all-powerful, the infinite one. We have no proof of God’s existence, and thus we must believe in Him. In the creation of the world, man is special for being created in God’s image. All men are capable of emulating God’s goodness, wisdom, and judgment. The Bible established human equality that is the basis of the Golden Rule, that is to say, morality. The Bible’s concepts about God and man revolutionized global politics (separation of powers), economics (anti-monopoly), and the law (equality before the law).
Specifically, Western liberalism is completely inspired by the Bible. Our modern society is so much a product of Biblical concepts we forget their origin. Yet as the 20th Century proved, regimes who wish to undo this justice and equality, invariably prohibit the Bible. For example, in China only redacted versions of the Bible are allowed.
While the Bible came to overturn idolatry, sadly it has been put aside and derided by most of the world. Modern religious teaching for the masses has almost become a parody. Too many schools either hyper-focus on texts without applying the Bible to the greater world or use the Bible in a superficial way to explain the world as it comports to political beliefs. It is no wonder that atheist authors find such a welcome for their arguments that the Bible is just a fictional book that has no relevance to today.
It is vital for this generation of believers to radically reform religious education. We must teach the Bible to our children. The Bible was the foundation for our modern morality and political, legal, and economic equality. With this effort to teach the Bible and its religious texts, even Generational Z and millennials can appreciate the Bible’s timeless wisdom.
Scott A. Shay is Chairman and co-founder of Signature Bank of New York and the author of In Good Faith; Questioning Religion and Atheism (Post Hill Press, 2018). Learn more about Scott A. Shay here.