Is Paris well worth a Mass?
Finding a “creepy quotient” for symbolic gestures
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Is Paris well worth a Mass? Henry IV of France decided yes in 1593 when for pragmatic reasons he converted from Protestant to Catholic to consolidate his realm.
In another Paris—France’s Paris Saint-Germain (PSG) soccer league—Senegalese player Idrissa Gueye made the opposite decision. Told to wear rainbow colors on the field in support of LGBT identities, he chose to sit out the game. The soccer federation, thinking itself more than reasonable, said he should at least submit to a photo in the promotional uniform. A harmless gesture, right?
The answer was again “Non.”
There were three similarly stubborn men in the sixth century b.c. Merely asked to bow to King Nebuchadnezzar’s statue, these Hebrew recalcitrants wouldn’t even do that. Was Nebuchadnezzar not being eminently reasonable? When it is reported to him that Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego have refused such a trifling formality, he magnanimously extends a second opportunity:
“Is it true … that you do not serve my gods or worship the golden image that I have set up? Now if you are ready when you hear the sound of the horn, pipe, lyre, trigon, harp, bagpipe, and every kind of music, to fall down and worship the image which I have made, well and good. But if you do not … you shall immediately be cast into a burning fiery furnace. And who is the god who will deliver you out of my hands?” (Daniel 3:14-15).
In 1981 I was sitting on a washing machine in Willow Grove, Pa., reading a Bible, when an elderly man approached and struck up a conversation. We spent the whole washing and drying cycle on chairs outside the laundromat, him telling me in detail of the persecution of Christians under the Japanese occupation of Korea (1910-1945) and of his imprisonment along with others who refused to bow to the Shinto shrine. If they only acquiesced in this small thing, their magnanimous overlords had said, they could keep their Christian schools open. What’s in a bow, after all? Just a symbol, right? You don’t even have to mean it.
(When I got home and told my Korean husband that I had met the author of The Korean Pentecost and the Suffering Which Followed, he was amazed and said there is not a Korean Christian in America who does not know the name Bruce Hunt.)
George Orwell understood that the authoritarians of cultural symbolism do not settle for outward compliance. Mimicry is only the beginning. As Nineteen Eighty-Four protagonist Winston Smith learned during his interrogation, the State’s O’Brien was not satisfied with Smith’s rote regurgitation of “2 + 2 = 5.” Smith must believe it in his heart, he must embrace it with love.
Here is a test of whether you should go along with a symbolic gesture today out of pragmatic considerations: If it feels a little creepy, don’t do it. In my college days, transcendental meditation (TM) was introduced to me as a mere technique. But when they had me bring flowers to lay before an altar with candles, and gave me a mantra I was never to share with another human, it got too creepy.
You will have to discover your own “creepy quotient,” I guess. It will involve your relationship with the Lord and how far you are willing to go in accommodating the hell-bent culture. But we know what Jesus’ own creepy quotient was. In a Scripture passage unparalleled for its depiction of Christ the valiant, Christ the victorious rider who girds His sword on His thigh and rides in splendor and majesty, we read:
“Your throne, O God, is forever and ever. The scepter of your kingdom is a scepter of uprightness; you have loved righteousness and hated wickedness” (Psalm 45:6-7). That kind of “love” and “hate” will give you very low tolerance for compromise.
Henry IV of France, for all his calculation and compromise, ended up assassinated in 1610. But this other King lives forever, as do all those who fall in behind Him, who prefer the short-term suffering to short-term gain. As for me, I want to ride with Him.
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