I once saw, on one of those websites offering politically-oriented bumperstickers, one that was specifically written with the avowed Atheist in mind. It read something along the lines of “If you’ll stop trying to make me pray in my classroom, I won’t try to make you think in your church.”
I’ve noticed that a good deal of the problems people have with “traditional” Christianity isn’t that they haven’t been exposed to it. It’s that they’ve been exposed to it, and they loathed what they saw because it was not (at least in my opinion) a true representation of the message of Christ.
I stopped regularly attending the Baptist church I was raised in, when I was in high school. Some jackass of a Sunday School teacher twisted some random bible verse into supposedly being a commandment against “mixing with the mud races”, and claiming that white women being married to “non-whites” was supposedly sinful. That would mean that my cousin (half black), as well as my little brother and sister (half Hispanic) were somehow the product of sin, even though all three of their parents were married. Needless to say, it left a bit of a bad taste in my mouth.
For the better part of a decade, I went through a tremendous issue with my faith, and had stepped away from God as I attempted to “do it my way”. I ran through a tremendous amount of grief with some of the most difficult times of my life occurring between the years of 15 and 25, and I now have no doubt that these times were complicated by the fact that I was looking at everything from an agnostic and/or borderline atheist point of view. Toward the end of that time, I was in college…and, believe it or not, it was one of those “dirty hippie liberal” college Humanities classes that brought me closer to God.
One of our major assignments for the class was to select a book off of the very long list our professor provided us, read it, and write a report. I found the most anti-establishment-looking title I could find on that list, and decided to go get it. Apparently, I wasn’t the only one thinking this way, as the college library had loaned all three copies and the bookstore was sold out…so I went to the next title on the list. It just so happened to be a book by Bruce Feiler (sp?), about Abraham and his covenant with God…and how that relationship between God and Abraham gave birth to the three major monotheistic religions of the modern world.
Along the way, it gave great insight into God’s relationship with man, and how truly awesome God really is. It expressed what I believe to be the true message of Christ, which is that we should all strive to be tolerant and forgiving of our fellow man. After all, isn’t that the basic tenet of Christianity? When you think about it, what was the purpose of Christ willfully accepting death on the cross, if it wasn’t to accept the consequence of the debt of our sins? Reading this book brought me closer to my bible, which in turn brought me closer to God.
As a young man, I was a member of the “Royal Ambassadors” (or, “R.A.”, the Southern Baptist equivalent of the Boy Scouts), and part of the R. A. Pledge we recited every week alongside the American Pledge of Allegiance was to have a “Christ-like concern for all people”. To the best of my understanding, we are to follow in the footsteps of Christ and not be judgmental. When Christ said to the crowd, “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone”, he did not command the crowd not to throw any rocks…but he made them all think about throwing one, and not a single stone was chunked at that woman’s head.
That brings me back to my original point, which was the idea that “mainstream” Christianity simply turns a lot of people away from their message of Salvation through the acceptance of Christ, with their judgment of others. My grandmother once jokingly told me a story about a Baptist “revival” she went to, in which the preacher began to condemn country music as leading to drinking, drugs, and immoral sex. She told me that she never did drugs, she’s never drank liquor, and anything else she’s done certainly wasn’t on behalf of country music! If you’ve ever spent more than half an hour around my grandmother, you know she’s one of the most upstanding Christian women you’d ever meet, and was a Sunday School teacher for longer than I’ve been alive.
Mainstream Christianity turns so many people off, in my opinion, because it spends far too much time focusing on the “enemy of the moment”, instead of focusing on how we as mankind should strive to be more like Christ. Lest we forget, that is the goal of a Christian…to accept Jesus as the savior of mankind, and to lead a more Christ-like life.
We all have our faults, and I’m certain that my own put a serious stain on my soul…but isn’t it time we started worrying about our own faults as Christians, both personally AND as a church/religion/what have you, before we start denouncing our enemies?
In the past week, I’ve heard evolutionary theory ridiculed by a Sunday School teacher who apparently had no clue of what evolutionary theory was. I’ve heard a man tell my uncle that he should boycott a particular hardware store, because they supposedly “support homosexuals”. I’ve heard a preacher lump most churches that weren’t small-town congregations into the “coffee and donuts Mega-Church” category. A Protestant preacher in Florida wants to revive the old Nazi tradition of burning books in three days, because America allows burning books and he disapproves of people reading religious texts that don’t suit him.
I’m not a homosexual, a denier of God’s creation, or a Muslim…and I’ve got a metric shitload of my own faults (a “metric shitload” is 1.1 times as large as a standard “shitload”, in case you’re wondering…it’s a lot!). As a church (I am speaking in the sense of Christianity as a whole, not on behalf of any particular congregation), our faults far outweigh those of “outsiders”, because they are our own faults. In the 60s, our enemy was country music and communists. In the 80s, it was Heavy Metal and the “Satanist” scare. Today, it’s “mainstream homosexuality” and scary brown people on the other side of the world that supposedly hate us for our Christianity and our “freedom”.
In my not-so-humble-as-it-probably-should-be opinion, it is a serious mistake to demonize our fellow man, instead of reaching out to them. If Christ were here today, would He be pointing fingers at others and telling them they were wrong? Would he shun a sinner, or would He engage him in dialogue and persuade him via the peace He represents? Would He scream and yell at a pulpit while delivering His message of repentance, or would he persuade a sinner to repent of his sins by providing him a way to think about the pain those sins are causing?
Have you ever heard the old saying about being able to lead a horse to water, but you can’t MAKE him drink? Well, that’s because horses happen to be a lot like men, in the sense that they don’t really like being FORCED to do anything, even if it may be good for them. A forced faith is not a true faith…and even if it’s being coerced by fear, it’s still being forced.
This is the biggest problem I see with Christianity today, and I even recognize it in my own life. It is, in short, simple arrogance. Even as I write this, I wonder if it’s just my own arrogance taking hold of me again, when I point out what I see as a grandiose mistake on the part of my fellow Christians. Regardless of that fear, I see far too much condemnation of others within what is supposed to be a congregation of Christ-followers, and not nearly enough love for our fellow man.
Isn’t it time for us, as a church, to look at where we are going and focus on our own paths, before we start trying to block off the roads of others? The gates of Heaven are narrow, and the path to Hell is wide. Like it or not, we aren’t able to block off all of the detours.
Look at the path to Heaven as if it were a county road in East Texas, running through those beautiful Piney Woods. The road leads directly to “Heaven Ranch”, with all of the surrounding area being “Hell’s Forest”. Everyone and their uncle wants to go there on that great permanent vacation from the world when they die, and most people are driving a Honda Civic. There are lots of private driveways running off of this county road, and very few people have a map…but most people know that Heaven is somewhere in the area. What’s going to have a better effect on keeping people out of hell? Will it be putting gates on the driveways, posting some “no trespassing” signs on the trees, and hoping people will stay on the path to Heaven because you said it was wrong to go any other way?
I can’t help but think it would be far more effective if we kept the road well-paved, provided fuel along the way, and offered encouragement. If we spend our time telling people what shortcuts not to take, instead of maintaining the road, are we really doing our jobs as traffic coordinators?