**This post is intended for just about anybody…Christians, non-Christians, and atheists alike.**
So, I gave up Facebook for Lent. But right before I did, I wrote one last status (a short post, for the uninitiated) indicating my decision. It wasn’t long before a few of my friends – presumably anti-religious – jumped in with what could be considered mocking and ridiculing people who practice religion. It was all good. No offense taken. In fact, I thought it was actually pretty funny.
Fast forward to about a week or so ago. I was on campus (a decidedly liberal campus, I should point out) and the same scenario played itself out. In conversation with a friend – undoubtedly atheist – I mentioned my Facebook Lent. For the record, I didn’t go around broadcasting my Facebook fast strictly for the sake of announcing it. The conversation started when he asked me why I haven’t been posting to my Facebook. Just wanted to throw that out there. Anyway, what started off as a conversation about my Facebook inactivity turned into a discussion about faith and religion.
If I was a betting man, I’d say the non-believer’s issue is not with the idea of Jesus. I’m sure they’re not saying to themselves “Man. That Jesus dude sure was an asshole.” Despite having hoards of followers doting on him – some of whom cleaned His feet with their own tears – one would be hard-pressed to find something flawed about the life of Jesus as told in the Bible. He emitted no signs of greed, avarice or cruelty. The few instances where he demonstrated even a morsel of anger were in response to Pharisees and Sadducees (whom I liken to today’s Religion Right) or other folks who were full of sh*t. But His life was ultimately about selflessly improving the lives of others. He healed the sick, fed the hungry, promoted social justice, and engaged in many other socially progressive activities without seeking the glory and adulation that most of us expect these days. So the problem can’t be with Jesus, right?
My guess is: the problem is with all of Jesus’ so-called “followers.” Opposite of Jesus, many of these folks are shallow-thinking, stubborn, unchanging, judgmental, exclusive people who use the Bible as their justification to advance their narrow-minded agenda. I get that. I see it myself. There undoubtedly is a lot of truth in the notion that many “Christians” make no attempt to actually live like Christ. I can point that out because I freely admit that even I find myself in that crowd. The idea of being like Jesus sounds terrific on paper, but when the rubber meets the road, life doesn’t play out the same way. All the same, I’d like to think that I – and countless other Christians – accomplish the feat of Christ-likeness a bit better than the likes of some of the folks on the Religious Right. Yet in the eyes of many atheists and non-religious types, we’re all painted with the same broad brush. ***As a side note, I find it ironic that many atheists accuse Christians of being intolerant, shallow, and judgmental. Yet they’re doing the exact same thing when they categorize all Christians. But that topic is for another day.
In all truth, I don’t believe that Christians need to be carbon copies of Jesus in order to be good people. In fact, I would argue that the bulk of us (believers and non-believers alike) are generally good people who occasionally have our moments of weakness and failure. We are all finite creatures subject to the same flaws and who have the same desires for good. Most of us want a world without war, greed, suffering, and inequality. Most of us have our hearts in the right place. But there are certain individuals among us have seized control of the cameras and have become de-facto representation of who we are not. Similar to how Muslims have to fight the widespread belief of terrorists associations, I think Christians have to fight the demonstrably false belief that we should all be lumped in the same group.
If I had to describe the various faces of Christianity, I’d say it’s made up of the following groups:
Christ-Like Folks (CLFs)
These folks exist – trust me – even if they appear to be too far and in between. Thing is: they are often hard to spot, mostly because they exude a very humble, quiet, and unassuming life. They do things without seeking praise and recognition, and you certainly won’t hear them broadcasting their good works. There are a few – admittedly – who get wide-spread recognition (iconic figures like Mother Theresa), but it’s only because of how amazing their lives are. Contrary to fundamentalist thinking, I think this group even includes non-“Christians.” You won’t get me to believe that a non-Christian like Ghandi is not enjoying eternal life in Heaven just because he wasn’t a Christian. I have a hard time reconciling myself to the idea that genuinely good people missed out on Heaven because of a belief system.
Christ-Like Folks in Training (CLFiTs)
I like to think that I and most people I know land in this group. We have our moments when we slip up and miss the mark. But our hearts are generally in the right place. We profess Jesus as Lord, do our best to abide by His teachings, and try to take inventory on our lives when we screw up. Though we don’t have the same body of work as those who are truly Christ-like (and probably never will), our spirits are in the right place. That’s a start.
I think dogmatists believe they are following Christ’s example (which is a good thing), but in many respects they’ve missed the boat. These people tend to take too aggressive of an approach with people they consider “unholy.” They scold people, put them in check, and take every opportunity they can to arrogantly lecture them based on their interpretation of what’s “right”, “decent and in order”, and on what will or won’t send you to Hell. These people tend to subscribe to certain ideas without putting in the necessary critical thinking to support their faith; and often do so in a way that is damaging to the very Gospel they’re supposed to be advancing. When they do lead people to Christ, I suspect the folks they lead are simply the next batch of dogmatists to hit the scene. Dogmatists spend so much time trying to earn brownie points with Jesus through their works that they often do things completely opposite of what He did. They spend more time threatening people about going to Hell when they die than they spend in supporting and uplifting people those same people while they’re alive.
I suppose the term “zombie” is inaccurate in one sense, but spot-on in another. In terms of inaccuracies, we tend to visualize zombies as dead, rotting, monster-like corpses who have suddenly become reanimated. That’s not what I’m talking about. I’m thinking more about people who simply operate while having a voided sense of who they are, what they’re doing, or why they’re doing it. Theymindlessly shift through life, seemingly without a functioning brain or heart. They don’t have the same kinds of misplaced priorities and approaches as dogmatists, which is a good thing. But they tend to do things without an understanding of why they do them, which could be just as bad as dogmatists. Zombies are the type who go to church out of obligation or to “get something out of it” and who will feed on whatever is available. The thing with zombies: they’re like the ghosts from the Sixth Sense, they walk around freely without really knowing they’re dead or dying inside. Oppositely of the dogmatists who unduly pontificate to others just for the sake of being “right” or who blindly follow unsound doctrine, zombies do things which are easy, seamless, and require no thinking.
These people – saved or unsaved – are truly the scum of the Earth. These are the folks who believe that natural disasters are God’s way of punishing people for their “sinful ways”. They believe that gays are automatically hell-bound, abortion doctors are “murders” and can be/should be killed in protest, and who swear up and down that everything in this world is an assault on Christianity. When you hear non-Christians (mostly of the atheist variety) bad-mouthing Christians, it’s usually these people who are being described. Perhaps the dogmatists and zombies fall under some of the same scrutiny, but oftentimes, they don’t have the same bully pulpits from which they can spew their noise as the despicables. These folks have no problem reminding the world of how upright they are, how evil the rest of the world is, and how everybody needs to conform to their standards. These folks habitually use Jesus’ name to justify their evil, bigotry, and close-minded thinking. These people are truly the armpits of society, religious or otherwise.
There you have it. Though I don’t process to be a foremost authority on all things Christian, here is my assessment based on my years as a believer. For fellow believers, I hope this serves as guide for measuring where you are in your walk. For non-believers, let this serve as a reminder that not all of us are religious wingnuts. If you place us all in the same group simply because of our beliefs, you’re no better than the likes of Pat Roberton, Jerry Falwell, or a host of the types of folks you criticize.
Holler at me!