My faith has always been an ill-tended garden. It’s an unfortunate truth, one that I’ve kept fairly well hidden. With the onset of my anxiety issues, however, I’ve been forced to really look inward and examine my beliefs. For if I really had faith in what I claim to believe, I really shouldn’t be having anxiety problems. That was my initial thought, though it proved to be untrue.
God has always been in the background of my life. Ever since those early days when my mom and dad took me to church. I never wanted to go to. I locked myself in the bathroom because I didn’t want to attend Sunday school. When I got older, I went to a youth group called the Boy’s Brigade (sort of like Boy Scouts). I even went to a Christian school.
I didn’t realize at the time but my education through these places was never actually very thorough. I learned all the cliche’s and buzz words (“born again”, “get saved”, “sinner’s prayer”, “altar call” and so on). I learned all about the evils of the occult, rock music, and Hallowe’en. I learned about how I was a sinner and would go to hell unless I accepted Christ. I had Bible classes as part of the curriculum. We prayed before classes. We had chapel services on Wednesdays.
I prayed the magic sinner’s prayer in sixth grade. And probably about ten times a year after that. But I didn’t know what I was doing. I did it because people said I should, or else I’d go to hell. I was never offered a proper explanation. It was never explained just what this prayer was supposed to do or mean, other than “Now Jesus lives in your heart.”
Really? That’s it?
It boiled down to a number’s game. There was a singular focus: get people saved. It didn’t matter if they really understood their decision. All of that would come in time. They just need to pray this prayer and get saved. That was the focus, so little effort was spent in quantifying the decision or properly educating someone who prayed the magic prayer regarding what they were supposed to do. No one is ever told how hard it’s going to be. It’s pitched like a magic fix for the worst of problems.
The issue here is that we end up with a bunch of spiritually immature believers with little to no guidance or understanding, who are left to go out and continue the sales/recruiting process. These people go out into all the world to follow what they were told was the focus of Christ’s message. But they fail. Because they cannot withstand the criticisms and challenges of skeptics. Their beliefs can never truly take root, so they have no real defense. They are left with a tenuous framework of belief tenets, a list of stuff they should avoid and a list of cliche’s with which to do the recruiting. That’s it.
I don’t mean any of that literally, of course. And I’m sure many of these people who are out there trying to “save” others are good people who are trying to do the right thing. The problem is they aren’t really looking at the big picture. They don’t know Christ; instead, they know what his message is according to what they were told. They don’t question. They don’t wonder. They accept it all on blind faith – irresponsible blind faith.
Growing up in the midst of all this, it’s no wonder at all that eventually I fell away from it. Looking at this approach as an adult, with a certain degree of wisdom and experience, I can easily trace my path from that kid in the private school to the adult plagued with doubts and questions. I’ve always had discontent in my spirit about many of these things. None of it has ever seemed right. I’ve recently realized my real issue with Christianity wasn’t necessarily believing in God or in Christ… it was the people who claimed they do.
Gandhi once said, “I like your Christ. I do not like your Christians. They are so unlike your Christ.” I cannot find better words to describe the current state of Christianity in this country, and in the world at large. So many people who claim to be Christians are the exact opposite. Not only do they often fail to communicate the message of Christ, half the time they’re communicating the wrong message altogether. Almost every public face of this faith has been brought down in the last few decades, or they’ve had a PR faux pas that has ruined their ministry. They act so holy, pretend to be perfect in the public eye… but eventually their sin catches up. And since they don’t preach a message that says “Hey, we are Christian but we still screw up, we don’t have all the answers” they are judged fiercely by the public, thus reflecting poorly on the whole. (I won’t even get into the war-mongering Christians who want to obliterate others; needless to say, wars have been fought in the name of Christ.)
If I were an outsider looking for something higher to believe in, I’d have a hard time accepting Christianity. Its people behave in a way that is in direct contrast to the message of the faith. I certainly don’t expect perfection – but a lot of people who claim to be Christians aren’t even in the right ballpark.
Yet as much as I cannot abide organized Christianity, I also cannot dismiss the faith it is supposed to represent. It is unique from other faiths in that it is not based upon teachings, but a person. You can take Buddha out of Buddhism and still have his teachings. You can remove the person of Muhammad and still have the teachings of Islam. But if you attempt to remove the person of Christ from Christianity, you completely lose Christianity. The faith is tied directly into the person, not the teaching.
It comes down to this: either Christ was who he claimed to be, or he wasn’t. It’s a very direct question, isn’t it? It’s a “yes” or “no” answer. And this answer forms the basis of the absoluteness of the faith. There is no middle ground, no room for interpretation. There can be no “Jesus was a good earthly teacher or prophet, but he wasn’t the son of God.” Why? Think about it – this guy claimed to be the Son of God. Which means one of two things: either he really was… or he was a lunatic with a death wish. Who in their right mind would stroll into the biggest city in Israel, the very front door of the teachers of the law, and claim to be the Son of God? I don’t care how uplifting his teachings were, he must have been out of his mind. Or he must have been right. It’s one or the other. It can’t be both.
I’m digressing a bit, and I apologize. The point to all of this, I suppose, is not to judge the whole by the rantings of a few. I can assure you there are thousands of people out there who would call themselves Christians, who are thoughtful, responsible, tolerant, and helpful. I’m still working out my own faith. Still analyzing and questioning (which, if you read the scriptures in context, we are encouraged to do) because that is how you grow. I regret that the public perception of this faith is so negative, because the heart of it is the exact opposite. And I regret that I let myself be led down shallow, unfulfilling paths instead of being more discerning.
I’ll write more on the subject another time. I think the real message of Christ is getting skewed by these salesmen who are hunting for bigger numbers. But that’s a message for another day.