Show the difference believing makes

Derek Penwell, writing at Huffington Post, says many of the "nones" turn away from religion, at least Christianity, because of the apparent unwillingness of many Christians to live like Jesus. The question that should be keeping Christians up at night is "So what?"

It strikes me that much of what drives this unenthusiastic response to religion, at least in the case of Christianity, centers on the apparent (at least to observers) unwillingness of Christians to live like Jesus. The "Nones" have heard endlessly about Christianity and how everybody would be better off if the world would just believe the stuff Christians believe:

They've gotten the message, for instance, that being Christian means you believe being gay is a sin -- and not just any sin, but sin in a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad way. The express-lane-to-Hell kind of sin. Then they read the Gospels about a Jesus who reserves his most stinging indictments not for the folks everybody else has already given up on, but for the stalwarts at the top of the religious and political food chain, the ones who join Rotary, drive Buicks and wear sensible shoes.

They hear the smugness of Christian reproaches against a society that would presume to remove God from public schools (because, you know, God is used to getting kicked around by effete liberals). But we shouldn't be surprised how the "Nones" fail to square the fairly straightforwardly pacifist Jesus of the Gospels with the Libertarian Jesus of some Christians, a Jesus who apparently doesn't have a problem with the idea that school safety can be secured with "God and a loaded gun."

Christians claim to believe in a Jesus, who spent a great deal of time reaching out to, speaking out for, advocating on behalf of "the least of these"; but then some segments of Christianity align themselves with a brand of politics that seems interested in advancing only the interests of the wealthiest among us -- at the expense of the poor, the hungry, the naked, and the outcast -- which is to say, at the expense of the least of these. What are outsiders to think?

So, here's the thing: Christians can't just believe stuff. People want an answer to the question: "So what?" They want to know what turns on these much-discussed beliefs, what difference these beliefs make in our lives. Do they help us care for the poor, feed the hungry, clothe the naked or welcome the outcast? Or do these beliefs merely represent a golden barrier that offer protection against blame?

In short, people who've lost interest in Christianity might just like to see Christians for whom believing "this stuff" is merely the first step to actually living it out.


Comments (7)

It's been said before and can't be said enough: The world needs a lot less "Christian" and a lot more Christlike.

We miss the point when we limit Christianity to a system of belief or worship, rather than an ethos of behavior, a way of living and relating to others. As theologian Verna Dozier asked, "Do you want to follow Jesus or are you content just to worship him?" Belief and worship aren't enough. There's much more to it than that: "As children copy their fathers you, as God's children, are to copy him. Live your lives in love -- the same sort of love which Christ gives us and which he perfectly expressed when he gave himself up for us in sacrifice to God," as J.B. Phillips rendered Ephesians 5:1-2.

If "nones" aren't drawn to Christianity, we can't just blame "secularism," "modernism," "the devil" or any other convenient scapegoat at hand. We have to be honest and ask ourselves if our salt has lost its flavor. As Jesus said: "You are the salt of the earth. But what good is salt if it has lost its flavor? Can you make it salty again? It will be thrown out and trampled underfoot as worthless" (Matthew 5:13).

What John Chrysostom had to say about the Christians and "nones" of his day rings no less true today:

"We who are disciples of Christ claim that our purpose on earth is to lay up treasures in heaven. But our actions often belie our words. Many Christians build for themselves fine houses, lay out splendid gardens, construct bathhouses and buy fields. It is small wonder, then, that many pagans refuse to believe what we say. 'If their eyes are set on mansions in heaven,' they ask, 'why are they building mansions on earth? If they put their words into practice, they would give away their riches and live in simple huts.' So these pagans conclude that we do not sincerely believe in the religion we profess; and as a result they refuse to take this religion seriously. You may say that the words of Christ on these matters are too hard for you to follow; and that while your spirit is willing, your flesh is weak. My answer is that the judgment of the pagans about you is more accurate than your judgment of yourself. When the pagans accuse us of hypocrisy, many of us should plead guilty."

This kind of argument comes up all the time, but the responses given for the "nones" are completely bogus. The scenario given shows that even the religious don't believe their magic fairy in the sky. They drag their religion out whenever they need to shut someone up. All religion is fraud perpetrated for power and control.

Gary Young

Gary I'd like to see your proof. I tend to trust the research done on this more than your rant. Many "nones" state they are believers, they just don't like churches and no wonder. Also, if God is a "magic fairy", why is life so damn hard for LGBT people?

Lan Green

It's not my position to supply proof. Religion has been under suspicion for so long that the defense to shut any discussion down has been well practiced. Since Marx, Nietzsche, and Freud, over a hundred years ago, religion can't be defended outside of the unconscious, culture, and economics. This suspicion has permeated society for a long time and it's obvious that we are moving into a post-Christian world, the United States more slowly than Europe.

Gary Young

My Flying Spaghetti Monster will smite your Magic Sky Fairy!

Seriously, Gary, please take your anti-theist trolling somewhere else. There are a plenitude of sites for your "Life has no transcendent meaning/Then you're Just Dead" (s)creeds elsewhere. Go in peace, leave us to our "ignorance."

JC Fisher

To paraphrase the original post in the lines of the well known song, "They will know we are Christians by our love, by our love ...", but we sure get nasty fast if anyone wants to talk about any of "those inconveniences". Good luck with stemming the outflows, and goodbye.

Gary Young

I apologize if my response seems unloving, Gary. In my experience, Love is very fleshy---you get your hands dirty while giving/receiving it. Ergo, blogs are rarely ever places where love appears. It is my profound hope that you encounter Love---whether it's called "Christian Love" or any other version---in the way that you can most appreciate.

I am sincere in this: go (abide) in peace.

JC Fisher

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