The Reality of Authentic Christianity Can Be Scary

In yesterday’s post I wrote about how Christianity is more than following Jesus in some form of the Social Gospel, but deals with actually bringing people to Christ. I’ve thought more about that phrase that I used in the post (“bringing people to Christ”), mostly because I felt uncomfortable using it. I think the reason I feel uncomfortable with it is that many evangelical Christians overuse it. Likewise, theologically speaking, it’s just wrong; people can’t be “brought to Christ” as though they were farm animals. Rather, the role of a Christian isn’t to bring people to Christ, but rather to bring Christ to the people.

Even the idea of “bringing Christ to the people” seems like something that can be bastardized by American Christianity. In fact, one could imagine multiple lesson plans, structures, programs, and campaigns organized to “bring Christ to the people.” It would culminate in taking our American Jesus with our American ideals to a non-American society and encouraging them to become good American Christians. Sadly, many people unintentionally link their Patriotism to their faith, leading to a sentimentality that is no different than that of the general’s in Stanely Kubrick’s Full Metal Jacket. The general says, “We are here to help the Vietnamese, because inside every [Vietnamese] there is an American trying to get out.” Of course, I edited out the racial epithet, but it does underscore what I believe is a mentality within American Christianity.

Now, I could prolong this post by going on and on about the problems with American Christianity. I could point out that we’ve developed this prosperity Gospel. I could show how we’ve become too comfortable with our position in the world. I could speak more and more about the problem of blending the culture with the Gospel, rather than letting the Gospel impact and change the culture. Ultimately, however, there is simply one big problem with American Christianity, and the problem with American Christianity is that a thing such as American Christianity exists. That we can put a cultural adjective before the word “Christianity” is a shame; we wouldn’t want to think of “Japanese Christianity” or “Canadian Christianity” because we would view this as mixing the culture and the Gospel, but this is what has happened with us in America.

Thus, the scariest part about following Christ and truly living as He desires is that in order to be a good Christian, you sometimes have to be a horrible patriot. In order to follow Christ and be true to Him, you sometimes have to be culturally insensitive or even counter-cultural. If the culture says “do this,” but Christ says “do that,” then we must do that which He commands. Many people may think they are tracking with me on this issue. They may think, “Right, like how the Germans mixed the culture too much in WWII and followed Hitler,” or “Right, if the government demanded I abandon Christ I wouldn’t do it.” Certainly this hits the bigger issues, but these are extreme and far-fetching examples. Rather, I am thinking about the underlying currents of these movements; for instance, what created the precedence that allowed German citizens who worshiped Christ to also murder their fellow man?

Look at American culture and consider how much we’ve wrapped our Christianity with the American flag. Imagine if you were walking along the southern border in Texas and heard a story about an illegal immigrant who took a border patrol agent to the hospital. Imagine this story was posted on a conservative news site. While some comments would be reasonable, the overwhelming majority of them would condemn the illegal immigrant for being within our borders, yet many of these naysayers would claim Christ. Apparently they forgot the shocking narrative of the “Good Samaritan,” the fact that “Samaritans” were hated and despised in ancient Israel. In this way we have allowed our culture to wrap up our Christianity; while protecting the border is important, what is far more important is showing compassion and love to those who are outcast (from a Christian perspective).

Alternatively, we can imagine a CEO inviting a “preacher-of-the-people” over to his house to eat. Furthermore, imagine that this CEO bragged about ripping people off to get where he was. Yet, he found this preacher and wanted to dine with him, so he had this preacher come over to his house, feeding this preacher food paid for by money taken from other people. Imagine this story found its way onto a liberal website and imagine the comments you’d get then. Many people would condemn the preacher and say that he abandoned the Gospel because he was dining with someone who had exploited people. Apparently they forgot the shocking act of Zacchaeus (you know, that wee little man) and how Jesus dined with a tax collector, who openly admitted to stealing from people (though he repented). While stopping corporate injustice (where it exists – not all corporations are evil, nor are all CEOs) is important, what is far more important is showing compassion and love to the exploiters that they might stop exploiting (from a Christian perspective).

For these reasons, following Christ in any true sense is a scary activity, which is why few people (including myself) attempt it with any seriousness. And that is quite the shame. In our refusal to abandon the shackles of our culture and embrace the freedom of Christ, we’ve caused the world to grow weary of our version of Christianity. Sadly, the world can’t see that we are offering a cheap trick, a mere substandard imitation of the original. To put it as G.K. Chesterton put it, “The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult; and left untried…Men have not got tired of Christianity; they have never found enough Christianity to get tired of.”

What does it mean to abandon one’s culture and follow Jesus? For Christ, it meant being around prostitutes and tax collectors, around adulterous women and Samaritans, around live-in girlfriends and even Pharisees. For the early Church, it meant being around slaves and Barbarians, around Roman Governors and Gentiles. For us it might mean being around Muslims (even the extremists) and illegal immigrants. It might mean we have to be around abortionists and corrupt CEOs. We might have to befriend Iranians, Iraqis, or Russians. We may need to serve AIDS victims who acquired the disease through promiscuity or by no fault of their own. In other words, to save one’s culture, one must abandon the same culture.

The scary aspect of following Christ is that it is one giant paradox. In our infidelity to our culture we are displaying the greatest act of love. We are telling the culture, “I cannot accept you as you are, but I love you enough to change you into who you ought to be.” To adapt the Gospel to our culture is an act of hateful melancholy because it robs the culture of the true power that Christ offers. To adapt the culture to the Gospel by abandoning one’s culture is an act of love because it rescues the culture from its current position.

If our churches were to start showing more concern for helping their local community than building a bigger sanctuary, then the world would see Christianity. If our people were as concerned over visiting the hospitals (especially terminally ill patients who have no one with them in their moment of need) as they are over their small group meetings, then perhaps the world would consider Christ. Instead, we have ended up with a form of Christianity that focuses on the self and what the self can get out of church. The irony is that American Christianity is pragmatic in all things except in actually living out its faith. Faith isn’t something we work through, but rather something that simply is. Faith almost becomes a state of being, that we’ve said a prayer, we trust in God, and now we’re on the finance committee.

If we wish to see our culture saved, we must abandon it. We must reach out to those who are different from us, even those who would call themselves our enemies. We must begin to live our faith by helping those who can’t help themselves. We must reach out to both the oppressed and the oppressors, calling on both to find brotherhood in Christ.

Following Christ is a scary thing because it requires us to go against everything we’ve learned and grown up with. It’s scary because the things we’ll come to believe and come to say will alienate those closest to us, especially those who are fellow Christians wrapped up in the culture. What is scarier, however, is thinking that rather than letting Christ turn us into His image, we would rather wrap Him in our nation’s flag and make Him into our own image.

Two Issues, One Problem

In my morning reading of the news, I’ve come across two major issues that simply show one giant problem in America. The first is the Supreme Court and the Affordable Healthcare Act. The second is the modern-day lynch mobs being formed to hunt down Zimmerman for the murder of Trayvon Martin. Both issues show one common problem; we’re unwilling to think through complex issues, but instead would much rather jump to conclusions.

The Affordable Healthcare Act, while noble in its intentions, is rightfully being picked apart in questioning by the Supreme Court. The idea that the government can force anyone to buy anything is simply absurd (before people point to car insurance, keep in mind you only have to purchase car insurance if you buy a car; the government doesn’t force us to buy anything as a condition of simply existing). At the same time liberals are bemoaning and attempting to defend what is really an absurd law, conservatives are attempting to defend what is really an absurd system. When we ask for the conservative solution, while some have a more nuanced approach, at the end of the day it looks at those who can’t afford health insurance and says, “Too bad for you.” Liberals think the system is broke and needs to be fixed, but it’s not. The system works fine, it’s just too expensive. Conservatives think the system works completely fine and just needs a few tweaks. The system doesn’t work fine, as there are multiple people who can’t partake in our system.

This issue points to the truth of a G.K. Chesterton saying that, “The business of Progressives is to go on making mistakes. The business of the Conservatives is to prevent the mistakes from being corrected.” The reality is that our current system is simply unaffordable (even by people who have insurance) and highly confusing for those with insurance (I’ve received 7 different “final bills” for a recent hospital trip; even the billing department doesn’t know which one I actually owe). In other words, we do need a solution, but one that doesn’t force the poorest Americans to pay for something that is 1/10 their income. We need to keep our high standards of healthcare, meaning it’ll remain expensive, but find a way to streamline things to try to make it cheaper, or give basic coverage to those who can’t afford healthcare (and reward employees for giving advanced healthcare to their employees, rather than punishing them for not doing so).

However, I don’t expect people to think on this issue. I expect people to react emotionally or along party lines – but we forget that doing so can often have dire consequences. Just ask Spike Lee. He recently tweeted the address of Zimmerman (the man who killed Trayvon Martin) implying, “This is where the guy lives, get him.” Problem is it’s not where he lives; it’s the address of someone completely unrelated.

Now as readers will observe, I certainly believe that Zimmerman was in the wrong and most likely deserves to be charged with manslaughter.  But the lynch mobs that are popping up are without excuse and an overreaction to an injustice. Offering “dead or alive” wanted pictures, calling for the death of Zimmerman, putting bounties on his head; these are not the actions of a civilized nation. Crime happens. Racism happens. But we only make it worse when we resort to vigilante “justice.”

Both of these issues highlight the biggest problem in America, which is that we refuse to think through issues. Some might say that I’m guilty of this too by declaring what Zimmerman did to be a murder, but I would argue that when one follows an individual at night, essentially stalking the person, and the person attacks you, you have instigated the attack. I came to this conclusion by thinking through the circumstance, regardless of the race or character of the individuals involved; if Person A stalks Person B and Person B attacks Person A for it, most people would view Person B as being justified. Person A may kill Person B, but this becomes manslaughter, not self-defense simply because Person A’s actions instigated the whole situation. In fact, in most circumstances people would agree with this. I tend to think that if a black man was stalking a white man and the roles were reversed, suddenly this would be about a black man murdering a white man. However, in this same scenario, the New Black Panther party would be defending the black man while those who are currently defending Zimmerman would be defending the white victim. Why is this? Because we’d rather go with gut reactions and rely on our biases than to think through the issue.

Why is it that America is becoming more and more polarized on issues of race and politics? It’s because we’ve found our comfort zone in terms of thinking and we refuse to leave it. We’ll watch Fox News and only Fox News. We’ll read Drudge, Brietbart, or some other conservative outlet. We’ll listen to Limbaugh and Hannity and no one else (except other conservatives). Or, alternatively, we’ll watch MSNBC and only MSNBC. We’ll read Huffington Post or Think Progress or the Daily Kos, or some other liberal outlet. We’ll listen to Maddow and no one else (except other liberals). In essence, we have created intellectual ghettos for ourselves, refusing to interact with other ideas beyond saying, “You’re an idiot and you’re wrong.”

The true sign of being open-minded is the willingness to evaluate ideas. By “evaluate” I don’t mean begin with our beliefs and work from there, because sometimes our beliefs can taint our viewpoint. We may approach politics through a libertarian or Communistic ideal, thus tainting any opinion that doesn’t align itself with our ideal. We may approach race issues as “white is right” or “black power,” but such beliefs merely taint other opinions. In those cases, we truly refuse to see how the other person sees the issue. This doesn’t mean we will necessarily agree with the person’s view, but it means we can understand it and learn from it.

Perhaps we should have a new standard in our discourse. We should only be allowed to vocalize our disagreement with someone once we can provide an explanation for the belief we’re criticizing, and the explanation is something the supporters of the idea agree is an adequate explanation. This means abandoning ideals and dealing with the fact that when it comes to practical issues, there are multiple ways to solve a problem. Instead of being high on attitude, we could for once attempt to be high on reason.

Or you could just say I’m an idiot and go back to your intellectual ghetto.


A Selfish Generation

According to Yahoo news, more and more people are abandoning the idea of having children in America (and globally). The reasons vary, but the article points to the belief that having children makes a couple unhappier and places a major financial burden on the couple.

Obviously, when it comes to having children, there is a major financial burden involved. For instance, I can survive on a reduced income compared to Josh simply because I don’t have kids while he does. Once I’m married, the years without children will be less stressful because it’ll just be my wife and myself. So no one can or should argue that having children doesn’t increase the responsibilities for an individual. Sadly, however, we are a society that tends to shirk responsibility unless there is something in it for us, hence we’re trending towards not wanting children.

To me, such a trivial thing underscores how selfish we are as Americans. It’s one thing to want to avoid having children because you can barely feed yourself, much less someone else. It’s a whole other to refuse to have children because you want to drive the nicest cars, live a completely independent life, or have nice things. If the reason one is avoiding having children is because the focus is on one’s self, then that person is a child in the body of an adult.

Having children requires sacrifices, responsibility, the putting of someone else first, and patience. In other words, it requires love. So perhaps many of these couples who simply don’t want to have a child due to their materialistic dreams are couples that simply lack love.


Birthers, Truthers, Deathers, and the Failure of Empiricism

Last Wednesday, President Obama decided to release his birth certificate to the general public in order to silence the “birthers” and the numerous people who doubted that he was, in fact, born in the United States.

Today, the president had decided not to release a photo of Osama bin Laden taken post-mortem.

In both instances, there are people doubting the validity of the claim. On the birth certificate issue, people are saying that the certificate is doctored up, or there are other bits of evidence that contradict the certificate. On the death of Osama, others are saying that we won’t produce a photo because Osama is actually dead (but even if one were produced, you know you’d have so-called ‘experts’ out there showing how it’s photoshopped).

We also have the “truthers” who deny that 9/11 was caused by a terrorist cell based out of the Middle East (the most simplistic explanation). Prior to the birth certificate, upwards of 20% of Americans doubted that Obama was born in the US. In a recent poll, upwards of 30% of Americans think the US government had something to do with 9/11. And rest assured that a multitude of Americans will doubt whether or not Osama bin Laden is actually dead.

What is going on in America? Do we just have an abnormally large number of people who are crazy, or is it something else? I would contend it’s something else. Continue reading

An Empty Generation

At what point did Americans begin to classify who they are by the stuff they have rather than their essential identity? The idea that, “I could be somebody if I did this or had that” is really a shallow way of looking at life. With my degree in philosophy I’m asked all the time, “Yeah, but what can you do with it?” Of course, being sarcastic my reply is usually something to the effect of, “Anything I want” or “Your job, only better.” After all, a business degree teaches you terminology and what to think while philosophy teaches you how to think. Regardless, a philosophy degree teaches you about the world, how it functions, what moves it, and so on.

But when people ask, “What can you do with that degree,” they essentially mean, “How can that degree get you stuff?” My degree is only as valuable as the paycheck it will bring me. No mother is aghast when her child decides to be a doctor or a lawyer because those vocations create capital. But if that child decides to be an artist or an English major, there is immediate panic; not because these are useless vocations, but because the mother has been trained (via industrial Capitalism) to evaluate degrees based upon the amount of money they produce.

What, exactly, has this produced in our society? There are less artists (or at least people who can legitimately be called artists), less thinkers, and less culture. When we look to a culture, especially the great cultures of history, their thinkers, artists, musicians, literary writers, and even their historians define them. Rarely do we think of a culture as great because of their litigious nature or how much stuff the people had. In fact, a Roman who had a lot of “stuff” means nothing to us; we have better “stuff” now. But a Roman who was educated in philosophy is immortal.

We live in a shallow culture, one that was created by and is now perpetuated by pragmatic Capitalism. In order to make money, companies had to convince people that without the company product, individual lives simply weren’t fulfilling. “Your life isn’t complete until you drive our newest car.” “With our dress you can stick out in a crowd.” “If you drink our brand then people will be drawn to you.” It all plays off narcissism and, in many ways, increases our tendency towards self-centeredness.

In all of this we have adopted an individualistic hive mentality. The use of the contradiction is intentional as we live contradictory lives; we think we’re individuals and we want to stick out in a crowd, but we buy into the hive mentality that x is popular and therefore we’ll wear x in order to “stick out.” At the end of the day, we look like everyone else and have nothing to show for it. Continue reading

“That Offends Me!”

A common complaint that is often heard is, “That offends me!” Generally such a statement is not a mere statement of fact, but is tantamount to saying, “My rights have been violated.” The idea of, “You support homosexual rights” or “you’re against homosexual rights” might offend someone and that someone might then seek to have you silenced, somehow theorizing that you have infringed upon his rights. Or in the case of religion (where this phrase is most often in use) someone might say that religious discussions offend him, which is code for, “You don’t have the right to say this/you’re infringing upon my right.”

What people forget is that while offense might ruin public decorum or impede understanding between two opposing sides, the right to not be offended isn’t a right. If a government employee says, “I believe in Allah and the five pillars of Islam,” while that might offend you, that doesn’t mean your rights have been violated.

The First Amendment does not say, “Citizens shall not talk about religion if it offends someone” or “government employees shall not talk about religion if it offends someone.” For those curious about what the First Amendment states (such as Christine O’Donnell), it says (in part):

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof

Now, what in there says that you have the right to not be offended. Understandably the First Amendment would prohibit the government from telling you what religion to believe or what not to believe, or it would prohibit the government from making you pay taxes to a religious institution (or to an anti-religious institution). But what in there says you have the right to avoid offense?

The thing is, we’ve become so anti-religion that any mention of it and we automatically think a right has been violated. If a congressperson says, “We turn to God for hope,” automatically we believe that the government is forcing us to adopt a religion to the exclusion of all other religions. If a teacher says, “I don’t believe there is a God, but there are multiple viewpoints that you should consider when you look at the issue yourself,” no one’s rights have been violated. It might be offensive, but this certainly doesn’t mean rights have been violated.

The idea of having a separation between Church and State is a good one so long as the State doesn’t overpower the Church in having this separation. The First Amendment addressed religion because the Church overran the State, which then imposed taxes and fines on those who didn’t agree with the Church. In rebelling against such a monster, the State has subdued the Church and made sure she has no voice in public discourse, that is, the State is overrunning the Church, which is now attempting to silence any religious voices in public debate. This was not the meaning of the First Amendment.  Continue reading

Dr. Strangethought or: How I Learned to Stop Being Modern and Love Being Post

It’s popular in our culture today to attach the prefix “post” to an ideology or position to indicate that we have somehow advanced beyond such a position or ideology. Such phrasing, however, tends to be more Orwellian than an accurate description, as what is usually “post” still holds to the key tenets of what it supposedly leaves behind, but simply changes the conclusions of those tenets. We might say we are “post-anything,” but the sad reality is that we still very much belong to the old ideology; we slap “post” on there to act as though we’ve escaped the ideology, but we are still within its grasps.

Imagine that while walking in the woods, you come across a house. The outside of the house is painted brown and has roses in the garden. When you walk in you notice that the house has 2 bedrooms, an office, one bathroom, the carpet is purple, and the entire inside is painted red. Such a house simply will not do for your tastes. You first take out the roses and plant tulips. Next you paint the house beige on the outside and pure white on the inside. You take out the carpet and put in hardwood floors, all the while you add another bathroom and turn the study into another bedroom. While the house is different, the frame and foundation remain the same.

Likewise, when we apply the word “post” to an ideology, more often than not we have simply redecorated the ideology without changing the ideology. The base presuppositions of the ideology remain the same, but the conclusions and certain definitions to terms might change. In essence, the ideology remains the same, but is still tweaked; the presuppositions remain while the conclusions drawn from the presuppositions change.

For instance, we think of “post-modernism,” which should indicate that we have moved past the Enlightenment period of history and are now in a period that no longer holds onto the theory of absolutes, that is, we have abandoned the Enlightenment experiment and find ourselves to be enlightened for it. Any astute observer of the history of philosophy will tell you, however, that we haven’t really moved beyond modernism, but simply shifted the conclusions of modernism. Whereas modernism recognized the inherent problem of knowledge and embraced skepticism, it eventually concluded that we could reach a unified epistemology (way of thinking) worldwide through reason. Though there are some differences between modernism and modern modernism (what is called post-modernism), each begins with the same premise and presuppositions, but simply move in different directions as to the conclusions.

But post-modernism isn’t the only mis-labeled term. Terms such as “post-racial,” “post-feminism,” “post-colonialism,” and even “post-Christian” tend to fall into the Orwellian trap of renaming something to change how it’s received. Is our society truly post-racial? When a black politician can encourage voters to vote for a senatorial candidate because “he looks like us” and no one pays attention to such blatant racism, are we really “post-racial”? Rather, what we call post-racial is little more than racism against the majority – should you label something wrong because it’s a vestige of the “white male” then you are seen as an academic. Should you label something wrong because it’s a vestige of the “black man” then you are seen as a racist. The fact is both viewpoints are racist because both seek to lift up one race while degrading another. There is certainly nothing post-racial about that; the core of racism remains the same (i.e. that one race is superior/inferior than another race), but the conclusions are different. Continue reading