Since long before I even had the thought of starting a blog I wanted to give a confession. Not in the Catholic way though, I didn’t see the point of that. No, I wanted to confess to everyone. I felt this way ever since I read Blue like Jazz. In it (if you haven’t read it yet) Donald Miller tells of the time that he and some friends set up a confession booth on the Reed University campus grounds during a particularly rowdy festival. It was a rather strange mood as Christians weren’t the best loved group of people on this campus, but the difference was that they didn’t take confession, they gave it. They confessed their own shortcomings as Christians and the shortcomings of the church to anyone who would step inside the booth. I remember reading that chapter more than once because there was something incredibly right about that to me. So I had the idea to do my own confession long before I started the blog and once I started it I realized this would be the perfect place for it. Of course that was back when I didn’t think anyone would actually read my blog. Although it wasn’t really a case of me continually postponing actually doing it, the right moment for it just never seemed to arrive. After writing my previous post however, this just seemed like the most natural follow-up. After all, to talk about how we need to come clean regarding the times we aren’t acting like disciples of Jesus and then not actually do it would be the height of hypocrisy,
I ran into yet another great motivation for actually doing this post when I read a brilliant post by Digapigmy about racism and how we tend to judge a group of people by the worst experiences we have with them. This is most certainly true of Christianity and when reflecting on all the horrible things we have done in the name of Jesus I sometimes wonder why people still want anything to do with Christianity. I remember once reading this article in a magazine about a guy who got drunk after his girl left him and proceeded to vandalize all the traffic signs in town, causing a small fortune in damage. The reason I remember that is because in the article he was posing proudly with a WWJD bracelet and I remember thinking "Wow, so not only do you embarrass yourself but you plan on making Jesus look like an idiot right along with you?" It's just so easy for us as Christians to make Jesus look bad. I stand by what I said in the previous post – we – as the community of Christians – need to start owning our mistakes. Simply saying “those people weren’t true Christians” doesn’t make every evil thing done in the name of God magically disappear. Pretending we’re perfect isn’t fooling anyone.
This then is my confession:
First of all I would like to apologize to every non-Christian out there for the terrible things we as Christians have done. It would be presumptuous of me to pretend I can apologize “on behalf of” all Christians since I don’t really have that kind of position or authority. No one elected me the mouthpiece of Christianity. I can speak as a Christian however. Since the Bible teaches that all believers act as many parts of one Body, I cannot see myself as wholly separate from the things other parts of this Body does. I share a part of the responsibility and a part of the blame and therefore as a Christian, I ask your forgiveness. Not just for the Crusades and the Inquisition and the witch hunts of the past but also for the greedy televangelists, the faith healing con-men, the Westboro Baptist Church and all the fundies in online forums saying the most ignorant, cruel and stupid things.
I don't know why we do these things. Sometimes it's the way we've been raised, sometimes it's because we've been misinformed and for some of these things there is simply no excuse. These things were wrong, they were wicked, they are evil and they have nothing to do with Jesus. I know all the people who committed these terrible things would say they were acting as His representatives, they may even give many reasons in support including Bible verses, but they really aren't representing Jesus. If you look at Jesus - and I don't mean that in some kind of spooky, mystic way I mean if you just read about His life in the Gospels - you see that He was nothing like Torquemada or Fred Phelps. He didn't go around hurting people, He spent his life doing good. His message wasn't that God hated you but that God loved you and wanted you as a family member. You hear the words "Kingdom of God" and you shudder at the thought - and for good reason! The way people have been talking about this "Kingdom" is downright disturbing and scary sometimes. That was not how Jesus meant it though, for Him it was about creating a better sort of living here on Earth - one were we actually gave a crap about one another and didn't spend our days screwing each other over. People didn't follow Him because He forced them to or threatened them, but because they wanted to. He was good and He was kind, especially to those who didn't have it all together. He never lashed out at people who were broken or immoral or feeling lost, in fact the only people He ever lashed out at were the religious leaders who made the lives of broken people more difficult. You never see Him asking for money or even taking up collection - you do however see Him giving and giving and giving to the point of giving His own life. He wasn't slick and polished like the televangelists or too neat and clean to spend time with sick or outcast people. He was raw and revolutionary and real and He loved people and not in the fake way you often find in church but rather in the real way, they way that makes a difference. He didn't need clever speeches or fancy marketing, if He drew crowds it was because He was genuinely honest and kind and accepting of everyone.
Personally I have failed to live up to this example. In fact I'm sorry to say that if you have been looking to me to see what Jesus looked like I wouldn't blame you for not liking Jesus that much. He told me to take care of the poor and the sick and I don't do that so much. I don't feed the hungry or clothe the poor, in fact I usually wish that poor people would just leave me alone. Jesus set such a high standard for morality and I really don't measure up to it. I am self centered, greedy, lustful and selfish - all the things He asked me not to be. I don't always have faith, I'm not even always sure God exists. A lot of the time I feel as if God is more like an imaginary friend than anything real. I am good at theology because I know the Bible and I know the terms but I'll level with you - a lot of the time I do seminary assignments I feel like I'm writing an infomercial for a product I don't use. I have done a lot of wrong things and even worse - I've neglected to do a lot of right things. I'm truly sorry for not actually showing you what Jesus looks like in the way I live my life. Because that's the one thing I'm most ashamed of - the fact that actually doing it wouldn't have been impossible. I simply didn't choose to.
Considering the way my fellow Christians and I fail to live up to the example and teachings of Jesus I would understand if you wonder if there is anything real about it at all. The Buddhists do far better at the behavior thing it seems and the Muslims certainly do better at being devoted. These days its pretty hard to come up with a good comeback when people call Christianity fake. But please know that this movement, this organization, this monstrous thing that Christianity has become doesn't really resemble what Jesus (and His disciples after Him) brought to the world. The change for the better that Jesus promises is very real and it happens every day. I don't know why we seem to stray so easily but when we act like Jesus and we do what He told us to - when we see the inherent worth of every human being regardless of who they are and when we love people for exactly who they are and when we take care of the weak and the sick and the marginalized, there are no words to describe it. When it happens you can see the Kingdom Jesus was talking about and you want to be a part of it. The change He promised to bring to our hearts - it happens. I'm really sorry for not showing you more of that. Please forgive me for not always following Jesus. That's not His fault though. The fact that I got lazy doesn't invalidate Jesus any more than getting sick again after prematurely ending your antibiotics invalidates antibiotics. Just listen to Him for a bit and you will see that Jesus offers something far better than this monster called Christianity.
Ever heard of the time that the Norse god Loki bet his head? Well he lost the bet and when the dwarfs (who the bet was with) came to collect, he said “Sure, take my head – but remember you are not allowed to take any part of my neck, that wasn’t part of the deal.” By doing that he managed to keep his head because no one could agree on where the neck began and the head ended. Obviously some parts were all head and some were all neck but where did the one stop and the other begin? This is the reason I love stories and myth so much, they always end up teaching us a lot about ourselves and the world we live in. This particular story forms the basis of a logical fallacy called Loki’s Wager - insisting that a concept cannot be defined, and therefore cannot be discussed.
This is related to another logical fallacy of equivocation called the “No true Scotsman” fallacy. Antony Flew described it with the following example:
“Imagine Hamish McDonald, a Scotsman, sitting down with his Glasgow Morning Herald and seeing an article about how the "Brighton Sex Maniac Strikes Again." Hamish is shocked and declares that "No Scotsman would do such a thing." The next day he sits down to read his Glasgow Morning Herald again and this time finds an article about an Aberdeen man whose brutal actions make the Brighton sex maniac seem almost gentlemanly. This fact shows that Hamish was wrong in his opinion but is he going to admit this? Not likely. This time he says, “No true Scotsman would do such a thing.”
—Antony Flew, Thinking about Thinking, 1975
If you have ever read Christian literature, watched or listened to Christian media or debated with a Christian regarding the bad things perpetrated in the name of God it should be very familiar to you. Christians have a horrible tendency to list all the worst examples of every other religion/ideology/group as proof positive that these guys are obviously wrong (not to mention evil) and Christianity is then obviously true – since Christians do none of these things. However, should someone bring up things like, the “Holy” Crusades, the Inquisition, the Salem witch trails, the Christian persecution of Jews etc (it’s a very long list really) the immediate answer is “Well those don’t apply, because those people weren’t true Christians!”
It’s brilliant really. With this kind of reasoning, Christianity is bulletproof. We get to claim everything good done by people calling themselves Christian but the moment a Christian does anything wrong, we don’t have to claim responsibility for that since obviously he wasn’t a true This way Christianity gets to be perfect (in the eyes of Christians anyway, I doubt anyone else is fooled) and no one gets to prove different. After all, you need to define something before you can prove it wrong and when it comes to this one the definition can be slippery. Basically the definition of a "true Christian" is whatever it needs to be in order to dismiss the argument against us (the same thing happens with the ever elusive Biblical kind). Maybe I should rephrase, it’s brilliant but it’s also cowardly.
It may seem like we are protecting the integrity of God and the Church, but really we are doing the opposite. For one thing we are preventing healing when we distance ourselves from the damage we do. How can there be healing and restoration if no one asks forgiveness? How can we ask forgiveness if we won’t admit we were at fault? Its not good enough to say “It wasn’t us, it was them.” Are we not the Body of Christ? Should the actions of one not also affect the rest of the body? By doing this we are also harming ourselves. By refusing to admit our wrongs and by pretending we (Christians) are perfect and above all others, we give ourselves no room to learn or grow. Then of course there is the fact that we really aren’t fooling anyone and by continually changing what a “true Christian” is we are only looking like fools and hypocrites in the eyes of the world. Really, this is the opposite of protecting the integrity of Christianity.
Who counts as a true Christian? James Dobson? Billy Graham? What about Benny Hinn? The problem is that depending on whom you ask, some would agree and some would strongly disagree about just how Christian these men are. I have to admit, I was rather surprised at just how many websites there are calling Billy Graham the anti-Christ. Clearly general opinion can’t really be a factor as it seems to be rather fickle. Does Jimmy Swaggart qualify as a true Christian? He sure seemed like one for a while, is he one now? Was he only a true Christian up to the point where he fell from grace? Is "true Christianity" something that comes and goes? Can you only be a true Christian if you never sin? If so we have a bit of a problem because then because since we have all sinned, none of us can be true Christians. But since all discussions on the subject make it clear that true Christianity must be something that exists (and not some theoretical ideal that can never actually be real), being perfectly sinless can’t be the definition either.
Many would insist that a true Christian is someone who lives by the Bible. This definition I’m afraid might be the worst of the lot if you want to distance yourself from the sins of Christians past! Certainly those who practiced slavery had a lot of Scriptural support! The Bible doesn’t condemn slavery, it gives guidelines for it! We would like to distance ourselves from those Christians who killed women accused of witchcraft but weren’t they simply being obedient to the Scripture that reads “Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live”? Very few Christians would like to associate themselves with the atrocities committed during the Crusades, but let’s be honest here, the Crusaders didn’t do anything Joshua didn’t do and Joshua was doing what God told him to do. Was Joshua not bound by the exact same “Thou shalt not kill” commandment that we use to condemn the Crusaders with? How about those pedophile priests? We definitely don’t want to think of them as true Christians! Yet by what verse do we condemn pedophilia? While several sexual sins are listed very explicitly, sex with children is wholly absent from the Biblical list of “don’ts”. Makes sense considering the fact that girls around 12 and 13 were considered marriage material in Biblical times though…
Actually, once you realize how hard it is to have a definition for Christianity that satisfies everyone you realize why people prefer a more intangible definition! The atheists have it easy, all they have to do is not believe in God. Apart from that there are no rules! Not so with Christianity though. Even believing is not enough. It’s a lot easier to be a Christian when you don’t actually have to think about what that must mean. Sure we are quick to say what doesn’t It’s really easy to list what it isn’t but a little harder to list what it is though. Although I think that deep down we already know what a true Christian is supposed to be. It’s right there in the name actually. Christian means disciple of Jesus Christ. qualify you as a true Christian: Bible reading, church attendance, good deeds, charity, giving money to the church, growing up in a Christian home, etc.
This may cause a bit of confusion though since the Rabbi-disciple relationship is not something most of us in the Western world deal with anymore. Disciple is not the same as follower. It’s also not the same as student. A disciple doesn’t want to know what his master knows, he wants to be what his master is. While actually living and behaving exactly like Jesus would eliminate us all from aspirations of true Christianity, we are supposed to be working towards that goal constantly. This is the one definition we can’t wiggle out of. You are either a disciple (someone trying to be like Jesus) or you are not a true Christian. The good news is that this leaves room for us to fail. True Christianity is more of a journey than a destination (if you'll pardon me the cliché). The bad news (for some at least) is that we need to own those failures, not pretend they don’t involve us. This means we would need to be more humble, for if we get anything right it’s not because we are the best but because we are following the best example. Even more so, when we miss it we need to be humble enough to come clean and admit that this reflects badly on the One we claim to be following.
Being a true Christian is not about being perfect or never being wrong or never sinning. True Christianity is not about being right all the time or having a better system than anyone else. While being a disciple of Jesus means that there is a way you should be living in this world and that there are things you definitely shouldn’t be doing and ways you shouldn’t be living, but it doesn’t make being wrong impossible. When you get right down to it, every disciple of Jesus is still a human being and still fully capable of failure. All the time*. Therefore it is possible to behave very contrary to the example of Jesus and still be a true Christian. So then even though I don’t like the idea, the Crusades may have been partially at least the work of true Christians. I need to own that and admit that it was very wrong of them. In the very same way I need to own it when I behave unlike Jesus. Because much as I would love to say that everything bad that was ever done by Christians was actually done by false Christians, I know that I would be disqualifying myself from Christianity by those very same standards.
*I am not referring to the disturbing habit some have of calling themselves Christian while living any way they please, preferring a life of constantly asking forgiveness from God to one of actually obeying Him. That's not following at all. Cruising through life on the Grace of God is not the same as being a disciple. It's one thing to try to follow and fail, it's another thing entirely to do nothing but fail because you aren't even bothering to try. If thats the way you are going to live, please don't call yourself a Christian.
"Tiger got to hunt, bird got to fly; Man got to sit and wonder, 'Why, why, why?' Tiger got to sleep, bird got to land; Man got to tell himself he understand."
Kurt Vonnegut in Cat’s Cradle
I’ll be honest with you, I never actually read any Vonnegut. Its one of those things I’ve always wanted to do, like memorize some Shakespeare, but never got round to actually doing. However I once read an article about him and this quote was in it and I thought that was one of the truest things I had ever read. Questioning is in our nature, its something we are born with (and something parents work very hard to get out of us). I have always had a hard time buying into claims of comprehension, especially when it came to profoundly deep and mystic things like spirituality, God and the Bible. How can you possibly read Genesis, Job or even the Psalms and not have some very difficult questions in your mind? Yet in the modern day church we seem to have a processed, pre-packaged, microwave-ready answer to every hard question, every difficult passage. I have to confess though that I never found those to be very filling or nutritious. For all their promises, they never seemed to actually satisfy my questions even a little and so I am constantly amazed at how many people do claim to be utterly satisfied by them! It seems so unnatural, so surreal to take one of these glib, shallow answers and claim that it gives enough understanding to still the hunger of the hard question! Especially because a lot of the time this so called “understanding” is not really understanding at all, it’s more like escape. It really is like the bird landing or the tiger sleeping – its cessation, not fulfillment.
The general opinion among the atheists of the world is that Christians are not very intelligent people. I very much disagree with that but I can’t really blame them for thinking that. What other conclusion can you logically draw about a group of people who would willingly dismiss facts, evidence and even sometimes reality in favour of their faith? We sometimes act as if we have all the answers and have it all figured out but the (glaringly obvious) truth is that we don’t. Not even close. While we frequently accuse everyone else of blindly following the status quo we have made a virtue of blind obedience. We discourage too many questions and even vilify those who won’t stop asking them. But it was not always thus…
While the church may seem to have an issue with people asking questions, God never did. The Bible is filled with questions, hard questions. Just read Psalms, or Job, in fact read any part of it you’d like! People questioned people and most importantly they questioned God and the best part is God didn’t smite anyone for it! Why should He? God Himself seems to be awfully fond of asking questions too! See questions are so important and so good that I am tempted to call them holy. Seeing how God is fond of using them too I don’t think I would be that wrong to do so.
Of course we don’t think of questions that way. We act as if questions are a necessary nuisance, a hurdle we have to jump to access the information we want. So we tend to do it only if we have to, often content with letting someone else do the asking so that we may simply partake of the answer. We tend to discourage over-usage, because questions have this dark quality about them – they can be dangerous! They can take us places we weren’t planning on going, expose flaws, even go as far as to disrupt our way of life completely!! This fear is immensely silly of course, because those happen to be some of the best things about questions! We just forgot the art of the question. If you understand why it’s art, you’ll understand why it’s holy.
If questions were nothing but ways to get information, why would God – who is supposed to know everything already – ask so many questions? Questions can give you so much more than information if you let them. Questions can take you deeper, beyond knowledge and right into understanding. Wisdom even. They can keep us from stagnating in the shallowness and remind us of the riches and the mystery of life and everything in it. It can keep us from simply accepting the most obvious and show us level after level and facet after facet of the truth. The more we ask, the more we think, the more we are able to see. One of my favourite qualities personally is that questions break us right out of groupthink and allows us to be individuals, following our conscience in matters of importance. How many atrocities are committed by people who ask questions? How many by people who refuse to?
I don’t think questions are scary, I think people who never ask them are.
However, when it comes to the fine art of asking questions, just firing off questions like a four year old has about as much art to it as the finger-painting of a four year old. I was on a forum regarding the (never ending) Creationism vs Evolution debate and the creationist on the board was asking questions at 200 km/h – according to him his “pointed questions” were exposing all the weaknesses in the Theory of Evolution. It wasn’t. It was patently clear that he had no desire to learn or listen to anyone, he was just trying to sound smart – he ended up looking ignorant. There really is no point to asking questions if you aren’t planning on listening. If you want to see a good example of questions as an art form, look no further than Jesus. In church we are taught that Jesus is the One with the answers. However, when you read the Gospels it looks more like He was the One with the questions. Just look at how he responded – “Who gave you authority to teach?” His answer: “Who gave John the Baptist authority?” “Is it right to pay taxes to Caesar?” His answer: “Who’s image is on this coin?” See what I mean about getting past the obvious? Simple yes or no questions may never take you where artful questions can. At times He may have seemed like Captain Obvious. He would go up to blind people or a lame man waiting for healing and ask “What do you want?” Scratch that, He seemed like Field Marshall Obvious! Of course He wasn’t. Because when you think about it, that is an immensely deep question to ask of anyone. I have been wondering about that question all week and I still don’t know how I would answer if He asked me…
Like all good rabbi’s, Jesus had the art of questions mastered. (As I understand it that was a major part of learning the Torah – learning how to ask questions.) Sadly though, we aren’t really trained in the art of questions these days. Still, I think a good first step to getting back there would be to let the questions back into our lives. Let them expose our weaknesses so that we may become stronger, let them expose our foolishness so that we may become wiser. Let them expand our horizons and make us wiser. We should let them take us out of the mundane and into the mystery.
Sure, doing this may stop us from living in the warm glow of relative ignorance. Questions can be scary. You might end up with more questions than answers. You may find out you don't really know as much as you thought. You may even have to start answering yourself and others with the dreaded "I don't know"... But if your faith can’t stand to be questioned, do you really have faith at all? If what you know cannot be questioned, how sure are you of what you know? If my visits to the surgery ward have taught me one thing it’s this: It’s far better to wake up screaming than not to wake up at all.