It is not an easy time to be a Christian and that is a shame because now more than ever, we need people who have belief in their hearts and in their minds. That is a bold statement because most people who are my friends know me to be among one of the more skeptical and at times profane cats out there. They also know of my love of ‘reason’ and I imagine that they would have a hard time reconciling my statement above with the person that they think they know. In order to bridge the difference, I think I am going to have to describe what I think ails society and then describe what kind of Christian I am in order for the reader to understand my position.
True Belief is on the decline in this country and in the world and I imagine that some would claim that it is because we are in the Age of Reason. I have many Atheist friends, though nowadays I think they prefer the term Humanists, and I am familiar enough with the threads of their arguments to know the contours of their ‘reason’ argument. That being said, I would digress and state that I believe us to be in a Post-Reason Age. I have been heavily influenced by the French Philosopher Jean Baudrillard and the notion that we live in a post-modern age where the perception of our mediated experiences have erased the distinction between reality and representation. It is an age where what we perceive to be true outstrips any truly valid attempt to bridge the reality with understanding with reason. We never go beyond the perception. Atheists start with a perception and then seek out mediated experiences that merely reinforce that perception and never go beyond that point (the sad thing is that they are the people that are most intellectually capable of ‘bridging the gap’ but they never really do). I can’t single them out because just about everyone does this in this age but they are the ones that are most vocal on this topic and thus get the mention. Combine this with a truly vapid and surface mass culture that we have where the vulgar is celebrated and the consequential is merely noted, if it is even noticed at all, we have a recipe for a society in which any sort of belief in the divine is not cool.
All that being said, I am being too hard on both Atheist and Culture. While I think much of the logic used by Atheist is hysterical and hypocritical (‘we are being rational and tolerant! – quickly followed by rabid mouth frothing disdain about the historical inequities of Christians and the egregious assault against their rights when they pass a nativity scene - never getting the hypocritical disconnect), I honestly think their heart is in the right place and the muscular skepticism that they approach all matters divine is something that contemporary Christians would do well to emulate in their questioning of the Doctrine. As for Culture, I am too much of a historian to believe that we are living in the ‘End of Times’. Every age has had its Lady Gaga, Madonna and the entire cast of Jersey Shore. The hysteria that erupts every time Lady Gaga wears a meat dress to the Oscars says more about the aesthetics and taste than it does about the health of the Republic. No, I save my true vitriol for my fellow ‘Christians’.
At near every turn in this day and age, many Christians have gone out of their way to disgrace the Faith. First in my mind is the abandonment of ‘Give to Caesar what is Caesars and Give to God what is Gods’. In other words, the political activity of the Church and the supporting of parties from the pulpit is something that is absolutely hateful and against the separation of Church and State. No offense, Jesus told Pilate that ‘My Kingdom is not of this World’ but all too often, many of his ‘followers’ nowadays seem to want to go the opposite direction. Then you have the men of ‘Faith’ that want to preach on about the vile nature of homosexuality, birth control and abortion (which is actually the one point that I have some small measure of sympathy on) but they are strangely silent on so many other issues like wars and torture of others (‘Turn the other Cheek perhaps’?), the ‘prosperity gospel’ that earning money is good (‘do not collect treasures upon earth for your treasures are in heaven’), hostility to other faiths including the building of a Mosque in Smyrna TN, or really any other issue that involves actual sacrifice, service to the poor and expressions of love for people unlike themselves. And then you have my tribe, the Catholic Church. Putting aside differences in Doctrine for a moment, the passivity of the hierarchy in relation to generations of raped children rises to the level of atrocity. Whether it is the rape of young boys by sexual predators masquerading as Clergy, Mega Church Preachers condemning homosexuals than hiring male escorts and blowing guys in airport lavatories, or taking millions of dollars from businesses (i.e. Churches) and using it to rubber stamp ‘their’ candidates to govern through Christian values, I would say that the Christian Church has everything it can to earn the revulsion of the public through its consistent hypocrisy.
Therein is the true tragedy because the Church is not the Faith! The Church is merely an organization. It is a man-made construct that is subject to all the same vices and virtues that afflict the entire body of humanity, including Atheist I might add. Faith on the other hand is something more personal and more connected to the Divine. It is that spark of belief that serves as inspiration to go forward secure in the knowledge that there is more to life than what is before us, that the sum of ourselves may actually live forever. Most importantly, it is a call to action to do good works in this life and there lies to type of Christian I strive to be.
One of the most inspirational things that I have ever heard and which contains almost the entirety of my faith is the Sermon on the Mount. It is the single statement of Christianity that contains the blueprint of what Jesus meant for Christians to be. If you follow it, than you are on the right path. The Sermon on the Mount is one long Sermon that Jesus gave to the masses that is comprised of several different parts including the Beatitudes , the Lord’s Prayer and many other items that are considered by some to be the central canonical teachings of Christianity. The power of the Sermon on the Mount is that there is absolutely nothing supernatural about it. No water to wine, no healing of the sick or driving out of demons (as a man of science and reason, I don’t really think those things happened). No, the Sermon on the Mount is Jesus at his most human, preaching an accessible message that a person could apply and follow and be the better for it. For those Christians that go out there and disgrace the Faith, I would point them back to the Sermon and ask, ‘What part of this didn’t you get?’ For those Atheists and Critics out there, I would point to the Sermon and excepting the age of the language, ‘What part of this do you find so objectionable?’
I find it utterly baffling that there are those out there that find the Sermon to be objectionable because when you remove the words God and Heaven out of it, it is functionally no different than the Humanist creed. As for the Christians that seem to have forgotten it, or give more credence to arcane and obscure single references in the Old Testament or in the lesser known books of the later New Testament (written after the death of Jesus), than I would say whatever. I don’t care what arcane Zachariah-begat-Zephaniah decoder ring you pulled out to come up with whatever flimsy theological rationale that you using to piss on whatever grouping of people (homosexuals, feminist, and liberals) that offend you. Jesus was a long-haired, peace-loving, tax-paying, prostitute hugging, eco-friendly (dude walked EVERYWHERE), working class Jewish hippy that would have been appalled at what people do in his name in this day in age. Pardon my presumption but I tend to think Jesus would say, ‘Hey Bra, stop trying to interpret what I said and just do what I said. Want to listen to Sublime and play Hacky-Sack?’
I think I would like to wrap all of this up by asking what kind of Christian am I. Well, I can assure you that I am not the sort of Christian that believes himself to be defined by the Pope and the Cardinals, Bob Jones University, ‘The Moral Majority’, opposition to contraception and stem cell research, Creationism or it’s weak sauce little sister ‘Intelligent Design’, Dominion Theology, Exclusion, any involvement of the Church in politics whatsoever, Jerry Falwell, Mega-Churches or the Prosperity Gospel. Rather, my Christianity is defined by the Sermon on the Mount, the skepticism of Thomas Jefferson, the humanity of Thomas Aquinas, the bravery of Martin Luther, the mathematics and philosophy departments of Georgetown and Boston College (both Jesuit universities), Catholic Relief Services, the Emergency Room of Saint Joseph’s Hospital in Phoenix, Gregor Mendel and Nicolas Copernicus (both clergy – and scientist that challenged the wisdom of their age), and countless missions and charities of people who actually got the Sermon on the Mount and threw themselves into the world to make a difference and help without reservation and judgment, without attempts to convert, people who let their humility and actions be the message. That is my sort of Christian.
I realize that there are those are there that would look at my lack of concern for all the others books of the Bible, my disdain for the hierarchy of my own Church, or my denial of certain doctrinal accepted teachings or my lack of willingness to attempt to remold contemporary society into some latter day Christian theme-park with dismay. They would dub me a Cafeteria Christian…and they would be right. I gladly take that title. I don’t profess to know all the intricacies and mysteries of the Church (though I am willing to bet I know more than most of my critics) and at this point in my life, I am beyond caring. But I do know this. I have been charged to be a good husband, a good father and a good human being by Jesus Christ himself in a Sermon that he delivered 2000 years ago and I intend on doing exactly that. When I face my maker someday, my life will be an open book exam and I doubt that there is going to be many questions about Corinthians I & II or how much I put into the offering plate. There are going to be a lot of questions about what I actually did, who I loved, who I helped and what I did for my fellow man. I intend on passing that test.