Do Christians Let Christ Influence Them?

In the Hierophant’s Proselytizer questionnaire, three problems are posed for Christianity that all get at the same point:

3. If a Catholic, justify the Inquisition and other persecutions of “heretics” throughout the centuries, concentrating on why the Pelagianists, the Priscillianists, and the Manichaeans were persecuted; if a Protestant, justify the witch trials and the way that Protestants constantly hunted down native Americans until there were so few that the government could simply take their land; if a member of an Eastern Orthodox church, justify the persecutions of the Old Believers after the reforms of the seventeenth century.

4. Explain why your sect (whether Catholic, Protestant, or Eastern Orthodox) pursued, tortured, and killed people who were not Christian.

5. Explain why your sect (whether Catholic, Protestant, or Eastern Orthodox) pursued, tortured, and killed people who were not members of your particular sect.

I am a member of a Presbyterian church but I wouldn’t want to call myself Presbyterian. The Presbyterian Church is a religion. I am not a very religious person and everytime I give the Gospels a read, it kills the impulse to ritual a little more. I am a Christian, I am orthodox, I am catholic. But while I am a member of a sect and proud to serve its goals, I would never adopt it as an identity. This doesn’t get me out of answering these pertinent questions though. As I understand it, I have to take on the crimes of all the Christians down through the ages because I am so definitive on the fact that we are unified.

I do a lot of thinking about apologetics and the problems people have with faith. This thinking comes easy to me because I was a committed atheist when I met neuro and her merry band of God-botherers. 65 hours of noise torture and subliminal messages later and I came out an unthinking, hand waving, bible bashing, chastity belt wearing, Dubya loving cannibalist. On most issues that people raise, I can remember the Eureka! moment when I saw it slip into place. Good God let bad things happen? Sure he does! No sex before marriage? Harsh, but fair. Evolution a load of crap? It doesn’t say that anywhere!

But there is one objection I have never overcome. Ghandi reportedly said “I like your Christ. But I don’t like your Christians”. We may part ways on the eating of beef but at least old Indian baldy and me had something in common. If there really was a promised Messiah and Jesus was him, then why do Christians, consistently from fairly early on to this day, behave so appallingly?

There is the obvious response which is very few of these people can claim to be Christians- not because they did some very bad things but because they don’t seem to ever have done any good things. Ephesians 2 teaches clearly that we are saved by faith, for works. Once we become Christians, through the intervention of the Holy Spirit, we should see ourselves becoming more and more like who we were meant to be and less and less like the greedy, self righteous, out of tune people we end up being by just getting by. The less and less never diminishes to nothing. A Christian is just as capable of committing a crime against humanity than anyone else. He or she differs only in that they have no possible excuse for it. So while some (most) of these crimes were obviously the actions of human beings intent on pursuing their ideological goals by exploiting the tool of religion, it can’t explain it fully. We know there are real Christians who are assholes. Well I know it, because two Christian assholes live in my house.

What I think happens is that people start out well. They have the whole relationship with God bit down. Maybe they are excited by Jesus and their life feels the first taste of transformation. Their blindness now sees. Their lameness now walks. All that living a life lit by a light from beyond the sun stuff was real for them. But then they got involved in a dispute in their town between their church and someone else. Maybe it was another church, maybe it was a council, maybe it was a different religious group. But soon the security of the community they enjoy feels threatened or the power base of their group is reduced and they lose sight of the Cross and take up arms. Those weapons might be guns or words or social stigma but they exert their force into situations that become vacuums of bitterness, with all love and compassion forced out in the pressure. Elsewhere in their lives, they live dedicated to sacrificial love and authentic worship of the one Living God. But no one in their community reminds them that Christ wants everything, including that political or social or cultural or ecclissiological issue that they are sinning in. I think this is what has happened often in Northern Irish communities. The violent reaction is likely to come in just the area of life they treasure the most because it is there that threats are most dangerous. And then one is inclined to develop a blind spot to protect your sense that in this most crucial area, you are behaving well. The blind spot then encourages a cycle to develop.

The best I can do here is fight for a tie. Faith needs to be expressed in communities and communities of communities make institutions. Institutions like the Presbyterian Church in Ireland create traditions that form the basis of religions. And religions can do a great deal for anyone with a political ambition. There is no justification when Christian churches obscure the truth, focus on irrelevancies and oppress people. But they are people and Christianity is clear that people, especially religious people, can’t help but let themselves and others down. In a way, of all belief systems, the Christian should not be surprised when they end up making fatal mistakes and committing brutal crimes against themselves and others. People are broken. Christians are broken. They just have had it pointed out to them.

Christ stands as the resolution to this issue. He never said “Do I say, not as I do”. Christ set the example of a life perfectly lived and then challenged Christians to live it. To be a Christian is to follow Christ. The actions of others following him is a problem that deserves attention but there is no logical reason for them to be the cause of someone not getting to know Him. His friends might be assholes, but he is an amazing guy. He even makes dealing with them worthwhile.

Your Correspondent, Afraid This Won’t Cut The Mustard

2 Responses to “Do Christians Let Christ Influence Them?”

  1. […] A few days ago I wrote an entry called “Do Christians Let Christ Influence Them?” in which I tried to answer why I would call myself a Christian when through history so many shite things have been done by Christians, even to co-religionists. […]

  2. OG says:

    My mustard is well and truly cut.