spain path

Ways to Make a Christian Faint

“Christians have always tended to transform the Christian Revelation into a Christian religion. Christianity is said to be a religion like any other or, conversely, some Christians try to show that it is a better religion than the others. People attempt to take possession of God. Theology claims to explain everything, including the being of God. People tend to transform Christianity into a religion because the Christian faith obviously places people in an extremely uncomfortable position that of freedom guided only by love and all in the context of God’s radical demand that we be holy.” –Jacques Ellul

We Christians really are a faithless bunch. Want to send the average Christian – particularly a Christian like a pastor or church elder – into a nervous sweat? Tell them, “Jesus said the world would know his disciples by how loving they are” without adding any qualifiers at the end. No mention of morality or the need for correction. In fact, if you want to send them into a dead faint, point out that the biblical definition of love doesn’t include correction, purity or virtue.

Or tell them that you’ve decided to take Jesus’ instruction not to judge literally. From here on out you’re just going to take a live and let live approach. A person’s choices are between them and God so you’ll just leave the judging to God. You may want to bring smelling salts. If they’re still standing, you can add in that Jesus said we should be perfect like God who causes the rain to fall and the sun to shine on the good and evil alike. So you think we should help anyone in need without regard to whether they deserve it or not. And no making loans – if you’re going to help someone, you need to do it without expecting repayment. That should finish the job.

You could suggest that instead of fighting to protect our rights, Christians should follow Jesus’ teachings and example and refuse to fight. Let the other side defeat us without resisting it. They’ll either give you a blank, uncomprehending stare or quickly escort you off the premises.  On the way out you could add in that God doesn’t really care if you receive or keep what you’ve earned through hard work. Just to make sure you’re never invited back.

Of course, not all Christians are like this. There’s a growing segment of Christians who already have a live and let live attitude. They work hard to be loving, accepting and willing to lose. Not that they have it all together either. Try telling them that no one has a right to inflict the horror of fatherlessness on another human being, so Christians are morally obligated to refrain from sex outside of marriage and to encourage others to do the same. Tell them its a matter of social justice. Be prepared to witness much equivocating.

Or tell them that government welfare programs should focus only on people who have no one else to help them – that no one who is connected by birth, friendship or community to a group of Christians should have to avail themselves of them. That making sure everyone we know has what they need is the responsibility of any Christian not in need themselves. Even if it means skipping a vacation or regular meal or an extra enrichment activity for the kids or walking outside rather than paying for a gym membership. That Jesus really meant it when he told the rich man to sell everything he owned and give it to the poor. And that the early Christians really did get rid of their investment property to meet the needs of the community.

If you want to be fair and make sure that this sort of Christian also never speaks to you again, you can always throw in that the places on the planet where people are the most free and women, minorities, the disabled and the odd are most respected are all places where Christianity has deep roots. Tell them that you believe missionary activity going on today his helping to make the worst places to live on the planet better and you can’t wait for the day when everyone knows Jesus.

Jesus said, “For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it.” He also said, ” “If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching.” The two are related. Christianity isn’t an easy religion. You have to want Love more than you want anything else. More than you want to be right, enjoy your freedom, keep your stuff, have a good name, please others, be comfortable, be included. It requires complete devotion to God – and not some anthropomorphic version of God, but God as he defines himself – Love. Squishy, mushy, ill-defined Love.

Which is why I started by saying that we Christians are really a faithless lot. There’s nothing I’ve listed here which ought to surprise anyone with even a passing familiarity of Jesus’ teachings. But we view the things Jesus taught as unrealistic. Those who would insist on keeping to them as too idealistic to be taken seriously. They create a moral hazard  Yes we’ll do them – as long as we can add qualifiers. Wouldn’t want to get carried away.

At the end of the day, we don’t believe in our heart of hearts that God’s ways work. We don’t trust Love. And the truth is that it’s a foolish thing to trust Love. It may well cost you everything. Which if you believe that your life is yours to live and benefit from, is far too risky. Sure, we sing songs about being a “living sacrifice”, but that doesn’t mean we’re actually willing to live in a way that might benefit others – maybe even other generations – and not ourselves.  It’s easier just to sing the songs and call it faith, eh?

* I went to find a picture for this post and put “narrow path” into the search engine. All sorts of pictures of beautiful paths through meadow and woods came up. Bullshit. So I put in “dangerous path”. Ahhh – that’s more like it.

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18 thoughts on “Ways to Make a Christian Faint

  1. If you want to ensure that future kids are born and raised without crippling emotional stress (as I’m quite sure you do) there are probably more effective ways than telling breeding-age children they’re obligated to not Do It until they’re married. You can certainly tell them this, and should tell them so if you believe it, but you should also note that this is one thing that Jesus didn’t say, so far as we know. It probably isn’t even the most effective way to avoid accidental pregnancy.

    Stephen Gaskin, faced with the demands of holding together a large commune of stoned freaks, instituted a policy of “If she’s pregnant, you’re married.” I don’t know how that worked in practice, but it’s traditional, & probably got a few guys to think (for at least a few minutes) about whether that would be okay with them.

    I could list at least three good friends who found that growing up with a father was emotionally and mentally devastating, and the list is growing as I think.

    Making sure that every young mother would be economically secure, whether or not she had a husband, would probably do more for the sanity of the kids than actually having a husband (even one she could be sure wouldn’t turn out to be a Bad Choice.) [If you think you’ve got studies that prove otherwise, and that their data wasn’t cooked in the process, somebody has a bridge to sell you.]

    More interesting, Jesus very likely didn’t grow up this way. Stephen Mitchell fanticizes about him growing up as a ‘mamser’ — or at least being considered one — but I can’t say he’s proven it as well as he thinks. There is that odd detail about Jesus’ neighbors referring to him as “Mary’s son”, which wasn’t a nice thing to say around there.

    A thought experiment: God could have had all human beings raised in perfect circumstances. He could have had us raised by angels, just loving us to pieces for those crucial first years– and then sent us, emotionally and mentally stable, to Earth. “I’ve got this place that’s kinda gnarly, but I know you can handle it, with your upbringing.” We might then grow up without that ravenous emotional hunger that sends people headlong towards (often) the worst possible mate for them — or the dysfunctional expectations of ‘How To Treat a Mate’ (“like my mother & father treated each other,” right? :>} ) that make even the best marriage An Interesting Challenge.

    God didn’t do things that way. [I’ve got my own ideas as to why, but the whole question is pretty elusive…]

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    • Here’s my thing with this issue – if you look at the research, you are FAR less likely to suffer severe emotional damage and all its consequences from sexual abuse than from growing up without a father. Yet despite this fact, we freak out over sexual abuse and treat the much more consistently damaging experience of fatherlessness as “just one of those things”. (Come to think of it, I have known families and church communities where sexual abuse used to be seen as “just one of those things”.) Yes, bad fathers (and mothers) can cause great harm. I’ve seen it happen up close and personal. But I think that in aggregate treating fathers as optional and focusing on the needs of mothers alone is terribly damaging to the whole eco-system of the family. Not that we don’t care for mothers – it shouldn’t be an either/or, nor should we be forcing people into unsuitable marriages.

      However, I think we also need to keep in mind that we’re talking about self-proclaimed Christians here. Sex inside marriage only has been part of our tradition from the beginning. I think it’s a sacrifice we are called to make, but not to demand from others. Christians are much mistaken when they think their job is to make the rules or even create cultural norms. Jesus said we’re supposed to be salt – who wants to sit down for a meal and eat a block of salt?

      I have two teen boys and along with my unorthodox ideas about sex and our relationship with God, I have impressed on them that the bare minimum requirement they should have for themselves is not to ever have sex with someone they weren’t willing to provide for and be tied to for the next 18 years. And of course to always use protection, but always with an awareness that it’s hedging the bet, not granting assurances. The willingness to be tied to this person is still there. I have two step children and a husband who doesn’t even know his father’s race, so they have seen first hand the harm done when these minimum standards aren’t met. It’s made a big impression on them.

      And again, I teach my kids for themselves – that’s the only power I have in reality. What everyone else is doing is between them and God and my job is to help pick up the pieces. But hopefully if we Christians are doing our part, God will add the increase and the world will be transformed in time.

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  2. There is certainly a lot to digest in this post.

    On that judgment thing, I believe that there has been a confusion between judgmentalism–a Christian no-no which imputes motive to dysfunctional behavior and discernment, recognizing the tragic behavioral dynamic and consequences; but not imputing malicious intent. It is not only children who are inconsiderate and impulsive without compromising their naive innocence. The Christian should never confuse immaturity with malicious intent.

    I also think we confuse guilt with responsibility. Good moral theology teaches that guilt requires cognition and volition–knowing and willing or deliberate intent. Most people are just so focused on their own agendas that they do not realize the harm that serving their immediate interests and desires does to others. We are not always guilty and guilt trips just make people defensive. However, we are always responsible for the affects of our behavior. It is accepting responsibility for our actions that restores our self-respect. That is why judgmentalism is so destructive, there is enough truth there to hurt; but not enough to be fair.

    Friends don’t allow friends to drive drunk and when we love someone we don’t just stand by and let them self-destruct without expressing our concern. The problem comes when we attempt to correct people “for their own good” when there is no love between us and we are really just trying to protect ourselves from the negative affects of their dysfunctional behaviors. When others feel certain of our love and our concern is really for them rather than ourselves, they will often listen to some very hard “tough love” truths. People can also intuitively sense the self-interested motivation in others, so brutally honest self-examination should always precede fraternal correction.

    In the classic book Democracy in America, Alexis de Toqueville noted that Americans differed from Europeans in that most had enlightened self-interest, realizing that the interest of the individual is intrinsically tied to the common good. That was the reason that we became a stoic rather than a hedonistic society, enabling us to defer gratification of selfish desires for a greater long term gain. We seem to have lost that moral advantage.

    The evolutionary social sciences inform us that while “selfishness” is the best survival strategy for solitary animals, reciprocal altruism is the most effective survival strategy for social animals. That is the basis for the civic virtues and the negative expression of the universal Golden Rule: Don’t do to others that which you would not want them to do to you. Reciprocal altruism or self-interested moralism is sufficient for sustaining a social stability in a secular society.

    Jesus really raised the moral bar when he gave us a positive version of the Golden Rule: Do to others that which you would have them do to you. Now we not only have “sins of commission”, we have “sins of omission.” If a Christian is fortunate enough to have enough disposable income to purchase a vacation home at the beach or in the mountains the choice of whether to do so or donate to the local shelter for the homeless or abused becomes a moral, not merely a financial, decision. Unfortunately, the churches are not offering much in the way of mature theological or spiritual formation, so that does not even enter the minds of most American Christians.

    It has been said that the Gospel “comforts the afflicted and afflicts the comfortable.” That is true; but it also proclaims that God loves us unconditionally whether we rise to the occasion and love sacrificially or not. No good that we do will make God love us more or no good that we fail to do can make God love us less. That is what the “unconditional” part of Divine Love means. The “offense” is that God loves Hitler as much as he loves Mother Teresa. The problem is that Hitler didn’t love God as much as Mother Teresa did.

    The other problem is that Mother Nature is not as loving as God. Nature is amoral, there are no rewards or punishments; just consequences. That is why “bad things happen to good people” and good things happen to bad people. While many fundamentalist Christian preachers were claiming that hurricane Sandy was “punishment from God” Rabbi Harold Kushner had this bit of wisdom for us: “Nature is value-free. It can’t tell the role between the deserving the undeserving. God’s role is not to decide where the hurricane goes and how severe it is. God’s role is to motivate people to help neighbors and improve methods to predict hurricanes. God is found not in the problem, but in the resilience.”

    I like to tell my nature mystic friends that Mother Nature is a bitch goddess. She doesn’t care about our human yearnings for intimacy and purpose. Her only concern is to get the DNA passed from one generation to the next and we are the venue. We find a reflection of God’s beauty in the beauty of nature; but nature is also red in tooth and claw so nature is not an unqualified revelation of her Creator. Humanity’s separation from God also impacted on nature. Nature is always seeking balance and when we do violence to the natural balance, the consequences can be truly catastrophic as can the struggle for balance within the natural evolutionary process itself.

    You have certainly opened a Pandora’s box for reflective persons with this post!

    There is certainly a lot to digest in this post.

    On that judgment thing, I believe that there has been a confusion between judgmentalism–a Christian no-no which imputes motive to dysfunctional behavior and discernment, recognizing the tragic behavioral dynamic and consequences; but not imputing malicious intent. It is not only children who are inconsiderate and impulsive without compromising their naive innocence. The Christian should never confuse immaturity with malicious intent.

    I also think we confuse guilt with responsibility. Good moral theology teaches that guilt requires cognition and volition–knowing and willing or deliberate intent. Most people are just so focused on their own agendas that they do not realize the harm that serving their immediate interests and desires does to others. We are not always guilty and guilt trips just make people defensive. However, we are always responsible for the affects of our behavior. It is accepting responsibility for our actions that restores our self-respect. That is why judgmentalism is so destructive, there is enough truth there to hurt; but not enough to be fair.

    Friends don’t allow friends to drive drunk and when we love someone we don’t just stand by and let them self-destruct without expressing our concern. The problem comes when we attempt to correct people “for their own good” when there is no love between us and we are really just trying to protect ourselves from the negative affects of their dysfunctional behaviors. When others feel certain of our love and our concern is really for them rather than ourselves, they will often listen to some very hard “tough love” truths. People can also intuitively sense the self-interested motivation in others, so brutally honest self-examination should always precede fraternal correction.

    In the classic book Democracy in America, Alexis de Toqueville noted that Americans differed from Europeans in that most had enlightened self-interest, realizing that the interest of the individual is intrinsically tied to the common good. That was the reason that we became a stoic rather than a hedonistic society, enabling us to defer gratification of selfish desires for a greater long term gain. We seem to have lost that moral advantage.

    The evolutionary social sciences inform us that while “selfishness” is the best survival strategy for solitary animals, reciprocal altruism is the most effective survival strategy for social animals. That is the basis for the civic virtues and the negative expression of the universal Golden Rule: Don’t do to others that which you would not want them to do to you. Reciprocal altruism or self-interested moralism is sufficient for sustaining a social stability in a secular society.

    Jesus really raised the moral bar when he gave us a positive version of the Golden Rule: Do to others that which you would have them do to you. Now we not only have “sins of commission”, we have “sins of omission.” If a Christian is fortunate enough to have enough disposable income to purchase a vacation home at the beach or in the mountains the choice of whether to do so or donate to the local shelter for the homeless or abused becomes a moral, not merely a financial, decision. Unfortunately, the churches are not offering much in the way of mature theological or spiritual formation, so that does not even enter the minds of most American Christians.

    It has been said that the Gospel “comforts the afflicted and afflicts the comfortable.” That is true; but it also proclaims that God loves us unconditionally whether we rise to the occasion and love sacrificially or not. No good that we do will make God love us more or no good that we fail to do can make God love us less. That is what the “unconditional” part of Divine Love means. The “offense” is that God loves Hitler as much as he loves Mother Teresa. The problem is that Hitler didn’t love God as much as Mother Teresa did.

    The other problem is that Mother Nature is not as loving as God. Nature is amoral, there are no rewards or punishments; just consequences. That is why “bad things happen to good people” and good things happen to bad people. While many fundamentalist Christian preachers were claiming that hurricane Sandy was “punishment from God” Rabbi Harold Kushner had this bit of wisdom for us: “Nature is value-free. It can’t tell the role between the deserving the undeserving. God’s role is not to decide where the hurricane goes and how severe it is. God’s role is to motivate people to help neighbors and improve methods to predict hurricanes. God is found not in the problem, but in the resilience.”

    I like to tell my nature mystic friends that Mother Nature is a bitch goddess. She doesn’t care about our human yearnings for intimacy and purpose. Her only concern is to get the DNA passed from one generation to the next and we are the venue. We find a reflection of God’s beauty in the beauty of nature; but nature is also red in tooth and claw so nature is not an unqualified revelation of her Creator. Humanity’s separation from God also impacted on nature. Nature is always seeking balance and when we do violence to the natural balance, the consequences can be truly catastrophic as can the struggle for balance within the natural evolutionary process itself.

    You have certainly opened a Pandora’s box for reflective persons with this post!

    Like

  3. What a great post! Your blog is such a blessing to me. Apparently, God is speaking to us in the same whisper. These same revelations have been in my mind recently. In one of my posts, I decided to rewrite the history of Jesus as if he had been a typical Christian fundamentalist. The contrast that resulted was pretty shocking. Though, I’m not sure how shocking, since only two of my Christian friends seemed to like it. Silence says a lot, don’t you think?

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    • April, if you were to follow me around the internet you’d be boggled at my knack for shutting a conversation down. I post and the whole thread goes dead. And the number of “likes” and responses I get here are waaaaaay outta wack with the number of readers I have.

      People who know me say it’s because I’m always saying things that they’ve never thought of before. So they don’t have a ready response. It takes time for most people to figure out what to make of it. It’s what happens when you’re saying things that are genuinely unique rather than a variation on a theme. Most people need to be exposed to an idea or concept repeatedly before they become comfortable enough to respond to it. Which is why the people who are good at doing variations on a theme tend to get more responses and be more popular. So don’t be discouraged when you’re not getting the responses you’d hoped for. It’s not rejection – sometimes people just need some time to think. :)

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    • April, Can you give me a link to your re-write history of Jesus? I’ve been doing a lot of thinking over the last few years, questioning a lot of the basic tenets of how I understood Christianity – even God. I would love to read how you visualize the story of Jesus – but I can’t imagine him as a Christian Fundamentalist. I can imagine how a Christian Fundamentalist might reach. Silence might mean that aren’t even thinking enough for themselves to realize what they believe is actually contrary to what Jesus was saying.

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  4. I saw you today at Rod Dreher’s website( I followed his blog before his stint at the Templeton foundation when it was called Crunchy Con). I personally have been stopping conversation on the Jesus Creed blog for years(since 2004). I often don’t post until the conversation has gotten started because of it. Did you ever read the original posts by Michael Spencer( who died battling cancer on April 5, 2010) on the coming evangelical collapse? It corresponds to your post here about making other Christians faint, because of the gap between cultural Christianity//// loving God and others.

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    • Ha – I’ve been following Rod around the internet since he was at National Review. I used to comment a lot using the name “rebeccat”. He drives me nuts sometimes (his cluelessness about race is absurd), but he’s smart and great at what he does and I keep going back for my fix. I’m pretty sure he doesn’t like me much, but that’s another story. lol

      I’m vaguely familiar with Michael Spencer, but I find that one of the results of having a group of people bound to the same text is that there tends to be a lot of synchronicity. I get asked all the time if I’ve read this person or that person who has similar ideas. The answer is usually no but I figure it’s some of that unity which Jesus prayed for us being revealed.

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  5. Maybe shutting down a discussion is the lesser of two evils. I got told by a fellow blog poster to “piss off” a couple of weeks ago. Silence would have been more golden.

    Oh well, as Mother used to say, “One man’s meat is another man’s poison.”

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    • Carol, I kept meaning to respond to this comment – I made myself stop leaving comments on the internet entirely for a while because I just couldn’t behave myself. Especially when the subjects of the women in church, creation vs evolution and race came up. I still generally avoid getting involved in those subjects!

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      • That may be the wisest course of action in times like these when dogmatic absolutism, self-righteous moralism and sectarian triumphalism has turned so many churches into a circular firing squad of conservatives/traditionalists and liberals/progressives.

        We don’t have to think alike to love alike. We need to change our theological priorities.

        “Why is it that our popular established religions are so shaken in the face of the visible problems of our civilization: drugs, war, crime, social injustice, the breakdown of the family, the sexual revolution? Is it not because somewhere along the line belief took the place of faith for the majority of Jews and Christians? Faith cannot be shaken; it is the result of being shaken. And we can see in the writings of the early Fathers that the primary function of the monastic discipline was to shake man’s belief in his own powers and understanding. This was not done simply by visiting upon men situations they could not handle or which caused them pain. Such experiences by themselves are useless, and even dementing, unless they are met by an intention to profit from them in the coin of self-knowledge. Mere belief that one has already found the way and the truth is the exact opposite of such an intention and was recognized by the early Fathers as a weapon of the devil.”~Jacob Needleman, The New Religions

        The truly wise talk little about religion and are not given to taking sides on doctrinal issues. When they hear people advocating or opposing the claims of this or that party in the church, they turn away with a smile such as men yield to the talk of children. They have no time, they would say, for that kind of thing. They have enough to do in trying to faithfully practice what is beyond dispute. –George MacDonald

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