The genius of Christianity is that it demands you give mental agreement to all sorts of things you don’t actually agree with. Love your enemies. Every man is your neighbor. You’ll be judged by how well you showed love to the least attractive, least moral, least appealing, most repulsive people you meet. Don’t judge. All those beatitudes about the meek and the suffering and the pure of heart.
We don’t believe any of that stuff. We say we do, but we don’t really. Yet if we want to call ourselves Christians, we must affirm that we agree with these teachings of Jesus. Which creates mental dissonance. How we handle this gap between what we actually believe and what we profess to believe determines how successful we can become as Christians.
The typical way to handle cognitive dissonance is to go into denial. You continue following your gut level support of cultural norms and personal preference and just call that love. If the people you love complain that you’re actually hurting them, you dismiss it as their problem, their flaw or their lack of understanding. Some people are so committed to their denial, that they will devote a lot of time and energy to creating and promoting high-minded ideals about human nature, God’s ways and church philosophy all in service of ignoring and justifying the suffering of others.
These people will often become very involved in tertiary issues which do not have a great deal of bearing on Jesus’ teachings. Maybe they attend a lot of church or go on missions trips or memorize and quote scripture a lot. Maybe they sign lots of petitions and pass on scary stories about bad people. Maybe the adopt a strict moral code that guides where they shop, what sort of entertainment they consume and where to draw the boundaries between themselves and others.
Some people in ministry do almost nothing but help others find ways to think of themselves as Christians despite disagreeing with everything Jesus ever said.
Except the part where Jesus got angry and turned over tables and when he told that skanky woman to stop sinning. Those are often beloved parts of Jesus’ story for a Christian in denial. Not for the meaning Jesus was conveying with them. Just because they already agree with being angry and confrontational and telling sinners to knock it off.
It scares me to think of how many Christians go their whole lives practicing the faith this way. And I think it all comes from a fear of being wrong. We can’t admit we are wrong because we equate being wrong with being shamed. So we can go our whole lives, being wrong as wrong can be, and never really open ourselves up to learning all the mysteries contained in Jesus’ ridiculous, outrageous teachings. That none of us actually agree with.
The way of the Christian is to avoid retreating into denial. We may know in our head, at some level, that what Jesus says is true. But in truth, what Jesus taught is the end goal of following him. When we have been trained and tested, we will see, understand and agree with Jesus’ teachings. But we have to be trained and tested before we can get to that point.
If we are ever to be corrected, we must be willing to try, test and challenge Jesus’ teachings. Sometimes this starts by simply admitting, “this teaching is the most ridiculous, absurd, self-evidently wrong thing I’ve ever heard.” God already knows that’s what we think. He’s never been particularly impressed with our attempts at denying it. But he has shown himself more than willing to meet us right where we are. And he’s promised never to put us to shame. It’s perfectly fine to admit you don’t agree with him. Just follow up, like a man once did with Jesus, “I believe, please help me with my unbelief”.