Saturday, November 28, 2009

Christianity Works Best . . . When it is Lived Dishonestly

This title that was even difficult for me to type. It goes against the grain of all I’ve known or believed. But I must add a caveat. When I use the word “Christianity” I am not speaking of the simple way of life initiated by Christ but the huge cultural phenomena that evolved around it. Somewhat like a metropolis building up around a simple spring of water over the centuries. I do believe that Jesus Himself lived completely honestly.

When we go to our churches and pretend that we are better than we really are, or that our marriages are always swell . . . there is a type of harmony that exists. A type of peace comes in the pretending that our children are pure, smart, always faithful . . . and as Garrison Keillor says, “Above average.” This was the same type of “peace” that I believe Francis Schaeffer was referring to when he spoke of the Bourgeoisie (American middle class) of the 60s, who desired only affluence and personal peace (lack of conflict in other words).

There is a peculiar concord of spirits when we all agree that truth is black or white . . . and that we always choose white, that all problems of life can be solved by the 1-2-3 steps and lastly, that God always votes the Republican ticket.

It keeps the waters of Christian fellowship tranquil when we pretend that all our motives are 100% pure . . . and to even suggest otherwise would be an outrage.

We then create these dark areas of our lives, where we dare not venture. These are places that are only accessible by poignant questions . . . those that we are afraid to ask out loud. Such questions would be where you look into the eyes of your spouse with a greater sincerity than you have ever expressed before and ask, “Do you really, really love me? Are you still in love with me? If you had it to do over . . . am I still the one you would have chosen?” I think Denise and I have asked each other these questions a thousand times . . . which either reflects our honesty . . . or our insecurity.

There are questions that you don’t ask your kids because the possible answers could disrupt that Christian harmony. It is better to leave unknown and pretend than to know and loose that personal peace.

The Christian paradigm works best when we imagine that super-natural miracles are common . . . and God is doing mighty acts that defile nature even for my most trivial concerns and desires. That it was MY relative who was the lone survivor when the plane or ship went down.

This is why this Christian harmony is so alluring and why the questioning, that I often do, is so awkward.

I so often get in trouble when I attempt to live honestly. If I, even very gently, question the motives or sincerity of other Christians, I am perceived as playing the Christian put down game.

The Christian put down game is subtle. This is where we put down the behavior of other Christians in order to make us feel better about ourselves. In that situation you raise your eyebrows ask questions like, “Do you really allow alcohol in your house?’

But my questions are from the respective that I am confident that I am much worse of a person that you are and I am only trying to have an honest conversation without any judgment.

When that doesn’t work I attempt to only talk honestly about myself. That always gets me in trouble too. For example, regarding my recent trip to Nepal, I tell people, very honestly, that I did the trip mostly for myself. I went because I love adventure . . . yeah, that makes up at least 90% of the motives (speaking honestly). Then, the Christians perceive me as a jerk. It would be so easy to tweak the perspective and say, “I made this sacrifice, this difficult trip for the Lord’s work.” Suddenly you are a hero and invited to speak from the pulpit in every church in town.

But this brings me back to the artists. James Joyce’s book expresses the quagmire very well. He had this strong Catholic upbringing and a sincere desire to believe. But the part of him, the artist, who feels deeply and sees honestly could not live in peace with the pretend. When given the choice to become a monk or an artist . . . he chose the latter. The same happened with Vincent Van Gogh and countless of other artists.

But more often, I see the same happening with our kids.

So the status quo is so alluring. To live there we must create a Christian paradigm where the difficult questions are never asked. And if someone is brazen enough to ask one of those questions (such as why suffering has to happen) then we must get the programmed answer before their mouths are even done spitting out the question. Scripture somewhere (can’t remember the verse) says, “He who gives an answer before he hears (the question) is a fool.”

I watched the movie Jesus Camp last night with my son Quentin. He had checked it out of the Seattle library. Why he chose that movie is a question in itself. I had always intended to watch it. I thought the movie Saved was very provocative. But, I had put off watching Jesus Camp, because I knew it would be frustrating and sad. That it was. It was a primer in psychological manipulation of the very young. I have a strong feeling that if you follow those kids for their rest of their lives that 80% will eventually become bitterly opposed to Christianity. The few that remain will become non-thinking robots . . . pre-programmed robots. I was thankful that one character, a radio talking head (who said he was a Christian), was very outraged and said something to the “child evangelist” that I would have said. “God has a special place in hell for those who emotionally abuse children.”


Anonymous said...

GAh. I loved this post.

On Jesus Camp...yeah. It was so hard to watch, especially knowing that there was a time when I wouldn't have seen much wrong with it. I made myself sit through the whole thing...penance, I guess. The movie was past disturbing.

On dishonesty, yes. I'm now a "Christian former-pastor's wife getting a divorce." This is...weird. This is...not allowed. My former evangelical community? ...well, what I'm doing is just not okay.

It has struck me as interesting, that I was totally approved of when I was in this destructive relationship, as long as it looked good on the outside...but now that what was hidden has been, not so much. They love you, as long as you look good. They'll love you when you don't look good, IF you are 100% humbly looking at their solutions with awe and thankfulness. If you think their solutions are bunk, or if you have something too complex for their little band-aid fix, well...

If my mentally-ill-and-abusive husband and I could pull off some quickie resolution thing, you know, make everything okay real fast (no actual change, just make it "look good" again), the weird thing is that I know everything would be okay again, regarding my status in that world. Hell, we could even go around and give our testimony, write a book, and stuff, and it would all get eaten right up.

I'm just so done with it. Ergh. Something is very very very wrong. Your analogy about the sweet simple spring of life that has been covered over by a ginormous ediface of human constructions...yes. That's exactly how I feel. That is the only reason I am still a Christian at all.

MJ said...

Regarding Jesus Camp and your first comments, I asked my son, "Why do you think these people would allow them to film them?"

Quentin answered confidently, "Don't you realize that these people think that they are normal and see nothing wrong with what is being filmed?"

I guess he was right.

I'm sorry for what you've gone through and I hope you can find personal resolution even though there is no "enchanted" resolution to the whole problem.

Yes, regarding you imagined book, that's why I don't trust any speaker or author who solves all their problems and lives happily ever after.

abmo said...

Thanks for this article. I've seen it so many times in action.

Anonymous said...

Quentin answered confidently, "Don't you realize that these people think that they are normal and see nothing wrong with what is being filmed?"

i.e. the Utter Confidence of Those Who Are Utterly Righteous (and KNOW it). Like the Utter Righteousness of the Khmer Rouge and the Taliban.

Anonymous said...

The few that remain will become non-thinking robots . . . pre-programmed robots.

As in "God's Anointed" or as in "doubleplusgoodthinkers doubleplusbellyfeel INGSOC"?