Mere Christianity

7:35 AM

It's no secret: I don't like food. No, I am not weight-obsessed and I am not a picky eater. (I eat anything but peas and fish.) Why it isn't obvious to everyone else, I don't know, but this is true: there are so many things of more lasting importance. Namely reading. Left to my own devices, I'd skip meals altogether and just fend off hunger with almonds and cheese sticks throughout the day. But if I have no choice but to sit down with a plate full of my mom's cooking, I become very interested in food. So interested, in fact, that it's torture to wait out whose turn it is to pray and the prayer itself, which is not pious of me but I can't lie. But I like praying and I take special care to thank God for food, especially when I'm hungry: it's worth the wait, and I feel the routine, "Dear God, thank you for this day. Thank you for this food. Amen" doesn't fully grasp how ridiculously blessed we are to have the luxury of daily necessities.

Still, I'm an honest person when my stomach's growling, and if God did not exist or if He did and I didn't really care, I wouldn't hesitate to skip prayer altogether and dig right into dinner. I used to, when I was a kid. We recited prayers back then -- "God is great, God is good, now we thank Him for our food" -- and I'd tear through it in two seconds. Better yet was when my parents were absent and the adult in charge decided that simply saying the word "Grace" was sufficient blessing over macaroni and cheese. I wondered what the point of praying was if it didn't mean anything.

I wonder now the same thing, in a broader context: What's the deal with religion as religion?

D. A. Carson wrote The Intolerance of Tolerance, a fascinating book that isn't interesting unless one has nothing to do, and it included a quote that put into words what exactly was happening to religion and faith in a relativistic society. The Harvard graduate student said, in his commencement speech,

They tell us it's heresy to suggest the superiority of some value, fantasy to believe in moral argument, slavery to submit to a judgment sounder than your own. The freedom of our day is the freedom to devote [ourselves] to any values we please, on the mere condition that we do not believe them to be true.
People have taken that freedom and run with it.

I've grown up in church all my life, grown up praying before-meal and before-bed prayers, grown up reading the Beginner's Bible. Still, the idea of "religion" as some generic thing one may or may not choose to engage in makes no sense at all to me. I understand completely the inner drive to know God or belong to something bigger than oneself. It's not hard to comprehend the sincerity of those who devote themselves to other religions, who really, honestly believe them to be true.

What doesn't make sense is why anyone would bother to put energy in pretending to believe something they don't. I can't imagine how boring it would be to go to church every Sunday, how tedious to sing songs written several centuries  ago, how pointless to listen to long sermons on an ancient text, if God wasn't real to you, if Christianity didn't really mean anything, if it was just the socially acceptable thing to do.

I wouldn't do it. Personally, I like studying different points of view, different religions, but I do it because I want to know what's truth -- and I wouldn't play along with a religion if I didn't think it true. I'd just read a textbook at home and sleep in on Sunday.

Whenever I've encountered Christianity in its shell form -- just the external piety of church attendance, tithing, the Bible, prayer, social reform -- I recoil. How does praying to a God one doesn't know, knocking elbows with a bunch of like hypocrites in church, and knitting socks for poor orphans in Africa at the monthly ladies' circle fulfill any sort of spiritual void? How can anybody go through such dead motions? Why care? Why bother? Why not be honest and turn atheist if you already live as if there's no God?

If that's what people see when they think "Christian," then I don't blame them for ridiculing us. If we don't correct that impression, if we don't match up our walk and talk, then we have nobody to point fingers at but ourselves. And I mean that personally: you. Me. 

I admit there was a time when I went through the motions, but my parents weren't about to leave a ten-year-old home alone while they went to church. Even then, I knew something was off -- whatever it was. It got worse as I grew older and actually believed Christianity, as a religion, as a worldview, to be true. Not until Christ became the center and I began living out what that ancient, beautiful, powerful text said did I truly feel fulfilled in any sense.

If what one pretends to believe does not affect every minute of his life, if it does not turn the world upside down, if it does not shatter the gates of hell and storm the mediocrity of existence, if it does nothing and requires one to do everything with no results and little satisfaction, why bother? And if it does...why aren't we speaking out about it?

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6 impressions

  1. I remember a Facebook conversation my mother once told me of, in which a Jewish friend of hers was wondering what reasons to give her children for the celebrations and feasts the family observed, when the mother did not believe in the traditional origins. If there never was a man named Moses, and he never led a people called the Children of Israel out of Egypt, hey, if there isn't a God in Heaven who ordained such things, why cleanse your house of leaven and eat only matzo for seven days? Such was the quandary my mother's friend was considering.

    I don't think I could just take religion as religion, as a thing one does for the sake of doing it, unless there was a meaning in it. Now, if there was no God and no good in life save what we created for ourselves, I might very well join those who speak of peace and coexistence and knit socks for poor orphans and try desperately to reach out and touch another human being. But I think it would be a lonely existence.

    I suppose in some way, one can believe anything as long as one believes it seriously and orders one's life by it—but I want to believe a real, absolute and not relative, Truth.

    I could go on, but I should just wander back to my own blog instead of holding forth on yours. :-)

    Thanks for the good post!

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  2. Wow... I'm with you all the way - from the food thing (I tend to starve when I'm home alone with a book), to the seemingly mundane routine of meal-time and bed-time prayer. What a great conclusion though - and even though I wholeheartedly agree, I need to be reminded again to throw everything I am into Truth.

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  3. I've always wondered the same thing. If you're not going to put yourself into something wholeheartedly, why put yourself into it at all? Why not, as you said, just go ahead and turn athiest and be done with it? Because basically, that's what you already are.

    It reminds me of a book by Craig Groschel that I want to read... "The Christian Athiest".

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  4. You almost lost me when you referenced that quote! But I couldn't agree more (although I lack the eloquence to state that, as you did).

    What more can I say? Applause and encore! I didn't quite understand the use of going to church to fall asleep on top of mom, or doodle until my pen dried up. But I would ask the same as you - how could someone go through the motions just for religion sake? I mean, apparently they do, but wouldn't that bore them to death?

    Yup. I agree.

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  5. "if it does not shatter the gates of hell and storm the mediocrity of existence"

    Love it!

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  6. I can see why people "do religion" without really believing it. They have a void in their life, and of course they are going to spend their lives trying to fill it. Of course, only Jesus can satisfy us, but I can totally understand why these people do that.
    As I am still waiting [and praying and praying] for "the obsession," I am, in a way, just going through the motions. He still requires obedience even when we don't feel the fervor. So perhaps that makes me understand the desperation of those who are okay (at least outwardly) with just dead motions.
    I dunno... just thinking aloud. :)

    Thanks, Bailey.

    -Penn

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