I wonder if any hard-core Christians ever take a few steps back and see how they look to the rest of the world. Probably very few do. I’ve known a few very conservative Christians, and have universally found them to be among the most judgmental and closed-minded people I’ve ever met. Not all Christians are this way, mind you. I’ve known many who are among the most generous, tolerant, and open-minded people I’ve known. I’ve also known a few atheists who could learn a thing or two about brotherly love and tolerance.
I wonder, however, how many Christians, such as our friend pictured above, really have studied Jesus’s teachings. Here’s a nice example from the Sermon on the Mount that I highly doubt he/she would like: “(1) Do not judge, or you too will be judged. (2) For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the same measure you use, it will be measured to you.” (Matthew 7:1, 2 ~ New International Version) The Jesus I remember from the Bible preferred to hang out with and help the lepers, the whores, and the sinners rather than to consort with the Pharisees, scribes, and other nobility. Too many Christians, especially those who occupy the pulpits, have become the Pharisees of today. They stand in harsh judgment of people who are different from them, people they have never known. They express no love, except for their own opinions, and for money.
It is people like our friend above, others like him, and people like this gentleman (see linked story) that make me abhor what all too often passes for a Christian in this day and age. I’d like to see more people like one friend of mine who is a former Christian Scientist who is a mainstream Christian, living in the southeastern United States. We attended Christian Science Class Instruction together, and she left Christian Science a few years later after becoming disenchanted with the soulless reactions of some Christian Scientists she was close to in the aftermath of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. In the mainstream Christian church she started attending, she found love, compassion, and understanding–things that are sadly scarce in Christian Science churches. While she and I have taken vastly different paths since leaving Christian Science, she deeply rejoices in my path and the happiness it’s brought me as I do in hers. Neither of us harbour a desire to change the other’s path. True Christians are loving, compassionate, and tolerant. Yes, I’m sure my friend would be overjoyed if I chose a Christian path, as I would if she chose a more secular path, but, we deeply respect each other’s paths however divergent they may be.
I think also of another friend who, while she largely eschews churches and organized religion, is a devoted follower of the teachings of Jesus, and claims to have been saved by him. She spends much of her time in service to others, and is working to establish a business which will source its raw materials for the items it manufactures from ethical sources, and put most of its profits back into developing business and social opportunities for people in the developing countries from which she sources her raw materials. This is true Christly love.
Both of these people are real and genuine, and don’t seek to impose their will or beliefs on others except to share them, sometimes passionately. On the theological and political issues upon which we disagree, we agree to disagree. They are as convinced of the veracity and inerrant nature of the Bible (well most parts of it), as I am that the Bible is largely a collection of old tribal legends with some valuable lessons to teach, most of which do not depict actual events. I would no more impose my will and beliefs on them than I would desire them to do the same to me or anyone else.
I think of the churches that truly practice what Jesus preached, like the Salvation Army. This was one charity that my Dad consistently gave to. The vast majority of the money donated to their relief and outreach efforts actually goes to the people they help, not to paying salaries of administrators or pastors. Yes, it is a church, yes they preach Christian values–some of them quite conservative, no I don’t agree with everything they preach. However, they practice what Jesus preached. They help the poor, they lift them up, and that is a side of their operation I will support. I personally know people who have been helped by the Salvation Army, who owe their improved lives to the efforts of this church. Another church here in Canada that I know of that comes to mind that really practices what Jesus preached is Metro Community Church. They minister to the homeless, the excluded, the addicted.
All too often it is the shrill, anger and hate-filled spew from ultra-conservative Christians that overshadows all others. It is the same with the radical Muslim terrorists and street protesters who call for death to those who denounce Mohammed–they overshadow the moderate, average Muslim who genuinely loves and practices their faith, and works to live up to the tenets of that faith that call for love and respect for others. The moderate, even-handed, and honest voices are the ones that need to drown out the radicals. Even though I personally do not adhere to any religious faith, and myself do not care for religion, I do care about the people who do right by their faith and practice it genuinely and compassionately. I want to see their voices drown out the zealots.