Thursday, November 15, 2007


It amazes me now to look back and realize just how much fear was interwoven into most of my experiences growing up in various evangelical churches. When your entire life is steeped in fear you tend not to notice it, but now it seems so obvious I can scarcely believe that I wasn't more conscious of it. It's like climbing a mountain in Southern California and looking down on the smoggy haze that you paid so little attention to as you went about your daily life down in the valley.

That fear took on all sorts of forms, one of the most prominent of which was fear of the outside world. The World (with a capital W) was out to get us, and the Great Persecution was always just around the corner. Anyone who wasn't a believer (including those Christians whose beliefs fell outside of our definition of orthodoxy) was in the Enemy's camp, and any hostility that a Christian faced was a sign of the hostility that the entire world had toward Christ and his message.

Granted, there are some people in the Western world who are hostile toward Christianity in general, but quite a few of them are ex-Christians who have been hurt by the church. Outside of that, most people are as respectful of our beliefs as we are of theirs.

Case in point: J. Michael Straczynski, the creator of Babylon 5, is an atheist. Despite this, Christianity still exists in the future he envisions (as do all of the other world religions), and when Christian characters appeared on the show they were portrayed respectfully. One episode (Passing Through Gethsemane, which Straczynski wrote) even centered around a group of monks living on Babylon 5 and contained an exploration of Christian themes as deep as any ever found on overtly "Christian" shows (Christy, Seventh Heaven, etc.).

According to the stereotypes that most Christians have of atheists, such a thing shouldn't even be possible. To rationalize this contradiction away by describing him as "seeking" or as just pretending to be an atheist is to miss the fact that it is, in fact, possible for a person to genuinely respect the beliefs of others without feeling compelled to convert.

Another case in point: the talk show I hear during my drive home on the music station I listen to is hosted by a pair of guys who are most definitely not Christians. It would be inaccurate (and patently unfair) to call them amoral, but they nonetheless have no problem with some things (premarital sex, divorce, gay relationships, etc.) that most conservative Christians strongly oppose.

Yet while there are probably many Christians who find some of their choices of topics distasteful enough to tune out, you'll never hear them mock Christians or Christian beliefs. On the occasions that they do get self-identified Christian callers, they listen respectfully and will even applaud callers who live according to their convictions.

What they would be less likely to respect is the "and so must you" attitude that so many evangelicals carry around like a giant chip on their shoulder. In my experience most people are willing to respect my beliefs, and sometimes even open to considering what I have to say, right up to the point where I try to force those beliefs on them. There's an ocean of difference between politely and humbly sharing what one believes, and declaring "this is the way it is, and you're going to hell if you disagree." Christians are quick to complain when they feel like they're being disrespected, but in most cases that disrespect is earned through the lack of respect they show the rest of the world.

To some it may seem like nothing less than moral relativism to assert that Christians should respect the "wrong" beliefs of others, but in reality it's merely a call to treat others like the equals that they are instead of as children in need of a good spanking. If others consistently describe us as arrogant and condescending, chances are we really are arrogant and condescending.


Mark said...

"Do unto others as you would have them do unto you"

"Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and your neighbor as yourself.

It's the golden rule. Some Christians don't play by it. I don't get it.

BentonQuest said...

I am probably going to misquote St. Francis, but here it goes anyway: "Evnagelize always, use words when necessary."

People are so much more willing to believe what they see in one's life. Just because someone says they love, if that love is not shown, then most will not believe.

Communion of Glitches said...

I have always been amused and saddened (there's a pair of emotions for you) by the fact that many Christians so shelter themselves from anything (music, books, television, people) non-Christian that they miss out on the type of dialogue Christ calls us to. I also find it interesting that the Christians who eschew all the worldly influences are often likely to call themselves evangelical. It makes you wonder how they plan on converting people if they don't interact with anyone but Christians.