Tuesday, January 22, 2013

The Secret Life of a Christian

[1 John 2:4] "The man who says, 'I know him,' but does not do what he commands is a liar, and the truth is not in him."

[Titus 1:16] "They claim to know God, but by their actions they deny him. They are detestable, disobedient and unfit for doing anything good."

[Matthew 7:21-23] "Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?' Then I will tell them plainly, 'I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!'"

Christian morality - at least as I experienced it as a Christian - is based on there only being two possible conditions: either 1) I am a sinner and deserving of hell, or 2) I am perfect and holy. Of course, we know that "all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" (Romans 3:23), which means no one is perfect, and everyone is deserving of hell. There's no third option. All sin is equally bad insofar as all sin leads a person to hell. Just ask Ray Comfort. But, according to the "good news" of Christianity, you can still avoid hell if you place your faith in Jesus Christ and follow him.

Follow him. That's the part that always made me wonder.

The Bible verses above scared me. Even though I had faith in Christ and I was "following him," I was far from perfect. I wrote before about my night in Manhattan. I was a curious teenager whose curiosity got the best of him. I only told a select few about that night, and even those few didn't get all the details. I didn't want the Christian community to look down on me for being such a sinner. But that's the stress I lived with constantly when I was a Christian. I had this secret life of sin. I felt guilty, shameful, and dirty. But I wanted to be part of the "holy" crowd. So I learned how to compartmentalize.

I see now that I was not unusual in this regard. People put on their masks and walk into church, acting like they have all their spiritual ducks in a row. I learned how to wear my mask as well. Lack of confidence, not my faith in god, is why I remained a virgin till I was 21. I had raging hormones and a powerful libido. I made sure to keep that hidden, because I had seen the way Christians shoot their own wounded. I discovered that church is where people go to pretend to be holy in order to fit in with other holy people who are in reality also just pretending to be holy.

My intention is not to display church life in the most negative light possible. I'm simply sharing my experience. Seems like, for every genuinely decent honest person in church, there's a handful of pretenders keeping up appearances in the game of superficial socio-political ecclesiology.

We shouldn't be surprised, though. The churchgoers are victims of the extreme black-and-white goats-and-sheep moralistic paradigm of Christian theism. Sure, they talk a lot about how we can't earn heaven and we're forgiven and the blood of Christ is what cleanses us from our sin, but such preaching doesn't translate into practice. How can it? The dichotomy is too extreme: if you're not for us, you're against us. If you're not walking in the light, then you're consumed by darkness. Sinners deserve hell, because all sin is equally distressing to god. Stealing a candy bar earns you a ticket to damnation as quickly as committing first degree murder does.

We may be saved by grace and not by works, but the Bible has enough verses like the ones above to make sure we toe the party line and grind all the right axes. And all the sermons on grace that all the preachers in all the churches have ever delivered mean nothing in the end. Churchgoers still wear the masks and play the game, and keep their secret lives locked away in the closet next to all the other guilt-inducing skeletons that they've learned to forget about when convenient.

My Christian friends might tell me the problem is that we don't truly understand the grace of god, or his forgiveness. Maybe. I tend to think the problem lies in the system itself: the everything-or-nothing view of the human condition. Either we are sinners deserving of death and hellfire or we are righteous. No shades of gray. Even the story of god's grace and forgiveness feeds us guilt and shame. We're so evil and so helpless - so worthless on our own - that Jesus had to be beaten, tortured, and executed brutally to pay the price for our sin.

I still can't even look at Jim Caviezel without feeling bad.

Seems to me the reason Christians have a difficult time acting like they're human is because, according to their "good news," being human is deplorable. I have a hard time accepting any worldview that doesn't allow me to be myself.


And yes I have all of the usual objections
to the miseducation of children who,
in tax-exempt institutions,
are taught to externalize blame
and to feel ashamed
and to judge things as plain right or wrong.
But I quite like the songs.

- Tim Minchin, "White Wine in the Sun"

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