Something every Christian should read

August 8, 2009

As I’ve noted before, this space is mostly empty – I keep here because I want to be able to look back and see what I have said, some of which I still agree with. I don’t feel the need to update regularly here anymore; the Christian Cynic part of me is mostly inert at this point.

But when I read this post by Richard Beck at Experimental Theology, I knew I had to break my silence – even if only for a moment.

Dr. Beck is 100% correct in his claim that contemporary Christianity has become less about being a good person and more about doing certain kinds of things. (His list includes some explicitly religious things like attending church, reading the Bible, and praying, as well as some more political items such as “Voting Republican”, “Arguing with evolutionists”, and “Not reading Harry Potter.”) His claim has support in how Christians act regularly – I commented that the phenomenon of Christians leaving tracts in lieu of money for tips at restaurants is one example of how some Christians (certainly not all – I don’t think that most Christians do this) replace a moral action (providing a tip to someone who served you, especially given that servers in most restaurants are paid less than minimum wage and only make up that income in tips) with a supposedly “Christian” action (evangelizing – although as I noted, leaving a tract is about the most impersonal form of evangelism I can think of, maybe besides a billboard or a flyer in the mail).

Maybe there’s a presumption in churches that people who come to church are good people by virtue of desiring (or at least consenting) to come, but I think that this presumption would only show the naiveté of contemporary Christianity. Being religious doesn’t make you good, that much is clear. What churches ought to do is to tell our congregations, “Listen, we want you to be good people because that’s what God calls us to do, and that’s the example Jesus Christ set for us while he was here on earth – not reading the Bible, not attending church, not even necessarily praying or fasting or baptism or taking Communion. We think all those other things are important, but if you want to be a Christian, you need to work on becoming a good person first. We absolutely do not want you to think that spending time in prayer, in church, or in any other religious activity is a substitute for loving your neighbor and for living a good, moral life that shows respect for all humans.”

But then again, piety is often easier than living the moral life.