Christianity is Nonsense
I have sometimes been accused of holding onto my faith for no other reason than rank stubbornness or some vague sense of tribalist loyalty. This assumes on the behalf of the accuser that Christianity is something like a philosophy to which one has proudly ascended and is now too entrenched in to give it up when something more certain in its veracity comes along, lest the believer become red-faced with embarrassment in front of his peers. That, or Christianity is like Southern heritage or a hometown sports team; it’s innately part of my identity, and to excise it would be like pulling out my adult teeth.
This isn’t a very common accusation; often my interlocutors prefer the line that I am simply stupid. While that may be more true than I’d like to admit, that has little to do with whether or not Christianity is something worth clinging to. Then again, neither does the accusation of stubbornness or tribalism, but the point of today’s piece is not to establish the truth of Christianity; we are swamped with writings on apologetics, the world hardly needs me to add more to the mire. Instead, I’m writing something of an anti-apologetic: I want to demonstrate why no one clings to sincere beliefs in Christianity out of mere recalcitrance, as to do so would be actually stupid.
I do not here discuss individuals increasingly called “cultural Christians,” people who claim the title of Christian on census forms but have no real inkling just why it is they attend church twice a year, no real grasp “how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ.”1 These are people who might properly be accused of only clinging to the name of Christian out of stubbornness or tribalism. However, I do not know these people and I am not one of them. I cannot offer a defense on their part, because I cannot fathom why they feel like they should bother.
Myself, I came to faith later in life, from a home researchers now classify as belonging to the “nones.” To think that I might cling to Christianity out of congenital identity, as cultural Christians do to their thinned form of the faith, is simply nonsense.
In fact, I’d like to take one step further and float this out there: in this day and age, clinging to Christianity at all is probably nonsense. It is, after all, a religion centered on a man who died a gruesome, shameful death in full view of a mocking public and had the cheek to tell his disciples to prepare for the same. “Then Jesus told his disciples, ‘If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.’”2 The image of a Christian may be to some that of people in clean suits and spring dresses with big hats, strolling merrily into a chapel, its bells ringing, on a warm Sunday morning, but the unseen reality is that every step towards church is one bearing the cross. Surely there are better options on the market today than such a religion.
For the majority of modern believers, this “bearing the cross” is metaphorical; very seldom are we handed heavy beams of wood and forced to carry them to our own execution. However, the burden of faith is still a heavy one for the faithful few, unmodern enough to take the commands in Scripture seriously. Christianity, in its purest form, is a drag.
It makes me laugh to think that one would hold on to the Christian faith simply because. The accusation is just that amusing: as if individuals who face such doubts, demands, and trials that the faith requires wouldn’t look for the most plausible escape. Which one of us couldn’t find something better to do on a Sunday morning than waste hours listen to some self-righteous mystic drone on and on from the pulpit? Which one of us couldn’t think of a more entertaining way to spend the ten percent of our income we give without question to the church, or the thousands of dollars we also spend on missionaries, parachurch organizations, fundraisers, and other charity? Who wouldn’t take even the flimsiest excuse to flee from the excruciating self-reflection the faith requires, let alone the shame-faced confessions we labor to give to our fellow travelers of the Way? It’s far easier to be correct in the eyes of peers than it is to be honest in the eyes of God.
The practical gains of giving up the faith are endless. Another example: Jesus forbids us from even entertaining lustful or wrathful thoughts. We can all admit that savoring these thoughts for even just a moment would be delightful. Heck, without the threat of Hell—or even worse, the inevitable look of disappointment on Jesus’ face—it’d be nice to follow through with those thoughts sometimes, too. As long as it’s legal and society’s fine with it (and society is fine with nearly everything these days), there’s really no reason not to live out those fantasies. Even if something is illegal or a faux pas, like murder, it wouldn’t actually be much of a problem as long as we could get away with it. Wouldn’t that be a grand change of pace from all this policing we Christians must do of ourselves?
We do not even have the right to gloat over non-believers. “What do you have that you did not receive? If then you received it, why do you boast as if you did not receive it?”3 The standards are higher for us, too:
“And that servant who knew his master’s will but did not get ready or act according to his will, will receive a severe beating. But the one who did not know, and did what deserved a beating, will receive a light beating. Everyone to whom much was given, of him much will be required, and from him to whom they entrusted much, they will demand the more.”4
Outsiders may grumble they feel judged by Christians, but the eyes they feel on their back are nothing like what believers feel. God may not be all that impressed with pagan reasoning and excuses, but the hypocrisy of the righteous makes him incalculably more livid.
This is all without getting to the fact that being a Christian in the United States has increasingly heavy social costs. Indiana and Georgia both attempted to pass modest religious protections—despite the apocalyptic headlines of outlets like Salon and the Huffington Post, these were genuinely modest, even anemic in Georgia’s case—and both were battered by much of the media. Several large corporations also threatened to pull out of those states if the protections passed. Further, beyond the shrinking sphere of private Christian institutions, there is a noticeable bias against the faith in higher education. While this bias is not quite on the level of what God’s Not Dead portrays (although I did have an atheist philosophy professor who insisted Kierkegaard was not writing about God when he wrote about God), it is clearly felt in the assumptions and outlooks of professors and administrators at public universities.
It bears repeating: Christianity is a drag. Opportunities will be lost. Relationships will be damaged. You’ll spend a lot of time and money on other people when you could be buying yourself a fun boat. When certain people catch wind of what you believe, you’ll be mocked and scorned in public (shaming is fast and convenient with Twitter). There are no practical reasons to label oneself a Christian today, and being a sincere practitioner of the faith, with all its relentless demands and invitations to public shaming, it is pretty much nonsensical.
I do not hold on to Christianity because I’m too stubborn to admit I’m wrong, and I do not hold on to it because it was ingrained in me since birth. The reasons to give up the faith are as sensible as they are overwhelming. I say that in all honesty. If you’re shopping around for faiths and philosophies, I do advise you to keep moving. Christianity will demand too much of you.
In the end, though, there is one uncomfortable fact that remains: If Christianity is at all true, then there is not enough wealth and praise in the world, nor is there a cross heavy enough, that could deter those who have tasted the love of God.
2. Matthew 16:24 ESV
3. 1 Corinthians 4:7
4. Luke 12:47-48
Photo by the_forgotten_nomad at Flickr Creative Commons.