For every five people who would stop to talk to me about being a Christian as a life-changing, positive thing, there was one who would step up to the plate and tell me with vivid clarity that they thought Christianity was a crock and that Christians were a bunch of hypocrites.
Why the confusion? So here I am, holed up in this coffee shop, puttering with this new manuscript, and if I’m going to be honest, I have to tell you that there’s this kind of subtle funk that starts to creep into your soul and your vocabulary when you become comfortable with criticizing anything. Especially when you’re talking about what is wrong with Christianity. It is easy to start feeling as though what you are saying or hearing is right, and then you start developing this consensus with whomever you are talking with, or, if you’re by yourself, you start to agree with your own motives until you gradually become self-justified.
Think about it – somebody sits down next to you and complains about some church scandal, say a preacher who has had a major moral failing in front of the world. Before you know it, the dialogue has become about broader or deeper flaws within the church. “How could this or that person do such a thing?” we say. Why aren’t Christians nicer? More tolerant? More like Jesus?
But there it is. The elephant is on the couch, and somebody is talking about it.
I tend to be an empathetic sort of listener. Before they’re done talking, I’m trying to find ways to agree with them. I want to validate their opinion even if, at the end of the conversation, we end up disagreeing completely.
So, while I sit here and think about the growing diatribe of people who are either card-carrying “Christians” or fiercely anti-religious, it begins to occur to me that I have developed an empathy for both sides. Those who are “Christians” have many of the same ideological beliefs and values as myself — meaning that they believe in God, and that even though mankind was fallen in nature, God had provided a means of redemption. It’s easy to agree on ideas (doctrine) with this group.
On the other hand, I have a lot of empathy for the other group. Almost universally, the reason they are annoyed with Christians is because, at one time or another, a Christian had deeply offended them in some way. In fact, nobody that I talked to had a simply intellectual difference with Christianity that wasn’t in some way linked with a root offense. And for sure, this group isn’t angry at Jesus!
I too, have been hurt by Christians. So it’s easy for me to agree on experiences with this group.
This is where my search began to clarify.
See, I agreed with the Christian ideas. The beliefs made sense to me. In fact, I was more certain than ever that my beliefs about life and death and eternal consequences were the right ones. I have no basic doctrinal dispute with the Christians. And at the same time, I had no real disagreement with the complaints of those who found Christianity to be absurd or corrupt. So…then what?
Just this morning about 20 of us had an intelligent and impassioned discussion about this topic. A man was asking if Buddhism might be the way for those in the Eastern world. We then discussed whether they (the eastern Buddhists) needed Christianity. But then several agreed that “Christianity” might be a mess as well. So maybe Buddhists do just need Buddha.
It took a long time before someone came up with the idea that they (and we) might actually need Jesus and that “imposing Christianity” on a Buddhist culture might, in-fact, be wrong. But asking them (and us) to follow Jesus might be right.
So maybe we should feel free to be critical of our culture. Our religion. Our nation. Not with a critical spirit behind it, as if we know what’s ultimately right and wrong for all things, but with humility, accepting that others may know and feel things that are also good. But on the heels of that conversation, get to the end point — that Jesus is true. He is right. He is the way. He doesn’t just know the way — he is the way. He is those things for Buddhists. And in fact, that’s good news for Buddhists.
Being open-minded and willing to learn from other religions and cultures doesn’t make us theological universalists — it makes us human. And all the while gently calling others to join us in becoming fully alive in Christ.