What if Atheists are Right About Christians?
Over the last few weeks I have been reading a handful of books that have me thinking a good bit about how Christians are perceived by the world around us. John Dickson’s book Humilitas , which traces the history of the virtue of humility through the last two millennia, was the book that really started these thoughts, and has me thinking about the damage that Christians have done to the name of Christ over the years. Dickson starts off chapter ten of his book with a quote from Christopher Hitchens:
We believe with certainty that an ethical life can be lived without religion. And we know for a fact that the corollary holds true—that religion has caused innumerable people not just to conduct themselves no better than others, but to award themselves permission to behave in ways that would make a brothel-keeper or an ethnic cleanser raise an eyebrow.
As I write these words and as you read them, people of faith are in their different ways planning your and my destruction, and the destruction of all hard-won human attainments that I have touched upon. Religion poisons everything.
I re-read that four or five times when I first came upon it. After stewing for an hour or two on this quote, I asked the question, “what if Hitchens is right?” I am not saying that Hitchens is right that there is no God nor am I saying that the world would be a better place without people of faith, but I am wondering if he is right about the license taken under the guise of religious necessity, and where we see Christians doing this today.
A few snapshots that might help understand my question:
- Last week I drove by the Planned Parenthood clinic in Hempstead, New York. While passing by I noticed about four men with signs, a bullhorn, and angry looks on their faces shouting at a middle aged Hispanic lady walking out of the clinic with a child who appeared to be four or five. While I didn’t have the chance to read the signs that they were carrying, my first thought was about the ugliness that the church can bring out in people. While I can’t say for certain that it was a group of Christians conducting the protest, the image of angry looking people shouting at a lady and her child because they are in the Planned Parenthood parking lot is the image that many people have of the church.
- Several years ago, while developing the plans for the church we planted in Baltimore, I took a job selling cars at a local Ford Dealership. During my time there, the American Family Association decided that Ford, a religiously unaffiliated corporation,was a promoter of the dreaded “homosexual agenda” and as a result, they called on Christians to boycott Ford. This is a common tactic by the AFA, and one that they are currently attempting to bludgeon The Home Depot into submission with. These actions are not received by people as loving correction, they are received as if they are the threats of the neighborhood bully… and I don’t know that Jesus was the bullying type.
- A friend of mine in Baltimore was convinced that the church planting movement supported by the Southern Baptist Convention was an effort to have a bunch of Christians from the south move up into a “blue state” and change the outcomes of the elections there. While this was a pretty creative way of looking at things, I doubt that he is the only one that has a hard time separating the church in America from a political machine, especially considering the political rhetoric that has come out of “evangelical leaders” over the past several years.
In southern culture, the phrase “bless your heart” gives people a free pass to be nasty. While it pains me to say it, I wonder if identifying ourselves as Christians isn’t used the same way in the political arena. Christ called us to be salt and light to the world around us. Salt and light do not repulse people, they are attractive… people desire them.
Christ called us to love the world, to care for it, and to introduce him to world around us… not to wield his name like a club.
How have YOU worked to repair the the image of the church within your sphere of influence?