Rev. Yme Woensdregt
Last week, I began a series of columns listing some (almost) tongue–in–cheek reasons not to be a Christian. The first two reasons: The church is full of hypocrites. The church is morally compromised.
#3. Christians aren’t always nice.
You’re not going to like every Christian you meet. Indeed, you will dislike some Christians very much. I can tell you from personal experience, some Christians are … well, weird. Some of them have poor taste in music and clothes. Some have political leanings that are almost to the right of Attila the Hun. Some have dandruff and bad breath. Frankly, I wouldn’t choose to hang out with people like that in a million years.
Yet, as a member of the church, I am expected to hang out with them and treat them like family — in the good sense, that is: it’s all too easy to treat them like family in the bad sense.
So I have to remind myself what church is all about. It’s not just a place you go once a week to meet with cool, sophisticated, like–minded people, as though it were an art appreciation class or a chess club.
At its heart, the church is a group of people of all shapes and sizes and cultures and ages who really have nothing in common. As a community, we get together, get organized, learn to love one another, and show the world what it means to be a beautiful community. Yes, being involved with other Christians can be tough, but what a breathtaking project to be involved in. It’s crazy, so crazy that only God could have thought it up.
French atheist Alain de Botton actually names this characteristic as one of the reasons religion has been good for the world. Nowhere else do we find people of different perspectives and beliefs who try to get along in this kind of community. In his book, Religion for Atheists, he meditates on our modern tendency to gather only with those who are like–minded, and notes that faith encourages people of many different perspectives to gather together so that our common life is enriched.
#4. Won’t you have to condemn other religions?
There is a common (mis)perception that to be Christian means you have to be intolerant of other ways of relating to God. Some Christians think everyone else is completely wrong, and they are probably going to hell.
I disagree. C.S. Lewis says, “If you are a Christian, you do not have to believe that all the other religions are simply wrong all through … If you are a Christian, you are free to think that all these religions — even the queerest ones — contain at least some hint of the truth.”
To put it another way, many Christians affirm that God’s light is available to people in every culture and every century. Anglicans affirm that all truth is one, and we acknowledge all truth and all love wherever it can be found.
Lewis goes on to make another point. If you are an atheist, on the other hand, you do have to believe that the main point in all the religions of the whole world is simply one huge mistake.
By this logic, atheists are in fact less tolerant. They simply think that every person of faith is somehow mad and unable to function in this world without “the crutch of religion”. I mentioned one such person in my first column who asked me, “You’re reasonably intelligent; so why do you bother with this crap?”
Quite a few years ago, I stumbled upon an image which I love. It pictures faith as the pinnacle of a high mountain. You can name the peak however you wish — God, Truth, Light, or anything else. That peak is the goal, and people of faith are seeking a way to the goal, a path up that mountain. At the bottom, you can’t even see other paths to the top of the mountain. But as we climb, the paths come closer together. The nearer we get to the top of the mountain, the closer we also get to one another. At the very top, we can join hands and celebrate everything we hold in common.
But let’s also be clear. There are different paths. Different religions have different answers to the most profound questions we raise in human life. For me, I believe that the light of God is most clearly focused in the person of Jesus Christ.
But that doesn’t mean I can dismiss other ways of relating to the light of God. In fact, I believe it gives me the responsibility to reach out, to talk with others, to learn from others so that together, we may discern a more complete way of responding to the light.
As Paul says in that wonderful hymn to love in 1 Corinthians 13, “Now we see in a mirror dimly …” On earth our vision is limited. When we are embraced by eternal Truth, we will be able to see and understand fully.
Until that day, I will be as humble as possible, and accept that other ways of seeking truth are equally valid.
Rev. Yme Woensdregt is Pastor at Christ Church Anglican in Cranbrook