Problem with Christianity: when I was probably full of my most zealous love for Christ and all things related to the church, I also was a bully of my little brother and a close friend in ways that were far from Christian. Now, I might have been mostly going through the motions of being a Christian without taking it properly to heart in an effort to please my mom. But, wouldn’t such an intense period of worshiping Jesus, praying, reading my Bible and attending church joyously have kept me from falling prey to whatever demons in me suggested that it would be cool and fun to deliriously mock my little brother and friend to almost no end?
For two thousand years, so-called Christian empires have held the upper hand in most of the balance of world power. And yet, we have seen so much destruction of our environment and loss of human lives in the name of exporting our ideal way of life. To be for sure, I don’t blame Christianity directly for so many terrible things done by Western civilization. However, I think the same principle again applies–if the majority of our citizens were fervently worshiping Jesus and claiming to be his disciples, then shouldn’t at least a little bit of Jesus’ kinder nature have worn off on some of our powers that be?
I don’t think most Americans even know or understand the sheer number of civillian lives that have been lost in our overseas adventures and wars–and I mean the ones that have taken place outside of the World Wars, where you might be able to craft an argument of at least the second one being a righteous war. But–the Germans and Russians were mostly Christian, too. We Americans have put to death so many civillians in carpet bombings around the world–millions of people losing their lives in Korea, Cambodia, Vietnam, Iraq, etc. Our military responses have never been pristine and morally upright as we like to think they were. Of course, the issue becomes one of criticizing the single man or woman serving in uniform if you dare criticize policy carried out by Washington politicians and large arms manufacturing lobby interests.
Clearly, Christ is not at the center of a man’s decision-making process when he decides to carpet bomb innocent civillians. But, Christ will be with him when he returns home to his hometown to live out his last decades as a great hero and savior of his country. He will lose no sleep over what he’s done, and no one who has benefited from the largess of the miltary industrial complex, which is pretty much all of us, will lose much sleep, either. We are all culpable. We are mostly all Christian, too.
Does it really mean anything at all to be Christian? Is the emphasis on a post-life salvation precisely there to assuage any guilt that might creep up for living in a culture that directly benefits off of the suffering and death of many others? Or, are we to be like Christ, Paul and the early Christians were to the Roman Empire–none of them did anything to directly stop the Romans from being who they were–in fact, they mostly realized that there was at least some kind of peace available for them to carry out their worship and faith, which was better than none at all.
Why am I asking all of these questions? The primary thing that has been on my mind for a long time is the question of whether we who are mostly Western and mostly Christian have really understood the telos of history at all, or if there even is one in any human history sense of the word. Or, if there is one, then why so much bloodshed to get to a magical Godly kingdom? Or, if there is a wholly other telos, what will that look like–will we find ourselves among the dying minority in the next few generations while secular Chinese and Indian people rise up to conquer the world?
Will Christ die another slow and long death until humanity remembers him with the same attitude as they do Zeus? Of course, I don’t believe this–I can’t believe this, as I have too much at stake to believe such a thing. I am, however, willing to concede that every single Christian who has ever attempted to prophesy about the eschatological future of Christ, no matter what the scenario looks like, has been wrong to some degree or another.
Is it foolish to worry about the future when we’ve been explicitly told by Jesus not to?
But, to return to my first problem–how do we come up with a Christian way of being that actually makes sense to a human living in this time and place? I’m not talking about living in denial of evolution and climate change and sticking your head in the sand, either. I mean, being a Christian who accepts that most of what science teaches us to be true, even if it is not an exhaustive Truth. A Christian who can worship Christ on Sundays, claim to follow Jesus, and not find himself or herself caught up in being no different than any other person who drinks and brawls and thinks about sex too much.
I absolutely love the person who is pious and righteous–the Dorothy Day kind of individual who does social justice all week and attends Mass as often as she can. I have tried to be sort of like that at times, and when I am at my most righteous (relative to me), I still sense myself gearing up for another major spell of anger, doubt, pride and/or lust–sometimes all of them at once, sometimes not.
How do I truly embrace Christianity in a way that I am truly changed or at least clearly trending toward being more righteous than I used to be, minus taking any medication or otherwise relying on extras to discipline me and keep me on the straight and narrow? What is that thing that is still missing from myself, from my being? Surely I am not one of the goats, right?