Column: Live in Christianity for all the right reasons

Our current culture is in flux. We are leaving the old ways and trying new ones. The entire world of communication has reworked relationships in many instances. I wonder as I look out on the global culture growing and demanding our recognition.

One of the many reported changes I have read and heard is that Christian churches are losing their congregations. This is supposed to be because people do not see the need for the community of Christian churches and teachings. There seems to be a celebrative attitude by mainline culture gurus, thinking that Christianity is outdated and debilitating to modern life. This is sad, sad for many reasons.

For one thing, Christianity, although often maligned not because of what it believes but of the poor interpretation of what is believed or the political and social use of Christianity that allows it to be used as a cover for other intentions. It’s the old “do as I say, not as I do.” Our expectations are high for churches, clergy and Christian communities. They forget that Churches are made of human beings. Human beings are imperfect themselves and often fall short of Christianity’s basic teachings. I am thinking here of the Spanish coming to South America. Yes, they wanted to bring Christianity, but gold and silver were values that drove their energy. Once they came to explore, they were very good at extracting physical wealth; the Christian part of the conquest was left to fend for itself.

The Spanish were not alone; the English who came to the Northeast of what is now the United States were here to find the freedom to practice their religion. However, this often did not consider others, including the native population. The United States used Christian principles to found a new country. However, there was discrimination against groups such as the Catholics. They were tolerated but marginalized in the early history of the United States. Slavery was a reality, yet it existed with the idea that all men are created equal. How about Germany in the last war, which exterminated 6 million Jews? Germany was a Christian country. What I am saying here is that Christianity as a religion has wonderful ideas of love and community. Still, they are practiced by humans who fall short of these spiritual concepts.

Why do we condemn Christianity for bringing problems when it is a human interpretation of what Christianity is about? Ghandi is quoted as saying, “I like your Christ. I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.”

It was, in fact, The Sermon on the Mount: “But now I tell you: do not take revenge on someone who wrongs you. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, let them slap your left cheek as well” (Matthew 5:39). That would be this Christian concept that would be the basis for Gandhi’s nonviolent philosophy. It would unite India in the 1940s, and it was the concept that guided Martin Luther King Jr. in the Civil Rights movement of the 1950s and ’60s in the United States.

The Church is made of human beings, and human beings come with their own problems, selfish needs and personal interpretations of Christianity. Western society, however, has used Christian concepts to build a moral base. Now, remember concepts, ideas and moral outlooks are abstract. Some of these concepts are forgiveness, compassion, mercy and seeing the dignity of the human person. These are ideals that, as we have already noted, may not be practiced by the people who call themselves Christian.

Alternative globalization suggests a combination of scientific applications with data and individual interpretation. It is not new, the attempt to find an alternative to Christianity was evident in the philosophies of the Enlightenment in the 1700s. Global understanding is fair to all, but only if you work within their framework using their rules. Their society only deals with the reality of the now. Christianity, on the other hand, offers forgiveness, compassion and a faith that defeats death. Death in globalized philosophy is addressed as a reality but offers little hope and peace. The global approach to living is that human beings are to be controlled, and the truth is not fixed; it is up to individual understanding and choice.

We are human beings, and some simple guidelines are given to us as such: we are all born, we all progress and mature, we all seek fulfillment and belonging, and we all die. Christianity offers the dignity of the human soul and a pathway to love that sees others as fellow pilgrims on the journey. Yes, there are rules, but if you break the rules, there is forgiveness. The idea of respecting others and helping others is imperfect when left to individuals, but as a concept, it is something we can strive for.

Do you want a cyborg world of neuter acceptance of physical existence where human beings are commodities enduring a temporary life that ends in death? Or a world where love, mercy and dignity of the human person bring the peoples of the earth to an understanding of their human potential as Children of God? Where life is a journey and death a gateway to the eternal.

Kathleen Carlton Johnson, Ph.D., is a hospice chaplain.


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