A CASE FOR CHRISTIANITY
I can't quote Scripture. I don't know much theology, and I can't speak for all the divisions of Christendom. But, as a practicing Christian, I do know a bit about my religionenough to get annoyed when ignorant people (I'm looking at you, Angry Forum Posters) consider Christianity to be hateful and Christians to be naïve.
I'm Orthodox Christian. The Orthodox Church is regarded as the original Christian church, dating back to the time of Christ. (No, the Catholic Church isn't the firstthey split from the Orthodox in 1054 over many issues.) I won't go into those details here, but if you are curious to know more, a fantastic article which explains the differences between the Orthodoxy and Catholicism can be found in the authour's comments.
Anyway, since I'm Orthodox Christian, many beliefs shared by the Orthodox will show up in the following essay. I realize that some Christians may not completely agree with what I write; however, I think that the original form of Christianity will support my points better than later Christian denominations.
I'm not looking to convert anyone. After all, part of Christianity is having respect for all humans, even those who possess different beliefs and lead different lifestyles. I simply want people to fully realize what Christianityin its truest, purest formis about. I want people to know that it's a religion full of love, mystery, and acceptancenot hatred and bigotry. And, maybe more than anything else, I want people to respect both the religion and its followers.
CASE I: BUT IT'S SO FULL OF HATRED!
Oh, yeahwars were fought over Christianity. You hear stories of missionaries and "old-fashioned" characters who force their religion onto others. Even todayespecially todaysome Christians judge others, hurt others, disrespect others, so on et cetera and so forth. After all, humans are imperfect by nature. We lie, cheat, steal, lust, sink ships and sleep with the boss's wife. We wage war. We're prejudiced, we're judgmental, we're cruel.
Remember this, though: of every religion, race, and culture, there are people who mess things up. People who are misinformed. People who don't know what the hell they're talking about. And yeah, sadly, sometimes people come along who really aren't very nice.
What happens if those misinformed, ignorant, cruel, or crazy people claim to belong to a certain religion? Sometimes nothing happens. But sometimes, their antics give said religion a bad reputation. For instance, according to Angry Forum Posters, all Christians are Bible-thumping homophobic anti-science ignorant racist hick-town-dwelling fools.
Oh, right. I forgot that, as a Christian, I love going out every day and finding people whom God allegedly hates, and letting them know. Preferably with a megaphone and grammatically incorrect signs. Right. I love doing that.
Except not really.
The thing is, an important belief in Christianity is that God is the final judge. Which means thatguess whatwe humans have no right to judge each other. Which in turn means that prejudice, racism, and general hatin' are all against Christian values. Really. Christ Himself helped and respected those that others despised (prostitutes, thieves, tax collectors, the like) as an example to us. And many Christians do follow that example as best they can. I know I try my hardest to. Sometimes I slip, yes, and judge another person's actions. We all do. But I sincerely try to treat my neighbor as I would like to be treated, and I'm certain that the majority of other Christians do, too.
(No matter what you read about online.)
CASE II: WELL, WHAT ABOUT FORGIVENESS? AREN'T CHRISTIANS ALL INTO DAMNING OTHERS TO HELL?
Ah, I see you're referring to those fire-and-brimstone sermons of religious revivals. Well.
As I said, I can't quote the Bible, but I know Christ once taught that in order to be forgiven yourselfwhether by another person or by Godyou must forgive others. Forgiveness isn't just excusing the theft of that last piece of cake in the fridge that you really, really wanted. No, forgiveness is about the big stuff, toolike cruelty. Adultery. Murder, even.
It's difficult. But it's necessary, and it's part of Christian teachings. The Lord's Prayer itself entreats God to "forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us".
Deacon Nicholas Jannakos adds this to the subject of repentance and forgiveness:
Repentance is not an apology to God for breaking some rule or law with a promise to do better next time, as little children do when they meet 'Santa Claus' in the shopping malls before Christmas. Orthodox Christian repentance is a clear understanding that we are "missing the mark" of growing in the image and likeness of God, which is the only reason that God created us in the first place
True repentance is a blessing from our all-good God who loves mankind, because it opens our hearts and minds to the healing power and the grace of God the Holy Spirit. It is the cure for the terrible human sin of pride, 'which cannot bear to be subject to anyone.' But here again personal freedom comes into play: people have to want to be cured."
CASE III: BUT I HATE WHEN CHRISTIANS FORCE THEIR BELIEFS ON OTHERS!
Consider this: a severe alcoholic is putting his family, job, and health in danger because of his drinking habits. His friends stage interventions, drag him to rehab, and plead with him to stop drinking. But this guy doesn't recognize that he has a problemand even if he did, he sure as hell doesn't want to give up his alcohol. If someone forcibly removes the alcohol from him, he'll be angry. He'll be angry at the person who took away the drink and at everyone who says he has a problem. In fact, he might drink all the more just to prove that he's all right. He hurts himself, alienates his family, and loses his job.
Now consider this: our alcoholic guy realizes he's heading down the wrong path. He strives to take steps to better his lifestyle. He might seek out the help and support of family and friends, but ultimately, the decision to change is his and his alone. And change he doesa change for the better.
The same goes for religion. A parent might drag their unwilling child to church (or temple or wherever) and force them to sit down, stay quiet, pay attention, and pray. But what good does this do the child? Going to church to "put time in" does nothing for the soul, and praying without sincerity is pointless.
People aren't always going to share beliefsit's just the way things are. It's the responsibility of a Christianor anyone, really, who passionately believes in somethingto share their ideals and to educate others about their ways of life. Do you see the word force in that previous sentence? No? That's because there should be no forcingonly sharing, educating, and teaching. A person will choose his or her path in lifeand will often revolt if kept under the bonds of someone else's beliefs.
If they're willing to listen, I'll try to persuade said person that Christianity is the way to go. But if they don't agree with the Christian teachingsor religion in general? Well, that's okay, too. We'll agree to disagree, because
BECAUSE HERE IT GETS INTERESTING
Life is full of mysteries. Religion, too, is full of mysteriesespecially Christianity. In the grand scheme of things, we know very little. The Orthodox do not believe in predetermination or that only Orthodox go to Heaven. For instance, a man once asked Christ what he needed to do to get into the Kingdom of Heaven. And you know what Christ said? He instructed the man to follow the Ten Commandments and to give his possessions to the poor.
Here's a rundown of the Ten Commandments for your reading pleasure:
1. Thou shalt have no other gods before Me.
2. Thou shalt not make unto thee any grave images
Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them.
3. Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain.
4. Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.
5. Honor thy father and thy mother.
6. Thou shalt not kill.
7. Thou shalt not commit adultery.
8. Thou shalt not steal.
9. Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor.
10. Thou shalt not covet.
Note that the first four commandments deal with man's relation to God. The final six, on the other hand, deal strictly with people. Let's see, do any command Christians to hate anybody who's not of the Christian faith? What? No. I thought not.
The thing is, nobody knows for certain what happens after death. Christians believe that those who live a life according to the Ten Commandments, forgive others' transgressions, and possess humility and compassion have a pretty good chance of going to Heaven. But we also believe that the Lord works in mysterious ways, and that all human beings have the chance for eternal lifeand that we should spend our time on Earth striving for personal goals rather than condemning others.
CASE V: OKAY, WHAT ABOUT EVOLUTION?
What about it?
CASE VI: AND THE BIG BANG?
CASE VII: WELL?!
Ah. These kinds of questions come up a lot. Deep breath, now.
As I mentioned before, both life and religion are full of mysteries. I could rant on and on about how the Church deals with scientific discoveries and theoriesbelieve me, I have beforebut I quite like the way Father Michael Azkoul puts it:
"Following the Holy Fathers, Orthodoxy uses science and philosophy to defend and explain her Faith
she does not build on the results of philosophy and science. The Church does not seek to reconcile faith and reason. She makes no effort to prove by logic or science what Christ gave His followers to believe. If physics or biology or chemistry or philosophy lends support to the teachings of the Church, she does not refuse them. However, Orthodoxy is not intimidated by man's intellectual accomplishments. She does not bow to them and change the Christian Faith to make it consistent with the results of human thought and science."
Human ideas and philosophies are constantly changing, constantly evolving. Yet the Church, throughout all this change, remains constant. Some people very much disagree with Christian beliefsbut hey, so what? Disagreement is natural and questioning is inevitable. But let's try to have a calm and intelligent conversation without all the put-downs, shall we?
(And who's to say God didn't create the big bang? Or evolution? And how long were days before we created calendars to measure them? What?)
CASE VIII: HOW CAN SOMEONE BELIEVE IN A GOD THAT LETS CUTE KIDS IN POVERTY DIE?
John Steinbeck once wrote a book called "East of Eden". It's a fantastic book, I highly recommend ityeah, you have to skip over some of the lengthy descriptions, but it's really wonderful overall.
Anyway, "East of Eden" is, in part, a modern retelling of the fall of Adam and Eve from Paradise, a Biblical account which many have at least heard of. And a very important theme of that book comes from a little Hebrew wordtimshel, or, "thou mayest". The word deals with a passage in the Biblical book of Genesis that had been mistranslated by various scribes. In the passage, some translations state that Jehovah tells Adam, "thou shalt rule over him [sin]"in other words, Jehovah's words are a promise that Adam would conquer sin. In other translations, Jehovah tells Adam "do thou rule over him [sin]", implying that Adam is ordered to conquer sin. A servant named Lee intends to discover the original translation of the verseand a few elderly Chinese men, some Hebrew dictionaries, and a couple Rabbis later, the original form of the verse was found. It said, "thou mayest rule over him [sin]", implying that Adam may conquer sin
or he may not.
So, what does this have to do with anything?
Christians believe that God gave mankind the freedom of choice. Prayer, either to God Himself or to the saints, often causes God to intervene in an otherwise horrible situation; however, God does let things happen. Some of these things are good, while some are truly bad. Now, Christians also believe that God is loving and kind, and no evil can come from Him. So how can it be that a gentle God would not interfere with, say, the starvation of poverty-stricken children?
Jason Misleh explored this very question, using the example of the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center in New York City, September 11, 2001. I'll let the words of Jason Misleh explain:
"So why did God let this happen? If he didn't, the freedom he has passed to us as human beings would not exist. Before placing the blame of something evil and tragic on God, think about it. Why would a loving God ever want to harm anyone? And never forget, the most asked question in the universe is 'Why?' The most unanswered question, unfortunately, is also 'Why?' In this case, the answer may be our misuse of free will."
The ability to choose allows humans to act upon their wills and decisionsand, sadly, sometimes people (of all cultures, religions, and races) have cruel intentions. Just one person with cruel intentions can cause horrific consequences to befall innocent people. And an action without cruel intentions can result in unforeseen complications. Even something established by people for millennia, such as a country's social class system, can produce devastating effectseffects such as children on the poor end of the social spectrum starving to death.
CASE IX: CHRISTIANS ARE STUIPD AND CLING TO AN IMAGINARY FRIEND TO SOLVE THEIR PROBLEMS.
This is usually the one that gets me worked up. All I can say is that, no, God is not a gray-bearded man hanging out in the sky. Again, I'll use Father Michael Azkoul's wise words: "Following the Holy Fathers, Orthodoxy teaches that the knowledge of God is planted in human nature and that is how we know Him to exist. Otherwise, unless God speaks to us, human reason cannot know more".
And God helps those who help themselves. You don't sit there on a couch in a dark room and wait for the money to come pouring through the ceilingit doesn't work that way. (I desperately hope nobody believes it works that way.)
Christianity, furthermore, isn't reserved for Sundays. I myself pray throughout the dayand not big kneel-down-bow-the-head prayers, either. Just little ones, little thoughts, either in times of distress or times of joy. Or in times that aren't particularly special at all. I question certain aspects of my religion, yeah. There are things that I don't understand. I'm still learning, and I don't think I'll ever stop learning. But I believe that my life is very much bettered because of my religion. I have very deep values and, well, I like to think I have compassion for others. Because of my religion, I try not to judge others and I try not to be cruel hearted. I try to pardon and I try to be kind. I rely on my faith to guide me through life, and I pray to God for forgiveness, assistance, and thanks.
And I am not stupid, thank you very much. I am not folksy and I am not ignorant. In fact, Christianity inspires me to learn as much as I can about others, to have empathy for all, and to regard every human first and foremost as God's creationa creation to be respected.
As I mentioned before, this little essay is not intended to convert or chastise anyone. It is, however, intended to share a little bit about what Christianity is all about. I realize that some people, although they call themselves Christians, do not follow the religion's original ideals. I realize, too, that misinformed people occasionally lead others to believe Christianity is a hateful instead of a loving religion. However, I really hope that this little essay changes some common misconceptions and opinions of Christianity.
I am not asking anyone to believe what I believeno. I merely ask that people learn about the true intentions of the Christian religion before they send off an angry forum post. I ask that they are not ignorant and hateful of Christianity. Andmaybe more than anything elseI ask that they both accept and respect people of all religions, cultures, races, orientations, situations, and lifestyles alike.