For those friends of mine reading this that don’t know, I am a Christian – and each of you have a different conception of what exactly that means. For my own part, I don’t just mean I belong to a global community or sociological people group that identifies itself on government forms and standardized tests as “Christian” – though I do mean that in part. What I really believe is something far more radical and, perhaps, harder and more offensive to accept: I believe I am a child of the One True God, purchased in death and reconciled in life to a glorious destiny by the Son of God, and therefore born again of the Spirit of God. My faith meets at the nexus of two planes – an ineffable sense of the Love that built the world and somehow saves a soul, and the concrete knowledge of a God who entered history, in a specific time and specific place, who laughed and wept and prayed, whose feet felt the dust of Canaan and whose blood really did trickle down a cross, changing the world for all time.
I believe these things. You may look at them now and either agree wholeheartedly, or perhaps shake your head in skepticism – but in either case, we can understand each other. You can demand of me a proof that will obliterate any shadow of doubt; you can demand of me an explanation for the tragedies committed in the name of so-called “religion”; you can demand of me a real, no B.S. answer about why an intelligent, rational human being should believe that an old dusty book is the unassailable Word of God; but the one thing you cannot demand of me is that I shut up and let everyone just believe what they want to believe.
I don’t think I’m being unreasonable in this refusal to stay quiet, and I don’t think that refusal grants you the ammunition to assail my character. This is something that has bothered me for quite some time. As a man who identifies himself as a Christian, I spend most of my day interacting with those who don’t share my beliefs. This fact doesn’t surprise me; I was taught in early youth to recognize a world that mostly disagrees with me. Still, even as a young man I have heard one criticism of my faith more than any other, and it goes something like this: “The problem with Christians is that they’re always trying to shove their beliefs down everyone’s throats. Why can’t they just keep to themselves, practice their beliefs quietly, and let other people worship their own way? Why can’t they accept that their religion isn’t the only right one, and that all religions are just trying to get at their own forms of truth? The world would be a much more peaceful place.”
There’s a reason why Christians are always trying to “force” their beliefs on others (though we really shouldn’t use that word, because to most people “force” really means “asking if they know about Jesus” or “handing out pamphlets on the street”), and it derives from a character quality that most of the world, atheists and agnostics included, normally admire: compassion for others. If I really believe with sincere devotion that we are setting fire to a world built upon perfect justice and are destined to reap every last twisted sewing – if I told you there was a chance of being healed, of being finally cleansed of pain and heartache, of rediscovering true joy and the perfect homestead we once abandoned – if I believe this is the truth, and yet say nothing, what sort of person am I? The man who knows a way to help his friends but turns away out of pride, or fear of rejection?
But that’s so arrogant and condescending of you, claiming you’re trying to save me because you know the “real” truth. How does telling me I’m not merely wrong, but also ignorant, really help me? Why do I have to drop everything and give my life completely to a religion in order to find happiness? Why can’t you just accept me the way I am? These are all valid questions, and you’re right to ask them. But don’t you see, it doesn’t matter if you think that I’m wrong, that Jesus never really existed and he certainly didn’t “die for your sins.” Even if I am wrong, you can’t begrudge me the fact that I loved you enough to try and articulate to you something I earnestly believe. If I’ve done anything to earn your respect, at least permit me to offer you a taste of the draught that saved me, pulled me from the depths, and restored me to life. If I’m an earnest believer, you should see the change in me anyway. Don’t begrudge me the chance to explain why.
This doesn’t stop with Christianity. Any man who has given himself over to an ideal – be it something particular like the love of a woman or devotion to country, or something abstract like Freedom or Truth or Human Rights – cannot be faulted for shouting his ideas from the rooftops or from the platform at a protest. He cannot be called intolerant or proud for giving his life on the field of battle, or staring down the barrel of a gun in the name of his beliefs. If every religious devotee or political idealist just kept to himself, we would live in a world much sadder and darker than it already is. Even if you think there is no objective Truth, you must still respect the idea of Truth enough to accept those who live and breathe and die by a Truth they hold to be sacred. If none of us are prepared to fight or defend or evangelize for the things we believe in, why do we believe?
When you can articulate to me a utopian model not grounded on some conception of truth, or bricked and mortared with ideals built by the sweat of true believers, than I will say we have no reason to evangelize. But until then, I am not ashamed to proclaim what I believe to be the truth of the Christian Gospel. It is an idea that has earned men not fame or fortune, but the threat of execution and the cold walls of prison. It is an idea that has changed the world, from the action of social institutions in ending poverty to the changing of one man’s heart in a darkened room, when he had already abandoned hope. It appeals to the humble child and makes children of learned scholars. In short, I believe it to be the truth, one worth fighting for. I don’t believe I condescend when I tell you about it; in reality, I believe you condescend when you accuse me of narrow-mindedness or intolerance or hatred. I am not silent, nor do I retreat into private, inoffensive religiosity, because I still believe in something more important than myself or the shallow niceties of politically-correct company.
The world is full of radicals, and chances are you agree or at least acknowledge the legitimacy of some of them; why do you reject Christianity's legitimacy out of hand? What has it done to warrant such a dismissal? You might agree with Gandhi: you have no quarrel with Christ Himself, only His followers. You might think the people of the Church are judgmental and hypocritical. True, some of them are; but many more have given their hearts and lives for something they saw to be beautiful and true. Many have spent long nights praying for their apathetic friends, not out of some misplaced sense of self-righteousness, but because they honestly love and care for others with a desperate passion. In the end, we are all believers in something; we would be fools to say otherwise.
You are all my friends, and I love you. Perhaps you disagree with what I’ve written, and are currently entered into complete and utter rage. If that’s the case, please – let’s talk about it. If you’ve really read all this, and still think that “let’s talk about it” is some covert tactic of mine to try and convert you, then I don’t think you actually read it. So please, the discussion forum is wide open.