Christianity is so much more ridiculous than most people give us credit for. Oh, there are a lot of stereotypes: we’re narrow-minded or we’re stuffy, we’re anti-intellectual or we’re honorable. It depends who you ask. But the truth?
We believe in miracles, and beauty. We sing — a lot. We give away a chunk of everything we earn, value children, turn the other cheek. We give up sex outside of marriage and persevere in marriages that are hard. We spend a lot of time reading really, really old books. We expect to be insulted and pray for our enemies. That is to say, some of us do some of these things some of the time. But our hero did all of them all of the time.
More than any time since the decadent Romans roamed the world, Christians stick out like a sore thumb. A group that used to be fairly mainstream is more and more a fringe society, out of place. We’re like the Amish. Our ethics are antiquated and even our happiness is old-fashioned. Almost everything we believe and all actions proceeding from that faith are out of step with the spirit of the times.
For starters, Christianity is built around the worship of a heroic, self-sacrificial, transcendent God-man who preached love, justice, restoration, and purity of heart. But the zeitgeist worships self; scoffs at transcendence; and preaches scorn, comfort, futility, and self-determined, conditional ethics. Taken one at a time, these beliefs of ours are radical. Even the preliminary notion of a hero is a jolt.
It’s a sign of the times that movies with good guys who come out ahead are universally panned by the critics. Take Steven Spielberg, for example. Though his blockbuster hits keep coming, critics dog him over and again with the sneering assessment: he’s too soft. As Robert Dougherty states in a review for themovienetwork.com, “The seemingly easy solution is to just make a movie that is completely bleak, has no uplifting message about mankind, humanity, family or ordinary men, and makes audiences feel there is no such thing as heroes — basically the hallmarks of ‘prestige’ television these days.” While the masses like their popcorn flicks, the critics, arbiters of culture that they are, consistently complain that a movie with hope cannot ring true. So even The Lego Movie proclaims, “I’m dark and brooding, too!”
No, heroes are for the unenlightened. And in the absence of a good that triumphs over evil, we’re left without hope. And since that’s kind of a bummer, we flip a switch and get… apathy. Pass the popcorn.
Christians love beauty. Historically, Christianity accounts for some of the world’s greatest architecture (think cathedrals), sculpture (Michelangelo springs to mind), music (hello, Bach) and literature (Milton) ever created. As C.S. Lewis put it in Till We Have Faces, “The sweetest thing in all my life has been the longing – to reach the Mountain, to find the place where all the beauty came from – my country, the place where I ought to have been born.”
In a world where Robert Mapplethorpe’s pornography is regarded as high art and Marcel Duchamp’s “Fountain” (it’s a toilet, folks) is considered an icon, the Christian insistence on light, hope, and purpose seems naïve and childish. Not that abandoning beauty was ever the humanist’s goal; there is a persistent wistfulness underneath most of the scorn. But having jettisoned God, and with him any sense of otherworldly beauty, there can be no hope, and the best we can settle for is facing despair head-on. But leaving Eden left a vacuum in the human heart, which our jaded culture attempts endlessly to fill. And so while Christians seek transcendence, our neighbor lives for his appetite, a gloomy proposition of ever-diminishing returns.
That strange evangelical family down the block? The one with a half-dozen kids? They talk a lot about their heritage. They plan for future generations. When a friend is in the hospital (probably to have a baby — they seem to have a lot of babies), they drop everything to bring a meal. When someone needs a place to stay, they cram the kids like sardines into one room to open up a guest bed. They come and go a lot — church on Sunday, Bible study on Wednesday, their lives oriented around a community of like-minded weirdos, a family that extends beyond the four walls. In contrast, secular millennials often have no particular attachment to the past. Family ties are loose. Relationships are somewhat transient. Marriage (of any variety) is perceived as a fun option insofar as it comes with a big wedding party; children are a cute accessory, maybe, if and when they don’t interfere with other plans. According to recent reports, the birth rates for women in their 20s saw a 15 percent drop from 2007 to 2012. One writer went so far as to suggest giving all working adults the equivalent of maternity leave, baby or no baby, calling her invention “me-ternity.” Christians tend to look at their secular counterparts and say selfish (yep, Christians can be judgy), seculars shrug innocently and say, logical. And why not? Jesus summed up this fancy-free attitude: “Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow you die.”
But is it merry, this void of connection? Christians aim for timeless values, while seculars, feeling free, are paradoxically trapped in time. Having rejected history and disregarded the future, all they have to live for is this moment, with its gossamer-fragile relationships, its long string of goodbyes.
And so it goes. Christians espousing personal holiness and self-denial uphold ancient prescriptions for sexual purity: one man, one woman, for a lifetime. We didn’t set out in our conviction to infuriate three-quarters of the world, but that’s what happened. While I’m content to be the odd duck and let my neighbor do whatever she wants in her own bedroom, my commitment, my very existence, it would seem, is an affront to her.
In Sweden, forerunners of the gender revolution have abolished gender-specific pronouns in favor of enforced neutrality. You’ll not likely meet a Christian who feels strongly about grammar, but share with him this development and watch sadness wash across his face. Why? We grieve the loss of God-given distinctives. While seculars literally hold parades for diversity, we Christians quietly revel in it. Step into my church and meet immigrants, professors, high school dropouts, alcoholics, cowboys, girls in white dresses with blue satin sashes, old people, toddlers — all welcomed, loved, and genuinely enjoyed for all their quirks. We reject snobbish, vapid, body-obsessed androgyny. We relish our differences.
Do you actually know any Christians? The word (a religious slur that went viral) means “little Christs.” Not someone who grew up Lutheran a million years ago or goes to church occasionally or someone who celebrates Santa Claus, but someone who celebrates truth and beauty, love and justice, prayer and worship. Someone poor in spirit and pure in heart. Someone who cherishes robust community, authentic relationships, matchless grace and the occasional miracle. Perhaps we who worship Jesus are even more counter-cultural than you think we are .