Archive for July, 2011

Many people are put off Christianity by what they see as the hypocrisy of Christians. Now, I’m not here to defend hypocrisy, nor am I here to say it all a misunderstanding. I am here however, to see if there is some middle ground.

 

 

Nobody likes hypocrisy. It has a tendency to show people up as two faced, having double standards and as bare faced liars. To my mind I’m not sure which is worse a Christian being hypocritical or Christian building themselves up for the fall in the first place. From my experience the kind of hypocrisy that people notice are things like…

 

 

Christians proclaiming that they live by a higher moral code and then running off with the next door neighbour.

 

 

Christians having a holier-than-thou attitude but swearing at their kids behind closed doors.

 

 

Christians making public displays of charitable giving but being mean to their neighbours.

 

 

We all have in mind hypocritical acts that we have found difficult to accept. So why do Christians have a reputation as being hypocritical? I can, of course, only theorise but these are some reasons why Christian can be hypocritical.

 

 

Christians strive to be the best they can be. Or at least they should. In fact a Christian should aim to be perfect. So, straight away you can see the flaw in the plan. The gap between what a Christian should be or would like to be and what they actually are is huge. So we are left with a gaping (hypocritical?) void between the ideal and the reality. Christians live in this void. St. Paul said that he does the evil he doesn’t want to do and doesn’t do the good that he wants to do!  As Christians we always fall short of the goal set for us. I guess the outside world sees the goal and the reality and sees the void not as human shortcomings but as hypocrisy. So why is this?

 

 

Christians have a tendency to lump everyone in the same boat. As a Christian I believe that the wisdom contained in the Bible is relevant to my life and gives me ideals to live by. These ideals, ethics, morals, values, laws, rules or whatever you want to call them form a framework for how I believe God would have me live. Now I believe God, as creator and sustainer, knows how life works best. So I believe that if the whole world lived by these ideals the world would be a much better place. So I should do my best to impose these ideals on everyone? No, of course not. However, many Christians, consciously or not, impose their ideals on those around them. I guess we all do it to some extent or other, we judge others by the standard we set for ourselves. My belief is this. I believe that God created and now sustains the world. As creator and sustainer I believe He knows the best way for us as humans to live. I believe He has set down, within the Bible, these guidelines. I believe that if you believe this then you should apply these guidelines to your life. However, I believe that if you do not believe the first part then these rules will not necessarily make any sense to you at all. I believe that a relationship with God must precede application of these guidelines. The relationship must precede the rules. Otherwise the rules make no sense at all. Many Christians find this difficult to understand and try to impose their beliefs on others without explaining or introducing people o the reason for their beliefs. If I tell someone not to walk across a beach that they want to cross they will most likely ignore me. However, if I tell them not to walk across the beach because I have come to believe there is sinking sand out their they now have the opportunity to weigh up my advice and decide whether they walk across the beach or not. The guidance that God has set out only works in it’s full context.

 

As I mentioned before I don’t want to defend hypocrisy but I do want to say that it is a difficult path that Christians walk. Becoming a Christian doesn’t give you all the answers. Being a Christian does not make you perfect, you are still as human as ever. As Christians we strive to do our best but we ALL fail time and time again. You could say that Christians, in general, are pretty poor ambassadors for God. (And I certainly include myself in that). However, it would be a mistake to write God off because of the quality (or lack of it) of His followers.

I have asked around to see what questions people would like to see answered through this blog. So, this is the first in a series of the questions that people have asked to have answered.

This question can be taken on a number of levels so I hope I can cover most of the angles. My first reaction was that I believe that religion is a human construct. Religion to me, along with many others has negative associations and connotations. To me religion is man’s reaction to the belief that God exists. If you strip Christianity down to it’s essentials all the bells and shackles fall away and you are left with a simple relationship between you and God through Jesus with the help of the Holy Spirit. You don’t need rituals and doctrines, church buildings and church meetings. You don’t need the bells and smells, the lectionaries and holy days. Now, this is not to say that all these things are not helpful to people in their relationship with God, but they are not essential. In fact sometimes the trimmings of Christianity can get in the way of the relationship which needs to be at the centre. Christianity is less about religion and more about relationship.

So, I don’t need irrefutable proof that religion is man-made because I already believe that it is. Having said all that I know that that reading of the question was not what was meant. So, let me rephrase the question to hopefully bring about a little clarity for myself. What if the idea of the existence of God is a purely made up concept by man? What if irrefutable proof were found that God didn’t exist but was just a man-made idea?”

I have found this question quite a difficult one to get my head around. In some respects, for me, it’s been like trying to think of a new colour – a concept that is almost impossible to do. The piece I struggle with is the concept of finding irrefutable proof. Where would it come from? What would it look like? Would everyone accept it as irrefutable? In general terms it is far easier to prove that something exists than doesn’t exist. Photographs, film, footprints and I guess ultimately a body would prove to most people of the existence of the Abominable Snowman. However, what proof could there ever be that it didn’t exist?

People for thousands of years have tried to prove that God doesn’t exist. With all man’s intelligence, resources and theories no-one has even come close. In many ways Christians and Atheists are in the same boat. They both have strongly held beliefs that have no proof. They are either as wise or as stupid as each other. Both have weighed up the evidence and have drawn different, opposing, conclusions. The main difference, as I see it, is this. Some of you will have read this analogy before, but please bear with me.

When it comes to belief and faith I like to use the analogy of a chair. It’s perhaps because I’m quite a big guy so it is more relevant to me than others, but I hope you’ll understand the gist if it. When it comes to the question of belief in God billions of people around the world would say they believed in Him. Yet for only a much smaller percentage of the world’s population does that belief have any real meaning. Billions of people believe in God but far fewer have faith or trust in Him. Here is where the chair comes in. When it comes to a chair or a stool or anything you can sit on, when considering sitting on it we have to believe that it will take our weight. We don’t want to end up in a pile on the floor along with the remains of a chair that didn’t quite do the job. As a bigger than average chap I have to consider this more than most, especially when it comes to camping chairs or chairs that look less than robust. I can pick a chair up, examine it from every angle, pull it about, check the joints and even read the label for it’s weight limit. I can come to a stage where I can look at the chair and wholeheartedly believe that it will hold my weight. It is not, however, until I sit in the chair that I can be said to have moved from that belief in the strength of the chair to having faith that it will hold my weight. So it is with many people’s belief in God. They believe in His existence but have not yet moved to faith in Him. It is one thing to believe in God but another thing to put that belief into action by having faith in Him.

So with the Atheist they look at the chair, examine the chair, test it a little, read the safety label and come to the conclusion that the chair won’t hold their weight. With the Christian they also examine the chair, test it, read the safety label and come to the conclusion that the chair may well take their weight. However, for the engaged Christian they then take that belief a step further and sit down on the chair. It might feel a little wobbly, for a while they may feel uncertain that the chair will hold their weight but eventually the proof is in the sitting. Either the chair holds or it doesn’t. So, although in the testing of the chair the potential atheist and potential Christian are in the same boat it is when the Atheist walks away and the Christian sits that the difference occurs. The Atheist doesn’t continue his journey finding more and more proof for the non-existence of God. They don’t even continue, in a meaningful way, to experience the non-existence of God. However, for the Christian as they sit on the chair they start a journey where they begin to see God at work. They see prayers answered, they see prophesy fulfilled, they see things recorded in the Bible coming true, they experience the touch of God. Lots of little things that happen build up into an overall belief that God is real and working in their lives. Now, the atheist, quite understandably, will put this down to psychological factors, delusion, hype, hysteria and many other factors. However, to a Christian they are the same feelings as love, pain and fear. Things that you can’t always understand but are as real to you as anything you experience in the physical world.

Therefore, it is extremely hard to imagine irrefutable proof existing. It would be like finding irrefutable proof that pain or love didn’t exist. Once you have experienced something it is almost impossible to imagine not having experienced it. So, having said all that let me imagine that a proof did come forward that proved, without any shadow of a doubt, that God did not exist and that he was just a construct of the human imagination.

How does anyone react to something so huge? Something that was the centre of your life, that informed your thinking and your actions suddenly being swiped from under you. I guess you’ll get a much more objective answer now than if it really did happen. In the short term there would be a mixture of disbelief, confusion, anger, fear, despair, disappointment and so on. There would then follow a slow process of realignment where I’d have to get used to a new world view. However, in the long term I guess that not too much in my life would change on a day to day level. So why is that?

Many people who believe there is no God or just don’t know see religion as this big evil that suppresses the masses, spreads lies and is general a bad thing. However, and I’m speaking solely for Christianity here, I believe that the teachings of the Christian faith are basically an excellent way in which to live. If the Bible were proven to be a man written, man inspired, totally human creation I would still have to say that whoever wrote it was an extremely wise and informed person. I believe that if people followed the teaching of the Bible, whether they believed in the God behind it or not, the world would be a much better place. I have always found it hard to understand how someone, or indeed a society, with no faith can decide on the nature of right and wrong, just and unjust. This is not a criticism or saying that people with faith are better moral people. In fact the opposite is true. Christians have the perfect reason and motive to do good and yet we still do wrong. If you live in a society with no faith, no moral compass what is it that stops you living solely for yourself? How do you decide that it’s wrong to be cruel to animals but OK to eat them. What makes a civilised country civilised? How would a faithless society make laws and why would people abide by them? Most people would agree that they have within them a sense of decency, of right and wrong, good and bad etc. but where does that come from? Who is to say person A’s sense of right is better than person B’s when they differ? Having come to terms with there being no God these are the things that I would really struggle with.

So, I think my everyday actions (apart from dropping the Church services!!) would change very little. I would still believe that it was better to give than receive, love than hate, live at peace not war, care rather than ignore, treat people as I would like to be treated. I would still hold onto the teaching that it is a good thing not to murder, steal, lie, covet, commit adultery etc.

However, I believe that there would be a huge gap in my understanding of this world if I knew God did not exist. I do not believe science holds all the answers. The questions of Why am I here? What’s the point? Why bother? Why believe this? Why not live entirely for myself? What is my purpose? Why don’t we all just end it here? How do I decide what is moral and not? All of these questions and so many more would keep coming back to me again and again. Christianity doesn’t give you all the answers, far from it. However, the non-existence of God would create far far more. So I guess, at least in the short to mid-term I would feel lost, aimless and maybe even purposeless. I would need to find a point of reference from somewhere else. Things that I took for granted as being important because the Bible says they are such as family, honesty, other people, integrity, our planet, leaders and so on would have a huge question mark over them. Are these things important just because we’ve grown up being told that they are? What tells me what is important, moral, ethical or not? A government who changes it’s mind from year to year? The majority? Those who shout the loudest?

At the end of the day I believe that there will never be irrefutable proof that God doesn’t exist. For thousands of years people have been seeking for that proof it without success, who is to say that that won’t change. I also believe that proof will not be found (in this life) of the existence of God. Living as a Christian, I believe, takes nothing away from my life but in facts adds to it. I don’t sit around longing to do things that I’m not allowed to but I have had my life enriched by the Christian journey, by people I’ve met, experiences I’ve had and the comfort, peace and hope that my faith has given me. I personally believe that it is better to live with hope than live with no hope. Even, at the end of the day, if it is false hope.

I guess I must finish with the reverse of the question. What if irrefutable evidence existed that God did exist? How would that change your life? I suppose at the end of time or the end of our lives we will all get an answer. Either God exists in some form or other or He doesn’t. If the Christian is wrong and the Atheist is right then I guess the end of the story lies in a wooden box and a hole in the ground where the Christian and the Atheist lay side by side. Both having lead, more or less, the life that they wanted to. If the reverse is true though and the Christian is right and the Atheist is wrong then at death the story is much different. I don’t believe in God just so that if it just happens to be true I will go to heaven. Belief in God is not my insurance policy. I believe in God because all I have read, heard, seen, and experience point to the existence of God. I have seen the chair, tested it and have finally sat in it. It took my weight and I have continued to sit in it. I don’t believe in God to keep me from hell or from rotting in the ground, but it sure does make me think!!

Not too many people would argue against the existence of Jesus. There seems to be reasonable evidence outside of the teaching of the Bible to prove that He existed in the time frame that the Bible suggests that He did. Even the Islamic faith acknowledges His existence and they regard Him as an important prophet. Even many agnostics and atheists acknowledge his existence and even go as far as to say that He was a good moral teacher. However, this makes no sense to me. Of all the things that you could accuse Jesus of, just being a good moral teacher just doesn’t add up. That is not to say that I don’t believe that Jesus taught good morals and gave us good ways to live our lives but what if He were just a good moral teacher. To my mind you either have to accept the whole package or reject it. I don’t believe that Jesus left us with any middle ground. Either Jesus was God, performed miracles, healed the sick, was perfect, was a good moral teacher, died on the cross for the sins of all people and rose again conquering death or He didn’t. You can’t just pull out the good moral teacher bit and run with that. Either Jesus was who he said He was or He wasn’t. Either Jesus was who He said He was or He was a complete mad man who should be completely discredited. If someone rode into town today and started giving out a new moral code but took drugs, slept around outside his marriage, stole, raped and was generally offensive he wouldn’t get the reputation of a good moral teacher. His actions would over-ride his teachings. If the people who knew Jesus best didn’t truly believe that Jesus was who He said He was His actions would soon discredit His teachings.

 

Now, you might say that it is easy to fool a few people and therefore create a hype that might spread. Yes, you would be right. We only have to look at the effects that cults have on a small number of people who have been taken in, brain-washed or deceived. So, could this have been what happened. Well, I guess anything is possible but it’s pretty unlikely. Jesus grew up and lived amongst the people who eventually followed Him. Mary, His own mother believed in what He taught. She knew everything about Him. She knew His character, His history, she saw Him every step of the way. His brothers knew Him well, some thought that He was mad to start with but then things added up and they too believed. He could have fooled His 12 disciples but what about the 500 close believers, what about the 3000 men and then 5000 men who followed Him? You also have to remember that Jesus was being scrutinised by a whole host of Religious people who were just waiting for Him to slip up. They couldn’t wait for His actions and His teaching to contradict. They waited for His disciples to claim a healing or miracle that hadn’t happened and they were ready to spread the news like wildfire. Jesus taught in a cynical and sceptical arena. Everything He said and did was tested and scrutinised. Someone may have been able to fool a few people but on the scale Jesus did? It is very unlikely!

 

So, were the disciples in on it as well? Did this group of thirteen con-artists set out to create this new-religion, this mass following? Together they could have put together quite a case. They could have convinced friends and family of what Jesus has said and done. If they has all stuck to the same story they could have made quite a case – caused quite a stir. It is possible that mass hysteria could have been created and used to draw people into their circle of belief. Now, it is possible. It’s amazing what people can achieve when they work together. However, here are a few questions that would need to be asked. Why would they do it? They didn’t gain financially by doing it, although they could have done if they had been after money. They didn’t really gain fame in the short term and in fact got a lot on negative, presumably, undesirable attention from many quarters. If it was all just a made up new religion they wouldn’t have been prepared to die for it. People will die for that which they are passionate about, but not if they know it to be a lie. Of these 13 people 12 ended up dying for this fabrication? It doesn’t make sense. How would they have kept the whole charade going when the miracles always failed to work, no-one got healed and when their main-man Jesus failed to come back to life following the resurrection.

 

For hundreds of years it was thought that the gospels were written by people in the 2nd Century. They were accounts that had been passed down through families or churches or groups of people. They were thought to be very much second hand accounts. It was thought that when they were written down the people that had been involved in the events were long since dead. You couldn’t have gone to them to verify the facts. You couldn’t have proved or disproved what was being written. However outrageous it seemed there was no proof to be had, no-one to argue against it. No-one to say, hand on a second I was there and it didn’t happen like that!! However, later research suggests that the gospels were all very likely written before the year A.D.70. So it also seems likely that they were first hand accounts of what happened. It seems very likely that it was the disciples themselves that wrote down the accounts that took place. Many of the first people to read these accounts would have known the people involved and may well have been at the events that were written about. They could have checked out if the stories were true. The writers wouldn’t have been able to pull the wool over the eyes of people that had been around at the time. If the Bible were written within the lifetime of the events it would soon have become obvious if they were no more than lies or exaggerations. People would not have been prepared to suffer and die for what others were calling blatant lies. The whole idea of Christianity would have been extinguished before it even got started. There are no accounts of people calling into question the reliability of the Gospel accounts.

 

So, either Jesus was who he claimed to be or He was a lair, con-artist or lunatic. There really is no middle ground. So, if Jesus was a liar, even a very good one would his lies not have eventually have been exposed? Could he really have convinced all these people that He was God without any evidence. Convinced them to the extent that thousands of them would have been persecuted and killed rather than renounce their faith? If Jesus were a lunatic, again, how would He have convinced people to such an extent? Even if he were so convinced Himself that He were God how could he possibly convince so many people and why would some of these people then go on to make up stories that they knew were false and then get away with it when thousands of others would know the truth.

 

So, over to you – what conclusion can be drawn? Is it not highly likely that Jesus was who he claimed to be? If not how were so many early Christians convinced to the point of death? What explanations that I haven’t explored could there be?