Sometimes I wish I was Christian.
I am fortunate to live in a social bubble filled with Mennonites and Catholic Worker types. Thus my perspective on Christians tends to differ from those who feel assaulted by socially conservative evangelical types. As it turns out, many of the people I admire most are either Christian and/or grew up with strong Christian upbringings.
The Christians I admire tend to be strong in their faiths, but thoughtful and humble. Many of them treat unpleasant, uncharismatic people as people. Working with poor people at my former job probably made me more judgemental and more intolerant; in contrast, many of my coworkers were able to maintain both realism of and compassion for the people they worked with, some of whom are very unpleasant indeed.
It is also true that I have known my share of Christians who handed me interesting tracts telling me I was going to Hell. But even many of these were genuinely good people who probably believed as much in helping those around them than they did in tallying converts.
Floundering around in my midlife crisis, paralysed by anxiety and existential angst, my life savings smoldering away as I realize I am much less employable than I originally thought, I often wish I had some clarity about what (if anything) I am supposed to be doing here, and why. Christians have that clarity. I doubt I ever will.
Unfortunately, I don’t think I will ever be Christian. Not to go all Christopher Hitchens (peace be upon him) on you, but I find the central tenet of the faith abhorrent.
Think of the person in your life you look up to the most. Maybe this person is very kind, or very compassionate, or very kind. Maybe this person works tirelessly to improve the well-being of those around him or her. Maybe this person is generous to a fault. Even the most cynical, nihilist member of my readership can picture such a person.
Now I will make you a deal. I will take this worthy person and first humiliate him or her, and then torture him or her, and then kill him or her. The blood sacrifice of this person’s torture and suffering will somehow absolve you of all the bad things you have done, but only if you believe this torture and suffering was a good thing to do.
If you refuse to believe this, then you are condemned to eternal suffering. Eternal. Like, forever. To avoid this, all you have to do is agree that the person you look up to the most should be humiliated, tortured, and killed.
The analogy to Christianity is obvious. As far as I can tell, the death and resurrection of Jesus is central to Christianity. A blood sacrifice absolves us of our sins.
But what about the resurrection? What about it? The resurrection does not absolve us of our sins. The humiliation, torture and death of Jesus is what counts. Does it make it better if your worthy person is tortured and killed, only to rise later on? Does that make the humiliation and torture and death less painful?
Christians are supposed to celebrate this humiliation and torture and death. They are supposed to see it as joyous. It puts the good in Good Friday. But I see it as abhorrent. Why should others have to suffer for the bad things I have done? How is that just?
Of course, nobody says that reality has to be just. For all I know, Christianity might be true. The deal really might be that three days of death for Jesus is worth much, much more than an eternity of suffering for me. Maybe blood sacrifice really does work. Nobody says that reality is pleasant or pretty. But this is not a reality I celebrate.
That is not the worst of it. The worst of it is many of the Christians I admire, the ones who take that central tenet of Christianity seriously, are the very ones I would least expect to agree to this blood sacrifice. Not only do they seem unwilling to sacrifice worthy people for their own benefit, they go out of their way to humanize people the rest of us see as unworthy. These Christians deal with the consequences of smelly, aggressive, inarticulate, needy, agitated, annoying people every day, but instead of hardening their hearts they open their hearts to touch the insecure, traumatized, abandoned people underneath. They develop relationships with these people. They care for their well being, even though they know full well that most of them will never “get better,” that they will screw up again and again until they are dead. I cannot imagine these Christians agreeing to condemn even the most difficult of the people they work with for their own benefit.
And yet God — who is infinitely more caring than his sheep — loves us so much he is willing to let his only Son be humiliated, tortured and killed. And then (depending on what sect you believe) God loves us so much he condemns us to Hell if we refuse to acknowledge this torture as a great gift. The distance between the tenets of Christianity and the works of the Christians I admire is difficult to reconcile.
No doubt this distance is reconcilable, and I am just too proud to see it. No doubt blood sacrifice really is joyous. But I do not (or refuse to) see it, and thus when I am dead by heart attack or diabetes or suicide, I could well be looking at eternal damnation. I can’t get my head around that concept, so I pretend to be atheist and wish the dilemma away. I ought to know better, but I don’t and I doubt I will.