Several years ago, we had some landscaping work done in our backyard. It cost us way more than we’d budgeted and the landscaper left the yard in a shocking mess. We were financially stretched, overtired, overstressed and the yard we had wanted ‘improved’ looked like a bomb had hit it. The job was still unfinished, and I was at my wit’s end.
Soon after, we dropped in on some friends of ours. They offered us morning tea and asked how the ‘work’ was going. I promptly (and embarrassingly) burst into tears.
The next day, they arrived with a car and trailer loaded with a mower and garden tools. They said, “Just here to fix the yard.”
I said, “Oh, really? Oh, th-th-thanks! Just a minute, I’ll go and get my shoes on ….”
“No, you are not to help. We’re going to do it. You just stay where you are.”
And these two (not young) people pitched in, did a day’s work and transformed our construction site debacle to a beautiful garden.
Our friends are devout Christians – Seventh Day Adventists. They know I’m an atheist, they loved my Dad and knew he was an atheist, too. Not once, in all the years we have known them have they ever tried to press their faith on us. I know they would say their motivation to help us came from their religious convictions. But, I think even more highly of them than that – I believe they are simply good people and would have done the same thing regardless of whether they were religious or not.
Nevertheless, this was Christianity in action. Two people living out the conviction of their faith to love their neighbours. In this case, we were the fortunate neighbours, but it could have been anyone else. The point is, their Christianity is used positively – to help, not to hinder; to ease pain, not to cause it.
I am not anti-Christian. How could I be? Members of my own family and some of those I love most are Christians.
While I don’t accept that loving your neighbour, treating others as you wish to be treated, feeding the poor and providing hospitality to those in need are exclusively ‘Christian’ values, I do genuinely appreciate it when I see Christians putting these values into action.
In fact, wherever Christians are making a positive contribution to the world, I am happy to applaud it. If they are genuinely helping people, seeing to their real needs, and doing so with no expectation of obtaining converts but simply to live as they believe Christ did, then who am I to argue? The fact that I think this is a human, rather than a Christian impulse is immaterial. Good is good and as long as the result is happier, healthier people in a more loving, tolerant world, I’m good with that.
So, no, I’m not ‘anti-Christian’. What I am against, however, is the kind of ‘corporate’ Christianity that does ‘good’ with an agenda. The agenda may be to convert, to impose Christian views on those who don’t share them, to swell congregations (and church profits), or to gain political power and influence. Doing good with ulterior motives is pretty poor behaviour, in my view.
This is the kind of politically pragmatic Christianity that decides not to oppose civil rights for homosexuals so they can later crow that they’re not ‘anti-gay’ in opposing same-sex marriage – “Just look how magnanimous we were in giving them the same civil rights as other citizens.”
That’s not doing good – that’s engaging a cynical, political strategy.
I am also ‘anti’ Christianity that does real harm. When Christians tell people in third-world countries that condoms cause AIDS, or they tell frightened women with unwanted pregnancies that abortions increase the risk of breast cancer – then I get cranky.
When Christians weigh the shocking human cost of not granting full equality and acceptance to gay, lesbian, transgender and transsexual citizens against their religious dogma – and choose in favour of their dogma – I don’t just get cranky, steam starts coming out of my ears.
And when Christians are not content with ruling their own lives, but begin to intrude on mine and the lives of those I love – I rise to take action.
By all means choose not to end your life prematurely if your religious convictions dictate this. But do not impose a long, lingering, painful, undignified death on me and mine, because you have some religious conviction about the ‘sanctity’ of life.
Do you want your children to have a Christian education? By all means send them to a religious school or enrol them in Sunday school or a Christian youth group. Have the damned pastor over to morning tea every Saturday if that will help. But don’t put your chaplains into secular public state schools with a view to ‘discipling’ the children of ‘unchurched’ parents. That is crossing the line.
My late brother was a Christian. When he was very ill and disabled and staying at our place, he expressed a wish to go to our local church. I rang them up, talked to the pastor, found out when and where the service was held and (with some difficulty) delivered my rather ‘wobbly’ brother to the door. Then I sought out someone who could keep an eye on him during the service and morning tea. Later, I came back and picked him up. He was astounded that I would do this for him when I was so ‘anti-Christian’.
Why would I stop someone going to church if that’s what they want to do? Why would I discourage or inhibit that in any way? My aim is not to tell people what to believe. I have little interest in that.
Let me tell you what I’m ‘for’. I am ‘for’ love, happiness, equality, justice, tolerance, laughter, caring, hospitality, hugs, honesty, sharing, supporting, helping, compassion, empathy, selflessness and leaving the world a better place than you found it – oh, and chocolate, I’m definitely in favour of chocolate. That’s what I’m ‘for’. And if Christians want to draw on their faith to help them work towards similar goals – they’ll find a staunch ally in me.
But, when they come with hidden agendas, self-interest and dogma to the fore. When they come not to help, but to convert, impose or ‘occupy’. When their actions cause hurt, pain, anguish or death – then they will find me fighting against them with every resource I can bring to bear.