Reaching Hypocritical Mass

I like your Christ. I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.
– Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi

Have you ever felt that Christianity would be much more attractive if not for the Christians? One of the biggest problems many people have with Christianity is that it certainly does not seem to produce saints. For every Mother Teresa, there is a score of Jimmy Swaggarts. Even on a smaller, more personal level, we see people every day whose proclamations of faith are not in concert with their actions. The churches are literally filled with people who cannot seem to live up to their own ideals. And yet they judge everyone else.

There are two disparate issues here: the views and expectations of Christians held by those outside the Church contrasted with the actions of the Christians themselves, and the effect of faith on the heart and mind of a Christian. I’ll tackle the former first. Christians are often viewed by secular society as overly judgmental, holier-than-thou, and reliant on hope over verifiable facts. They are simultaneously held to a higher standard, primarily because the beliefs they espouse precipitate that response. We know that stereotypes are typically based on a healthy dose of truth, and also that Christians continually fail to live up to the standards they set for themselves, not to mention that imposed on them by outsiders.[1] Why are these Christians so insufferable?

About eight years ago I sat on a curb late one evening (or more likely early one morning), trying to counsel a distraught coworker who was going through a very rough time in his life. It was drizzling and it was late, yet I sat there with him for an hour or so explaining why he needed to focus on God and how prayer could be the answer to his problems, etc. I felt very noble spending my Saturday night helping someone in need find God – especially considering that I didn’t drink any beer the whole time! I was making a difference; I was sure of it. The fact is, I had sandwiched my magnanimous moment with binge drinking, swearing, and general mischief, followed by leaving the poor guy to go home alone while I went to “late night.” The hypocrisy was palpable, but I certainly didn’t realize it at the time. It is a frustrating memory, but it is certainly indicative of the type of behavior that drives both Christians and non-Christians crazy.

A good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth good; and an evil man out of the evil treasure of his heart brings forth evil. For out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks.  Luke 6:45 (NKJV)

The fact is, in my mind I believed the Christian view of God, and the biblical teaching on prayer, faith and redemption; in my heart I was enjoying other things even as they were arresting my development. I was definitely speaking out of the abundance of my heart. This is the same thing we see in all people. A good tree bears good fruit, and a bad tree bears bad fruit. Others base their judgment of us on the basis of the fruit we produce, and rightfully so.[2] Therefore we come to the crux of the situation: what is the quality of the fruit produced by Christians? It is an easy task to point out the shortcomings of Christians we see every day: at work, at school, at the supermarket, cutting us off in traffic while proudly displaying the Jesus fish on their trunk. As a group, we are plagued by the same temptations and weaknesses as everyone else, and we have opened ourselves up to the criticism by the way we oftentimes judge others and even look down our noses at “unbelievers.” If the Christian church was a celebrity, we would definitely need someone to handle our P.R. for us.

Part of that person’s task would be to make the world aware of the enormous good that is done in the world in the name of Christ. Whether internationally or domestically, there are millions who have been driven by their faith to commit amazing acts of love and humanity. That secular organizations and individuals do similar things is undeniable, but the dedication and sacrifice of missionaries alone is both magnificently humbling and gloriously sublime. The guilt, insecurities and anger that are elicited by the judgment of those who know nothing about us is relatively insignificant compared to the positive acts committed by many of those same people.

This brings me to the second part of the issue: what effect (if any) does a Christian faith have on the practitioner? The phrase I used above – “those who know nothing about us” – really drives to the heart of the issue. We do not take kindly to others making decisions on how we should live our lives and what we should believe when they know absolutely nothing about the details of those same lives. I know this has been an issue for me whenever I feel that someone who doesn’t even know my last name makes a judgment about me; it’s infuriating. However, if we are to be honest with ourselves, we are immediately returning the favor. What do we know of that infuriating person’s life that we are free to judge his motives? What is the cause behind his temperament and actions?

There is only one person we know fully: ourselves. We know what drives us and what stops us in our tracks; what brings us our greatest joy and what sinks us into our darkest depression. When we judge the fruit produced, we must look not only at the actual fruit, but also the tree that produced it.[3] An orange tree that was sown in hard, rocky soil with little water cannot rightly be expected to produce premium oranges, while one in the middle of a grove in Florida might be producing the most perfect Navels, but much less than it ought given the circumstances. People are the same way. We are not all given the same temperaments, personalities, intellects, and gifts; we do not all come from the same neighborhood and family situation. I can tell you that I am intelligent and typically well mannered. If this is true, I should say it with the utmost humility, because neither of those attributes is earned. I cultivated neither of those through great effort of my own: one I was born with and the other my parents instilled in me. If I am intelligent, but lacking in knowledge, then my intelligence is of no use. Likewise, if I am polite and possess good manners, but have a lack of integrity that evaporates my social circle, then nobody will ever know. We know very little of the circumstances in someone else’s life that cause them to act the way that they do. Goofy and Pluto are both dogs, but we are never given any indication why one of them has his own house and is friends with everyone, and why the other cannot speak and is relegated to the role of “pet.” It is not important how an individual Christian acts in comparison to anyone else on the planet, it matters only how her life is different when compared with her previous self, or her life were she not a Christian.

In addition, the very people who are attracted to the church are by necessity those who recognize the hole in their lives. These people are often poor, hurting, weak, angry, and needy. When the Pharisees asked, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” Jesus responded, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick.”[4] Or, in the words of Abigail Van Buren, “A church is a hospital for sinners, not a museum for saints.” We are all flawed. Very flawed. Just as in any twelve-step program, admitting that you have a problem is the key first step. People who have much – be it wealth, friends, intellect, pride, et al. – will always find it easier to distract themselves from the hunger inside. This is why Jesus said, “it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of God.”[5] If you sit in a church on a Sunday morning and look around, you will see all sorts of people with issues. That is what initially draws them there. It is the healing that keeps them coming back. And let us not look at the hypocrites as if we do not belong among them. We all hold values that we do not personally live up to. Although it is a topic for another time, this is merely one of the proofs that God exists.[6] When we judge the judgmental, we are doing the very thing we find so abhorrent in them in the first place.

Finally, it is this obstacle of the perceived character of Christians that, combined with the erroneous supposition that religion is incompatible with science, makes it so hard for non-Christians to find the truth inherent in the faith. In an atomic fission reaction, there must be a sufficient mass of fissile material to keep the chain reaction going after the initial fission. This “critical mass” is dependent on the material used in the reaction (e.g. plutonium). I define “Hypocritical Mass” as the critical level of hypocrisy present in the Church that, when reached, will cause a chain reaction of apostasy and rebellion that is based solely on the vitriol leveled at Christians that results from their own [perceived] actions. This level is what we (as Christians) must avoid contributing to wherever possible, because perception may not in fact be reality, but the alternate reality it produces is comfortable enough for those who have no desire to look inside themselves and find what is lacking there. Every sin, whether public or private, has its own associated critical mass, and we are responsible for own contribution to the secular perception of the Church.

I dreamt death came the other night
And Heaven’s gate swung wide.
An angel with a halo bright
Ushered me inside.

And there! To my astonishment
Stood folks I’d judged and labeled
As “quite unfit,” “of little worth,”
And “spiritually disabled.”

Indignant words rose to my lips
But never were set free,
For every face showed stunned surprise —
Not one expected me!

– Anonymous

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FOOTNOTES:

[1] It bears mentioning at this point that the standard by which Christians measure themselves is much harsher and more unattainable than any that comes from others. The Jesus Christ in the Bible lives (and, more importantly, dies) in a manner that is far beyond the capabilities of any human. Even to live up to the Ten Commandments is so futile that there have been no legitimate claims to have done so.
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[2] Taken from Matthew 7:18-20 (NKJV)
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[3] For a much more in-depth look at this situation, see C.S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity, Chapter 10, Nice People or New Men.
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[4] Mathew 9:11-12 (NKJV)
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[5] Matthew 19:24 (NKJV) Apparently Matthew should get co-writing credit for this one.
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[6] The Moral Argument for a Divine Creator is hotly contested, and while I feel that it is one of the strongest (since the proof can be found within ourselves), it is when you take all of the arguments together that you find the one solution that best fits the evidence.
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2 Responses to Reaching Hypocritical Mass

  1. Andrea says:

    This is great reading. Thanks Barry!

  2. Wow!, This was awesome. People need to hear this.
    I like your blog so much. Keep writing.
    cheers

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