Thursday, April 24, 2014

Why Being Christian Isn't Enough

     How do we make the world a better place? It's a common question amongst people that care.  There are plenty of people infected with greed and vanity. They won't care about anything but themselves, and I'll address them in another post someday.  But there are a multitude of people who care about various issues pertaining to making the world a better place. The trouble that I am having with a great many of these people is their claim that their religion can solve the problems.

     Now, before you get your self-righteous, religious ire up, let's review some stuff.

     I was sitting in on the second of three Easter services this past Sunday, celebrating the risen Lord.  The pews were packed. All three services were heavily attended.  Our church usually has two services on Sundays. One of these Easter services would probably equal a normal attendance at both services on any other Sunday.  That got me to thinking a bit.

     Why do so many more people show up for the "big" services? Christmas...Easter... Holly/Ivy Christians, I've heard them called.

     Well, lots of American Christians lead busy lives. Work the whole week long and don't want to spoil a day of sleeping in with going to church. I get it. I love the days when I get to sleep in, too. And as Christians, we do love the good celebrations of the birth and re-birth of Jesus.  I, for one, believe that God doesn't require church attendance for salvation. I think God is present everywhere, not just at His house.

     But it got me to thinking.  Lot's of people claim to be Christian. Go to some church services. Read some of the bible, and have beliefs that line up somewhat with the Christian doctrine.  Christians, on the whole, aren't bad people. Lots and lots have kind hearts and are caring people. But it seems that we still can't get things done to make the world a better place.  Why?

     I think we have the Holly/Ivy mentality.  We get caught up in our day to day lives. Bills to pay. Kids to shuttle to some practice or another. Dogs to walk. That sort of thing. So even when we have the best of intentions, we fall short on the follow through.  We do the occasional mission trip, or volunteer at an event to help feed hungry kids around the world. Give a little money to church once and awhile when we go. Then we go back to our "ordinary" lives.

     Lately I've been involved with a group out on the Pine Ridge reservation, where the Lakota Oyate (or people) live.  Many, many people out there are just scraping by, living in squalor. Kids going to bed hungry. No jobs, many societal problems. All of the "usual" things you hear or read about impoverished areas.  Re-Member exists to build and repair roofs, build and install beds for children, and sometimes adults, who have never slept in a proper bed. They skirt trailers, saving the residents money on heating during the long, very cold winters.  They build outhouses and dig holes for them at residences without indoor facilities.  In short, they Get Stuff Done that Needs To Be Done.  There is lots of work to do, and their backlog of projects grows from year to year.  Volunteers come out for a week, spend some time on those projects, and some more time on immersion in the Lakota culture to learn about the people they help.

  So what does this have to do with Christians?  Well, consider the mission trips you usually hear about. Youth groups heading somewhere to paint churches, lead bible school, preach the Gospel. Because for some reason, too many Christians believe that if they can convince the people they are helping to follow Jesus, their problems will be over.  The majority of the time, their hearts are in the right place.  But the methods fall short of actual help.

     It is all well and good to travel to Mexico and paint a church every year, but the locals can't all sleep in the freshly painted church.  It's fine to want to "spread the good news" and hand out bibles in Africa, but those locals can't eat bibles.  We somehow feel satisfied to hit "Like" and maybe even "Share" on facebook posts that will claim to feed a child for every click, thinking that we are doing our part for those less fortunate.  We feel more Christian because of these things, because "Good Christians" help those in need. We tithe our 10% to the church, although this number is often closer to 1-2%. But we feel good because we are "doing our part". Right?

     No.  Being Christian isn't enough.  Being religious or spiritual isn't enough.  When it comes to making the world a better place, religion is not a benefit, it is a hindrance.  Too many people use religion as a weapon.

     "You don't believe in my god? No soup for you!"

     Since long before 9/11, there has been hatred between the different religions. Wars fought over whose beliefs were better.  I once believed that modern American Christians were above such things.  But lately I have seen "Christians" cherry picking the bible to fit their views. Almost all of these views are fears of something different. Fear of homosexuals. Fear of Muslims. Fear of black people, or red people, or brown people. Fear of poor people. Fear of Jews. Fear of Liberals. Fear of anyone with a different worldview from themselves.  They use their religion to condemn those that are different. They use their beliefs to justify their behavior towards their own government.  They have closed minds, and closed hearts, yet claim to be Christians.  I don't think their sort of behavior is what Jesus had in mind for us.  I don't remember reading any part of the bible where Jesus said to his disciples to go forth and hate those who are different.

"BUT I'M ONE OF THE GOOD CHRISTIANS!!!" I hear this in my own head from time to time, and I'm sure it may be in your head too.  I respect those who believe other things, even if I don't always agree with them. As long as they don't weaponize their own beliefs, I have no problems.  You too? Great!  But still, we fall short if we just claim our religion as all it takes to help others and make us good people.

As Christians, we believe in the power of prayer. Petitioning God for things. Lot's of other religions pray as well. So what's the problem with prayer, you ask? There are even studies out there that show that prayer does have an influence on things. Don't get me wrong, I've been known to send up some pretty good prayers myself, so I am not railing against prayer.

     But, here's the problem with prayer as a way to make the world a better place.  Without action, it accomplishes very little.  God, we pray that our leaders will make good choices about the environment. We pray that the hungry will be fed. We pray for the sick to be healed. We pray for those living in poverty to have a better life ahead of them.

     I believe that God hears those prayers, but I also believe that God requires some follow up on our end to see that those things happen.  Want your leaders to make good choices about the future of our environment? Write letters. Make phone calls. Let them hear your voices. Want to feed the hungry? Forgo that Starbucks coffee for a day or two, and give that money to a food shelf, or a homeless kitchen, or some other organization that actually feeds the hungry.  Sick? Sure, pray! But go see a doctor. If God created everything, then he created medicine, too. And he created people who understand how to use that medicine, or have the skills as a surgeon to heal you.  Want to help people in poverty have a better life? Go get your hands dirty and help skirt a trailer, or rebuild a roof.  Give your 1-10% to the church, AND give 1-10% to an organization like Re-Member. An organization that actually DOES the work that needs to be done to fulfill those prayers.

     For you bible fearing Christians out there, take the time to read the second sentence of  Luke 12:28 or Matthew 25:40.  Then ask yourself TRULY, what would Jesus do?  What is it YOU are doing to make the world a better place? Holly/Ivy stuff? Or are you ready to get your hands dirty, make even a small financial sacrifice to make the world a better place.  Christians fall short of what it means to really be a Christian. That is why to make the world a better place, being Christian isn't enough.