In regards to our own religious beliefs, or lack of them, it all ultimately comes down to the classic case of choosing to either overlook or focus on the best or worst of extremes and using that viewpoint as the unchangeable standard to support what we believe.
When it comes to my involvement with facebook, I’m more of an observer and less of a participant. I’ll comment on people’s pictures and random status updates (as a way to “stay in the loop” with people I haven’t seen in years, because sometimes, there’s nothing really new to say to them, just “hey, how are you doing?”). It may be safe to say that I tend to get the most enjoyment by reading the controversial status updates that at least 20 people comment on. It’s just funny, if nothing else, to see the original “status updater” provoke that many people to argue with him or her, or other commenters.
In the last few weeks, I’ve seen several occurrences of this scenario involving religious sorts of proclamations. The status updater makes a statement that at least in some subtle tone indicates that people who belong to any sort of religion (typically Christianity is specifically targeted) are gullible and naïve. Then all those who are also non-religious and outspoken jump on the “no god wagon” which in turn provokes those who are religious to either defend themselves or their beliefs.
By being a silent spectator of these events, I get to learn exactly how those who are disgusted by/apathetic towards religion became that way. It seems a lot of the time the reason they stopped believing in God has to do with other people they saw who were in some way hypocritical. Or televangelists who make money by telling their listeners they can become rich and blessed by giving money to the church and/or buying his book on “abundant living”. Or judgmental church marquee signs that try to be cute by scarring people into church: “Without the bread of life, you’re toast!” (A reference to Holy Smoke). Or because they visited a church one time and were either really bored or ignored by everyone. Or because they never got a satisfying answer to this question: Why Do Bad Things Happen to Good People ? (Click that title to read why.)
Or any other of the thousands of reasons why the concept of God coming to Earth in the form of a Jewish man to die for the sins of the entire world (who was raised back to life after three days, then 40 days later ascend to Heaven) because He loves them and wants a personal relationship with them and will give them eternal life yet will cast them to hell if they don’t believe doesn’t seem logical, practical, or coherent.
There are so many reasons not to believe. I can see how it could be pretty easy to focus on any of them. But just like the way nonbelievers focus on any of those reasons for a basis for not believing, I overlook all those reasons and instead focus on all the other thousands of reasons to actually believe.
At the end of the day (and more literally, our earthly life), we will have had the free will to choose which reasons why we do or do not believe. I won’t get into all the details here, but the whole reason I exist ultimately goes back to a scam in 1973 involving some shady tent revival “preachers” who convinced my grandparents to sell all their belongs (and give the money to the church, which in turn went to the preachers) and move from Buffalo, NY (to avoid a prophesied national famine that never came) to Fort Payne, AL (the “Promised Land”, safe from the national famine). Ultimately, my parents met as teenagers, both being forced to go to that weird church. They got married four years later, then four years after that, I was born.
If anyone had a reason to be bitter or disgusted or simply just “through with” organized religion and/or God, it was my family. But instead, they chose to recognize that they had been misled by deceptive people who claimed to be following God. They chose to trust in God despite of other people, not allowing faulted human beings to get in the way with their relationship with God.
Of all the reasons not to believe in God, the one that I understand the least is the fact that hypocrites and less-than-perfect Christians exist. To judge an entire religion because of the worst specimens seems unfair to everyone. I love comedy and comedians. I’m not a fan of Dane Cook or Larry the Cable Guy, but I don’t denounce comedy in general because of what I perceive as poor example of what a comedian is. But ultimately sometimes it’s much easier to judge an entire group by picking out the worst examples as the mascot for the whole team.
Yes. Greedy, selfish, hateful, people are all around who call themselves Christians. But there are also the ones that don’t make the headlines. The ones who demand less attention. The ones risking their lives to help starving and dying villages in the poorest parts of the world. But instead, Christianity is often judged by our worst examples.
And as hard as I try to be a perfect Christian and try to be a good example for everyone, I will constantly miss the mark in some way. If I personally was the only example of Christianity for the whole world to see, it would be dangerous for Christianity. The world would see my sincerity, my love for others, my time in prayer for so many people, my humility in my constant trusting in God for all the unseen and the future. But they would see me mess up too. My pride, my selfishness, and my shame.
Multiply that concept by the hundreds of millions, to symbolize all the Christians of the world. What would onlookers choose to see? Just the good? Just the bad? Both? Whatever the answer is, that’s most likely how you see God, or don’t.
Free will is a complicated and dangerous thing.