About a year ago I read the book, Post Traumatic Church Syndrome, written by Reba Riley and I knew before she professed the faith she left, on page 22, that she left the same Charismatic/dogmatic and traumatizing Oneness Pentecostal religion I left. In Reba’s journey of healing and recovery, she made the decision to attend 30 churches/systems before she turned 30. She was 29 at the time of her writing.
Reba nearly gave up on her adventure multiple times – the trauma of visiting other Christian churches dredged up the fear, pain, and memories of her past and in some cases, left her sick, paralyzed with fear – traumatized. But Reba persevered, and in time, made it to Buddhist and Hindu temples, other Christian churches of various denominations – and then, an Atheist gathering.
Reba discovered something I have discovered – having left a similar, incredibly dogmatic religious experience. They aren’t the demons we were told they were.
Oh sure – as Christians we see them as the lost – the potential enemy of ‘the faith’ (proponents of fact, not faith) perhaps, the scientist, the evolutionist, the humanist – the non-Theist. But when Reba went into the meeting, the opposite of her assumptions played out.
Reba assumed that when she announced that she was a Christian, that she was wanting to explore other religions, to learn more about Atheists, etc, that they would ridicule her, be angry, attack her beliefs. Instead, they said, ‘That’s cool!’ and proceeded to have one of the friendliest, normal, non-pressuring times of fellowship Reba had ever had. She declared later in her book that that was one of the best meetings/groups she attended out of all the religious and non-religious gatherings she had partaken of. Why?
Needless to say, Reba left that gathering shocked, she couldn’t believe that those who oppose Christianity/religion were some of the friendliest and non-assuming, non-judgmental people she had encountered in her life.
So why am I writing this? It sounds like an indictment against Christianity – or religion itself. It’s hopefully a lesson for all, but mostly for me. I’ve failed in this area many times.
I confess – I have an atheist friend – and I find him to be one of the best friends I have, or at least, I enjoy my time with that friend more than most…Christians. Why? Aren’t we supposed to be yoked together with other believers? Aren’t we supposed to avoid the non-believer? Not to shake hands with heathens? What fellowship does light have with darkness?
If we, as Christians really believe the paragraph above – you know, the fellowship stuff, I fear we have completely lost touch with the reality of what our faith was/is supposed to be and have completely ignored/written off the Gospels.
I, like Reba, have found the non-believing to be some of the kinder, accepting, non-judgmental, non-dogmatic, more Christlike side of our modern North American society today. That indictment includes me.
Why is that? Now I know, of course, you have the militant atheists, cultists, just like you have militant Christians – cultists. They are out there, but it seems to be that the majority of Atheists are content to go on living their (own) lives without making street-side proclamations of their beliefs that are often hateful and demeaning to those who don’t line up with their world views.
How often do you see atheists holding bright signs declaring your Christian beliefs a sham? How often do you see Christians (of some sort) holding signs and street-corner stands declaring sinners bound for hell? You know the normal list – fornication – masturbation – adultery – drunkenness – pornography, witchcraft, video games (bore me…), etc, etc.
How many times have you seen scientists holding up signs that say, “REPENT! All Christians, Religions, Faiths, Believers, Dogmatics are dooming the world!”? I’m young – only 41 years of age, but I’ve yet to see it. We as faith people could learn a thing or two about love.
In my conversations with an Atheist – I’ve never been ridiculed, demeaned, defamed, slammed or shamed. I’ve been challenged, questioned, heard, listened to, friended, tolerated, allowed, validated. Why? Because our mutual disagreement doesn’t change the foundation of our interactions – kindness and the desire to see the best outcome for humanity around us.
This thought process reminded again of the documentary, “Lord, Save us from your Followers” produced by Dan Merchant that took a street-level look at the perception of Christianity and how it is received by the populace. When asking strangers ‘what do you think of when you hear the word Christian?’ the results were mixed, but by a majority, they were negative.
Hypocritical. Judgmental. Hateful.
Now, to be fair, this documentary was looking at how Christianity (as a bulk, broad-brush paint stroke) treated homeless, immigrants and the LGBTQ+ community. But it’s still a personal indictment to me, and for me. When I read the Gospels, I see a Jesus who took pity on the least among us. I see a man who rejected the idea of social status and ‘holiness’ and bent down to help the dirty, unclean, sinning, and diseased.
Bottom line is this friend – we as humans need to love one another. Regardless of dispositions. How can we win over people to ‘faith’ when ‘faith’ isn’t seen as more loving than non-faith? Even within Christendom, we fight one another and those looking in ask the valid questions, ‘If they hate each other, why would I want to be one of them?’
Choose love. I have failed at this many times and I’m looking to learn from that mistake. We were commanded to LOVE above all. Not get degrees in doctrines. Not prove theology. We were commanded to LOVE.
“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.” ~ Jesus (John 15:12,13)