Christianity kinda sucks as a sociological tool. (Happy Easter, by the way!)

Once upon a time, I went to church. Good sermon. I came home, hopped on Facebook, and put up some thoughts about the death of Christ paying for our sins.

One of the comments was a link to a youtube video about the fallacies of Christian justice. It was a parody upon the metaphorical parable of the judge of the courtroom who declares the defendant guilty. The defendant, a rapist with a swastika tattooed to his head, is declared guilty by the judge. But after this, the judge has the courtroom officers bring out the judge’s son, beat him and kill him.

“My son has paid the price for you. If you believe and you accept his sacrifice, you can walk. Totally free.”

“Well, sure.”

“WHAT?!?!?!” The audience says, enraged. “You’re letting him go free?”

“Your sins are forgiven,” the judge says. “You may go free.”

“Well, cool.” The rapist with the swastika says. And walks right out, to the dismay of the victim. To the dismay of the audience. At this point, the screen fades to black and the words appear…

“Hey, Christians, maybe accountability is a good thing.”

 

Here’s a question: Does the video improperly show Christian doctrine? Is it wrong?

 

Well…the video is right, in this regard: Christianity does a horrible job as a sociological tool. A better sociological tool would reward good behavior and threaten undesirable consequences for bad behavior.

 

A good sociological tool would create an “us” and “them” based on the criteria that really benefits society.

A good sociological tool would not eliminate forgiveness and grace. It would have redemption and grace. I mean, we like redemption, so we would want it in there. But only for people who are “actually sorry enough”. People who repeat mistakes too often…well, obviously they aren’t repentant or sorry enough. So no grace for them.

A good sociological tool would use the concept of hell to threaten people for things the society deems inappropriate or damaging. If fear can keep people away from the electric fence, surely fear can be used to prevent undesirable behaviors! Do we need people to stop robbing others? Threaten hell on them! Does society think we need to have traditional family structures? Threaten hell!

Christianity is a horrible sociological tool.

 

But maybe Christianity wasn’t meant to be a sociological tool.

So let’s go back to the question…is the video right?

Well, if you ask me how nice a shirt looks, and I measure the shirt’s temperature, then let me tell you: The temperature of the shirt won’t be wrong.

If you ask me how a band sounds, and I tell you what color hair they have, I won’t be wrong.

If you ask me if the car gets a good mileage, and I tell you how long the sound system lasts, I won’t be wrong.

I’m just not answering your question. I’m giving the wrong measurement.

 

The overarching story of Christianity is not meant to move us to obedient action (even though Christians are urged to obey and take action, sure) but rather, to move us to worship. Christianity is not meant to produce behavior. It is meant to produce worship.

 

It has always weirded me out that a doctrine that makes no calls to violence (although the church called for violence in Christian history, most notably the crusades, that call was not in obedience to Scripture. Jesus taught us that those who live by the sword will die by the sword) can accrue so many enemies.

I mean, to my eyes, Christianity asks for less than other worldviews. My money is not required to enter into Christ. My obedience is not required to enter. My discipline is not required to enter. There is no minimum behavior requirement.

Christian doctrine teaches that all I need to do is place my faith in Jesus, His words and His works. Oh, and that the work has already been done. It is finished.

 

So does that mean that Christianity asks nothing of me?

Well, Christianity teaches this: Since the work was done for you…

  1. No more work is REQUIRED of you. The work is done.
  2. Worship the One who did the work, for He is worthy.
  3. By the way, be like Him.

 

Is being like Jesus required of me? Well…I have to ask what “required” means. Does it mean “I have to, or else I’ll…”

…I’ll what? What are the consequences for failing to be like Jesus?

 

1 John 2:1-2 (NIV)

My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have an advocate with the Father—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.

 

…the consequences of failing to be like Jesus are that I will be advocated for.

 

In Christianity, the work has been done for me. The Easter story is not a call to do the work, but to rejoice, celebrate, and worship.

Because as far as my salvation is concerned, there is no more work to be done. As for as worship is concerned, there is no end in sight.

If I am successful in loving those whom society deems unlovable, it is not in order to avoid hell. It is an attempt to worship Him by trying to be like Him.

If I give money to support those in need, it is not to stay ahead of the “not good enough” line. It is a minimal attempt to imitate the one who gave His all.

If I am able to speak up for the victim, it is an imitation of the one who spoke up for the adulteress and stood between her and her accusers’ readied stones.

 

Christians do not obey to avoid punishment. Christians obey to worship and be like the Risen Christ.

 

 

One might criticize how Christianity makes people feel bad by claiming that without faith in Jesus, they are going to hell, and that people aren’t really hell-worthy bad. I’m not even addressing that in this blog post.
All I can tell you is that personally, I have a good keen grasp on my hell-worthy-ness and I can give you exact play-by-play details on who I’ve wronged and how. So rather than enter into that debate, I’ll just tell you this: there is not an ounce of me that can trick myself into thinking I’m good enough without the cross of Christ.

That video that we started this blog post about painted quite the picture. Because of the cross, Christianity does not hold people accountable to their wrongdoings. But in order to hope that others are held accountable to their evils, in order to be consistent and have integrity, I have to be willing to be held accountable to my evils. And that scares me.

The cross of Christ takes that fear away.

Maybe you wish I were held accountable to my evils, and that I would be a better person if I got what I deserved. And that your evils aren’t as bad. I dunno.

All I know is, I’m glad you’re not in charge.

 

The One who is in power, who has power over death itself, has unlocked the door for me. All God really wants is to actually be treated like God. But when I fail, my Advocate is there.

 

And He is risen.

He is risen indeed.

I will never know a God that didn’t gift us His Son

There are several things in my life that I am blessed by, but because they are so consistent, it takes effort and intention to be thankful for them. Because they are so consistent, you don’t notice them…until they’re gone. Yet, I am blessed enough that they have not been gone.

A few examples:

Parental empowerment/approval – The fact that I knew my parents approved of me, loved me, and were proud of me, was a fact that empowered me to keep boundaries against negative adults in my teenage and young adult years. I know people whose feeling of approval was threatened by the changing of the wind. But mine wasn’t. I had a “confidence anchor” that I know many were not blessed with…and I would be a different person without that.

Companionship – The reason the dating phase is so exciting, yet stressful, is because of the uncertainty. When you learn that someone you are interested in wants to be your companion as well, it is exciting because it takes away the lingering uncertainty and loneliness. Because of this, a loyal, unwavering, loving spouse is not “exciting” by those terms…and it’s easy to forget that “romantic void” feeling that was the only reality you ever knew when you were single.

Financial security – As a wedding present, Sarah and I were gifted Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University by my old instructor. As a result of this, I learned to stop being a rampant credit card spender (like, rampant, I’m telling you) and start to budget, plan, and actually have a modicum of self-control. Because of this gift, Sarah and I learned to do the Baby Steps and build an emergency fund early on. Ramsey said, concerning the importance of the emergency fund and having some financial security, “Men, your wife has a security gland in her brain. It is connected directly to her face.” It has been a long time, thanks to Dave Ramsey, since we’ve only been one low paycheck away from disaster. But I know that this is not true for a great many families. It is a blessing, one that I would not have come by without Dave Ramsey’s FPU and a wife that keeps me accountable.

There are other blessings that come and go. There are people, and gifts, and situations that we feel blessed by. But since they come and go, it is easier to picture life without them. But the consistent blessings are the ones that are easy to take for granted.

And that’s what’s on my mind this Christmas.

Christmas, the celebration of the Father sending His Son to us to be born as a baby, is a celebration of a one-time event that changed everything. But what is so interesting to me is that once a year, we celebrate this one-time event that affects 365.25 days of my year. Fact is, everything that is true during Christmas is also true for the rest of the year. It is consistent.

And there are some direct effects on me. My framework for life. My psyche. My security. My purpose. There are consistent truths that are not realized by everybody.

Unchanging truth: Christmas shows me my value to God. God sent His Son for me. My value does not go up and down like a stock. Not everybody feels their value. I am able to because of Christmas.

Unchanging truth: The Gospel presents “Grace” rather than “Striving”. A criticism of Christianity is that it is a very poor sociological tool. A good sociological tool rewards good works and punishes bad works. But Christianity was never intended to be a sociological tool…any good works a Christian does is meant to glorify God, not avoid punishment or earn salvation. Other worldviews have people always questioning their standing (am I good or bad?), striving for a level of ethics or morality. Christianity answers that by “providing me Someone Else’s goodness”.

Unchanging truth: When everything else fades, I still have purpose. My purpose is not rooted in my career, my family, my physical or mental skills. In any situation I find myself in, I can glorify the Risen Son of God.

It is my observation that self-destructive behaviors come in bunches when someone loses their sense of purpose. This is part of what makes a “mid-life crisis” so difficult…when one’s purpose/identity is found in the career they do or the kids they are raising, then that purpose goes away when the career starts to focus on the young up-and-comers or the kids start to become adults and move out.

Since my purpose is not found in “phases of life”, my purpose is an unchanging truth.

These things are constant realities for me…but I know that they are not constant realities for others who haven’t grabbed onto them. So it’s hard for me to imagine not having that…but I try to.

I am thankful.

The birth of Christ changed everything…but it changed the whole year, every year, every day.

I hope that you never know purposelessness. I hope that you never know worthlessness. And I hope that you never wonder whether you cut it or not.

What I know is that never knowing those things is possible in Jesus.

Merry Christmas, and God Bless.

 

-Carson

Criticism as a defense mechanism: Don’t let it stop you from greatness!

“There is only one way to avoid criticism: do nothing, say nothing, and be nothing.” -Aristotle

“Criticism is a natural by-product of success. Welcome it!”

 

“Would you like to donate $1 to Muscular Dystrophy Research?”

I think I was at Safeway when I was asked this question. Or was it Carl’s Jr.? Or was it Taco Bell? Or was it Roth’s?
Oh, right, it was probably all of them.

“No, thank you.” But then my inner pretend-sociologist kicked in. “Hey, out of curiosity, when someone says no, how do they usually respond?” I asked the clerk.

She half-smiled, half-sighed. With an exasperated look, she answered my question. “Oh, lots of different ways. Sometimes they tell me their life story, and why they can’t donate. Sometimes, they list off all of the other things that they donate money to. Sometimes, they actually get frustrated at me just for asking! I’m just like ‘It’s okay to say no! It’s fine, I’m not judging you!’”

 

(Sidenote: Generosity is a hard topic for me to blog about, because of Jesus’s teachings on it. If I’m not generous, then I feel ashamed and I have to hide the fact that I’m not generous. But if I am generous, then Jesus basically tells me to shut up about it. So you can never know whether I’m generous or stingy, because I won’t tell you. Oh well.)

 

Here’s what I found so interesting in her response: Why would anyone get mad at Safeway for doing a good thing? “Oh, there’s probably a few people, not too many.” But no, the Safeway clerk said otherwise. It’s common, strangely. Even if they don’t get mad, they get defensive.

 

THE SUCCESS OF OTHERS MAKES US MAD

What we found here was this, and ask any clerk who has asked anyone to donate a dollar to (insert non-profit here) if this is true or not: A successful fundraiser/action/donation/etc. draws out a defensive reaction from people. Why?

 

Actually, I’ve come to find it’s much bigger than just fundraisers.

 

Any success, whether moral/financial/business/personal, draws out a defensive reaction from people. And that is often where criticism comes from.

 

In fact, think about this! If somebody takes a good, selfless, charitable action, such that a critic couldn’t find anything wrong with it, the critic falls back on this tried and true tactic: suggesting a different good action that the person should have taken, in lieu of the one that they did!
For example, have you ever heard this classic line at church? “Missions, missions, missions. All this talk about missions. We have plenty of needs right here in our neighborhood. What about those?”

Are you kidding me? As though donating to missions or doing missions work is a bad thing or something?

Nobody is shouting it from the rooftops…but I’m going to venture a dangerous guess that will never be confirmed or denied. What do you want to bet that the person who brings up this criticism is not donating money to either domestic needs or missions work?

It is simply that the call to action, and the celebration of others’ good actions, draws a defensive reaction from people.

 

We could go for hours with examples. But what I want to point out is that in all aspects of our lives, success draws criticism.

Publicly gush about how great your wife is on Facebook? You’re showboating. Showing off your marriage. I’ll bet you have issues that you’re hiding. Who you trying to impress?

Gush about your kids? “Oh, just wait until they’re teenagers. You’re in for it.”

Make money and buy yourself something? “Oh, that money SHOULD have been spent like blah-blah-blah”

Make money and do something good with it? “Oh, I don’t know why you’re donating money to X when you could be donating money to Y.”

 

THE WORST PART: WHEN THE RESULT OF CRITICISM IS INACTION

Those who take action or go public in any way open themselves up for criticism. It is unavoidable.

But this is what I believe to be the biggest tragedy: When somebody, somewhere, doesn’t take a good action for fear of being criticized. And I believe that this does, in fact, happen.

I always liked to answer questions and ask questions in youth group growing up, in Bible studies, etc. But then, as we talked about Pharisees and about how they loved to be seen by men, it caused a question to cross my mind…

“Carson, what if you’re raising your hand just to be seen? Just for attention?”

It was a good question. I mean, I’m not shy…I do enjoy the limelight. I do enjoy the attention. So does that mean I need to put my hand down? And stop talking?

Just as I was considering stepping back a little bit, someone talked to me. “Hey, I like the questions you ask, and your thoughts. I’m always glad when you show up for the Bible study.”

So I made the decision that day: For me to not raise my hand because people might perceive me as too attention grabby? That concern about how others would perceive me was, in fact, actually self-centered. When there is a good thing to be done, good words to say, then I should take the action. Haters gonna hate.

 

CRITICS THINK IN ISOLATED INCIDENTS, INSTEAD OF THE PROBABILITY OF MULTIPLE SUCCESSES

 

I was reading an article about “second-level thinking” (whatever that means…I’m still learning about it) and there was a new concept I hadn’t thought about before. “First level thinking deals with isolated incidents, second level thinking deals with probabilities.”

If I suggested a change to how we run our martial arts school, then good thinkers would not just “accept” it. However, the “first-level” thinker would think of that one person who wouldn’t like the change, and why they wouldn’t like it. The “second-level” thinker might think the same thing, but they would think “okay, how often is that concern likely to come up, and do we gain more than we are likely to lose if that concern comes up often?”

Therefore, according to this concept, the “first-level thinker” would let that one person, that one possibility, that one criticism, stop them. The second-level thinker doesn’t go in blindly, but it takes more than one kink to stop them.

 

OUR MASTERY OF OURSELVES, OUR WORDS, HAS AN ACTUAL EFFECT ON PEOPLE.

To the dreamer/fighter/entrepreneur in all of us: Don’t let the critic get you down. And, in fact, don’t even try to avoid criticism. Choose who you want to be and go dominated it. Know that you WILL get criticized, and that if you aren’t getting criticized, you aren’t accomplishing anything.

To the critic in all of us, and yes, I know it’s present within me: Any of us can be careless instead of careful with our words. Here’s what I know…I don’t want to be the one who stopped someone from doing something great because they didn’t want to be criticized by me.

I don’t want anybody to hold back or not try something because they thought they would look silly or stupid in my eyes. I want to be someone who spurs people to take action and try new things, not someone who inhibits them and makes them feel self-conscious.

 

“And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds.” Hebrews 10:24 (NIV)

 

“Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.” 1 Thessalonians 5:11 (NIV)