I don’t want to be hysterically decried as a loony heretic (I’ve been called worse) – so in my defense, let me just say that it’s okay to ask this. It’s just okay to ask it. We can ask, we can consider the entire spectrum of questions without guile. And no matter what, don’t stop believing, because Journey’s Steve Perry says we should never, ever do that.
The wider question, is organized religion harmful or beneficial to a person/group of persons, is more general and feels more palatable, so maybe I should ask that instead. But I care more about asking if Christianity is, because I go around calling myself one. Hey, I’m part of that! Lately I’ve taken to tacking on “free-lance” at the end of the word. Like if I’m meeting someone for the first time, and it comes up…”Oh, so you’re a Christian?” I always feel the sudden recoil from them. “Free-lance,” I smile uneasily, trying to soften the blow. Praying we can just go on to the next topic of conversation. Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer.
Mostly I’ve always been able to answer this question more or less to my satisfaction without losing any sleep over it, but this week in my facebook feed one of my friends posted an article entitled “Escape from Duggarville : How Playing The Good Christian Housewife Almost Killed Me.” At first I was like, I’m not going to read this, because it’s going to be depressing, and I just want to go to work and go home and eat carbs and watch the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air and I’m tired of caring. But then I did read it.
I thought it would be an open-close case of spiritual abuse in the name of Jesus (unfortunately, it happens alarmingly often) and on some levels it was. But there was another facet to it that I hadn’t anticipated. In the article, she opens with this statement :
Whenever I talk about my escape from the Quiverfull movement, Christians immediately dismiss my experience by saying, “Your problem was not with Jesus or Christianity. Your problem was that you were following an extreme, legalistic cult. Let me tell you about my personal relationship with Jesus.” It can be extremely frustrating. I was in a close, personal relationship with Jesus for over 25 years….I did file for divorce and rescue myself and my kids from the tyranny of patriarchy. But for me, the primary break up was with Jesus.
Often, when we hear of cases like this, Christians will say that this is a fringe case. She was in a cult. Those fundamentalists aren’t like us! She didn’t experience the real Jesus. She and her husband were not correctly interpreting the bible. Etc.
Those things may be true. But as I read it, and those thoughts went through my mind, I also thought, I can’t go around saying that my experience is truer than hers. I’ve had an experience of God which has been positive (sometimes). She has had an experience of God which was 100% heartbreakingly negative. But who is to say that my experience of God is real, and hers simply was not? To say so would be to minimalize her pain, to sweep her under the rug. I did not wish to dismiss her so easily, though I could have. It would have been easy. But it would not have been right.
At therapy the other week my therapist (I love her) handed me a picture of an elephant. Above the title was “A Metaphor For Dialectics.” There were blindfolded people all around the elephant, and the different people were touching the elephant and saying, “It’s a board!” or “It’s a rope!” Or etc etc. My therapist was pretty confident that this would clear things up for me. I gave her The Look, shook the picture in the air and shouted “Yeah but…it’s still a fucking elephant.”
Truth can be both objective and subjective. Which is what makes this conversation so tricky and ultimately impossible to come away with concrete answers to.
With that in mind, I asked myself again, Are negative experiences of Christianity true, or are positive ones? At its core, is christianity harmful, is it negative, is it bad?
Here’s my humble (not so humble) opinion : if you want to believe that it is bad, you will find examples. They’re out there. Evidence, statistics, examples, personal experience. If that’s what you’re looking for, then that’s what you’ll find.
Likewise to the other side : if you want believe that Christianity is good and awesome and that we’re doing the world a favour, you’ll find examples. They’re out there. Evidence, scripture, personal experiences, whatever you want. The world is your oyster.
But I guess I’m not interested in that anymore.
I guess what I’m interested in now is people. I’m interested in their stories. When we say things like “That wasn’t real Christianity, that was just spiritual abuse” – fair enough. But when we say things like that, we also effectively excuse ourselves from having to engage with the issue on any real level.
There’s another way – we could, instead of explaining it away, just enter into it with her. That way is messier, and more time-consuming. We could feel compassion, instead of giving rebuttals. Listen just to hear her, without waiting for our turn to reply. Maybe explaining how injured people are wrong about Christianity shouldn’t be our top priority.
And I guess the reason that I feel that way doesn’t have anything to do with me. Strictly speaking, I ain’t a people person. I love other people and I want to hear their stories because Jesus does. He gives me that grace and that love.
“I say to my non-Christian friends and neighbors, if you want to see the gospel of Christ, the gospel that has energized this church for two thousand years, turn off the television. The grinning cartoon characters who claim to speak for Christ don’t speak for him. Find the followers who do what Jesus did. Find the people who risk their lives to carry a beaten stranger to safety. Find the houses opened to unwed mothers and their babies in crisis. Find the men who are man enough to be a father to troubled children of multiple ethnicity and backgrounds.
And find a Sunday School class filled with children with Down Syndrome and cerebral palsy and fetal alcohol syndrome. Find a place where no one considers them “weird” or “defective,” but where they joyfully sing, “Jesus loves the little children, all the children of the world.”
That might not have the polish of television talk-show theme music, but that’s the sound of bloody cross gospel.”