The chicken and the egg (or: double standards in Christianity)

“Hey,” my husband whispered to me before Holy Thursday Mass. “I forgot to tell you. Pew research did a new survey and the number of people who go to church is below 50% for the first time ever.”

My first reaction was: And Christianity will blame the secular culture instead of looking in the mirror and examining whether our own failures are the problem.

Actually, it’s probably a chicken-and-egg situation. The culture is definitely getting more hostile to religion. But then again, religion keeps giving more reasons for the hostility.

I know. Them’s fightin’ words, but painful though they might be, I think they’re fair.

The trouble is that the Gospel tells us we’re SUPPOSED to expect hostility from the world. But somehow, we’ve translated that into a persecution complex. We never stop to examine our own attitudes, words, and behaviors for how well they reflect the Gospel. We just assume that any pushback we encounter must, by definition, be the culture’s problem rather than ours. It couldn’t possibly be that we are misrepresenting our faith.

Meanwhile, Christianity fails to recognize how incredibly uneven we are in HOW we choose to stand at odds with the world. There are these huge double standards.

Like: Christian culture is pro-life, EXCEPT when it requires taxpayer money to support people most at risk of feeling the “need” for abortion (because of generational poverty and inequality of opportunity, etc., etc).

Like: Christian culture is pro-life, except when it infringes on “personal freedoms” (cough-cough-masking).

Like: Government should stay out of my business, except when it’s about homosexual relationships or abortion, and then of course it’s the government’s business, absolutely.

Or: Sexual assault and harassment are sinful, but how dare we ruin the life of the accused? (Never mind the life of the victim. Whatever. We’ve been sacrificing them for millennia.)

Or: Honesty and integrity are fundamental to Christian belief—they’re in the Ten Commandments—but how many people have wholeheartedly, even rabidly, embraced a lie about stolen elections that has zero basis in fact?

I’ve been trying not to write these kinds of posts lately. Nobody needs me haranguing them; it’s not particularly effective at anything except making people mad. So I’ve been trying to focus my posts here on working out my own spiritual journey instead of lambasting everything that’s wrong with the world. I have spent this Lent praying for “enemies,” and more importantly, for the heart to do so authentically while remaining in union with God’s will. So much is happening in my heart this year—I am journaling it, bit by bit, but I’m deep in the weeds and I can’t synthesize it yet.

But there are times when my frustration comes out. And this is one of them. And maybe, after all, Good Friday is not a bad time to have our collective conscience stung.

Why I Don’t Doubt the Existence of God

Photo by Matheus Bertelli on Pexels.com

My freshman year in college, I landed (quite unintentionally) in an honors writing intensive class on Darwin which shook my faith right to the foundation. Sometime in college—not sure if it was that fall or later, when the fallout had time to settle—I remember sitting on the rough stoop outside the “back door,” so called even though it was on the front of the house because it was the work entrance with an iron bar to scrape manure off boots before coming inside, and saying to my mom, “Sometimes I wonder if I really believe any of this stuff at all.”

As a Catholic mother myself, that sounds like just about the worst thing a child can say to you, but my mom handled it with tremendous grace. She sighed. “Well, Thomas Aquinas said that you could prove the existence of God, but it would take so long to do it, it’s better to take it on faith. But everything in the universe is caused by something. And before that there’s another cause, and before that another one. And if you go back to the very beginning of all that, that’s God.”

It was a simple revelation but one that resonated deeply.

Twenty-some years later, I no longer doubt the existence of God. At all. Ever. I doubt many other things. I question many other things. I have a rocky relationship with the Gospel of John, for instance, because it seems to me that Jesus goes around picking fights and being deliberately obtuse. It’s hard for me to see through John’s advanced theology to who Jesus was and what he was like when he walked the earth.

So I pray often, “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief.”

But I don’t doubt God, because in the past twenty years, I’ve encountered him so many times.

When I was battling crippling anxiety that I was too scared to talk to anyone about, let alone find help for, I discovered that I could sit on the edge of a creek for an hour or two, doing absolutely nothing, simply praying and being still. Eventually, a cool quiet would descend, quieting (though not eliminating) the voices of panic.

I didn’t realize that was the Holy Spirit until years later, when I was married and on the core team for Life Teen and I went to an adoration event where people were laughing and whispering in tongues and being slain in the spirit. I remember this rawness in my soul that night, a desire to experience the Spirit utterly at war with the certainty that such expressions were Not Within My Comfort Zone. When it was over, I thought with both disappointment and relief (but not surprise) that I’d been passed over.

Hours later, I processed the quiet, cool peace that had replaced the raw pulsing in my chest, and I thought, “Oh. Um. Something did happen to me in there.” It was the first time I connected that feeling I experienced by the creek in northern Iowa to the Holy Spirit.

The Holy Spirit is my guy. We talk all the time. We talk about music, about kid problems, about the personal flaws I want to be rid of, even about my writing. (We talk a lot about my writing.) The Spirit never, ever fails. If I don’t get a solution to my problem in short order, I’ve learned to step around the problem and ask another question—like, for instance, “Am I barking up the wrong tree? Am I not supposed to be doing this at all? Is this why it’s so hard?” (Sometimes the answer is: Obviously! Other times, it is: No, it’s just hard.)

There’s been a meme going around Facebook lately, saying something like “I don’t believe in God because someone told me to, I believe in God because I’ve experienced him.” It’s no secret that I am deeply, deeply suspicious of memes. That one seems a little self-righteous to me. I don’t doubt the sincerity of the sentiment, but wouldn’t the witness be more effective to just, y’know, tell what your experience of God is, rather than send out some nonspecific meme crowing about your faith?

So that’s what I’m doing today—since I have little time and way too much to do, I decided to free write this little witness of why I believe in God. What is yours?

Sometimes atheism is our fault

Look! It’s another one of those “no duh” quotes that we all think applies to someone else.

This is a sentiment that conservatives aim at liberals, with the assumption that only people who haven’t studied the faith properly could possibly hold such nonsensical ideas about redistribution of wealth, about mercy and tolerance; could possibly fail to see that things are either right or wrong, and any attempt to say otherwise equals relativism. (I know this, because that was me not that many years ago.)

But it’s also a sentiment that liberals aim at conservatives, with a hair-pulling level of frustration that people can’t see that Jesus was all about justice, and that money as an idol is behind many of the ideas held up as “traditional values” by conservatives. (And yes, I have to admit, this better represents where I stand now.)

Yesterday, I was reading a passage from Philippians, in which Paul took for granted that Christians living the faith would be united in thought and idea about how to view the world.

I don’t even know to deal with that. I know the Christian community was probably never as uniform as some Scripture passages make it sound, that division is an inescapable part of fallen humanity.

But where we are now–I started to try to lay it out, but the causes are too complex. There’s Steve Bannon going after the Pope, and confusing political ends with Godly ones. There’s the mishandling of the abuse crisis, which hits liberal and conservative bishops & priests alike. There’s clericalism and an inability to see outside “the way it’s always been done,” even though the world has changed around it and that model no longer works (i.e., we don’t have a glut of priests to do all the jobs in a parish, so you actually have to hire people to do work). There’s a passive laity, still thinking that our primary job is to show up and be done to, even though the mega churches have taught us that churches flourish best when everyone is involved.

All of these are examples of ways in which we, as believers, contribute to the flourishing of atheism. And it doesn’t fall on one side of the political spectrum–or of the left-right divide in the Church.

When we are nasty on Facebook, when we share emotion-heavy, but fact-questionable memes;

when we buy into stereotypes that Trump supporters are all uneducated rednecks or that people demanding just wages and just racial treatment are essentially lazy and need to pull themselves up by their bootstraps;

when we fail to recognize the ways in which our own privilege shapes our prejudices;

when we fail to recognize that we have prejudices at all;

when we make assumptions or pass judgment or don’t fact-check (or fallacy-check) whatever inflammatory argument suits our purposes–

In all these moments, we, as Christians, are part of what causes people to doubt the existence of God altogether.

We need to own that…and do something about it.