This has bugged me since I was a teenager. The tendency to social Christianity – claiming it as a badge of social respectability, especially when it’s obviously hollow.
I have an over-developed sense of integrity, and as a young man it caused me great stress that I couldn’t call myself a Christian while my upbringing said I should, and the people I was hanging out with were. Eventually I passed through and realised I was making a mountain I didn’t need to. We’re lucky enough to live in a place and time where you can find the path that’s right for you.
I do value religion as part of our human heritage and a source of wisdom, and I even worked for a multi-faith network for a while.
To me, religion has to be about what you believe and value inside, and how you live your life and act in the world.
So it’s kind of grotesque to see people in politics, for instance, here and in the States, claiming Christianity because they think they have to as part of the price of admission, and then acting completely contrary to its teachings.
You don’t have to be a Christian to know what it’s about and find value in it. And one of the strongest parts of its identity is social concern. Jesus talks about loving your neighbour and helping those in need.
If you’re ignoring people’s cries for help, targeting the vulnerable, creating fear and hatred against those who are different – I’m sorry, you are not a Christian. If you’re responsible for things that hurt people, even after a million photos with your head bowed you’re still hurting people.
The US right-wing alt-Christians are particularly appalling on this. They use the name of the religion as a screen for their bizarrely tangled inner landscape of fear and hate. In the presidential election run-up I saw a clip of a ‘pastor’ ranting about how gays should be rounded up and killed. And no one was throwing him out of his post. (Indeed, some presidential candidates were in the audience.)
You don’t get the Christianity badge just by saying so. Not even if you genuinely believe you’re a Christian. Two thousand years of history and billions of believers worldwide deserve more honesty and respect than that. And to be honest I’d like to see more challenges from Christians to these distortions and delusions. And from the rest of us, challenging these outdated ideas about how respectability works.
If you’re crucifying, you shouldn’t get to hide behind the cross.
Photo by Tim Gray. It’s a local church in the Brecon Beacons, Wales, that’s been affected by subsidence. Quite disorienting to visit.