Faith and skepticism, or is it better stated skepticism and faith? I’m never quite sure.
In an era when there are lots of presumptions that Christianity is going gang busters, there is a lot of evidence to indicate that Christianity in America is waning. The vast majority of people under the age of 30 have no real church affiliation and 80% of the population under the age of 20 has had virtually no religious affiliation whatsoever. Maybe in the Bible Belt these statistics might be a little high, but just a little.
Increasingly people are growing more and more skeptical about religion. As I read the arguments of those who are skeptical much of what they have to say makes a great deal of sense. I say this not because I readily agree with the skeptics, but I say this because many Christians are making excellent arguments for skepticism.
Here are some of my thoughts.
The first reason many people are skeptical about Christianity and religious faith in general, is the area of judging others. Many people presume that Christianity is focused on calling people out for their sins and promotes a sense of casting judgment over others, most especially the sin of others.
Christianity is actually about quite the opposite. When you read of Christians judging others or citing that they have a right (or obligation) to judge others, they are doing what they want to do as opposed to what their faith teaches. Christianity is very much in opposition to the judgment of others.
There are, in the Gospels, numerous instances of Jesus teaching and preaching on not judging others. In 1st Corinthians St. Paul has a moment where he judges another (in the Corinthian community) and the 2nd Corinthians tells the people to bring this person back into the fold and not be judgmental. Paul obviously either changed his mind or recognized that he was going down a path that was not particularly appropriate in his faith journey.
Martin Luther was emphatic, in his writings, in opposition to judgment because as he read the New Testament, he came to the conclusion that the ban on the judgment of others was because no one is actually good enough to judge another human being.
Christianity has, historically, challenged social ills, such as slavery, but believes that the calling out of sinners, as individuals, is God’s realm, not the realm of people.
Secondly, some of the teachings of Christianity are found to be disturbing by many. We’ve heard the quotes a great deal:
God helps those who help themselves.
Charity begins at home.
Hate the sin, love the sinner.
People hear these great citations of Christianity and come to the conclusion that they often lead people towards unkind behavior.
God helps those who help themselves gives an indication that people who are impoverished do not deserve God’s help (or anyone’s) because God helps those who help themselves, and they obviously didn’t.
Charity begins at home seems to indicate that the service of ourselves supercedes the service of others.
Hate the sin, love the sinner seems to indicate that we have a right, even a responsibility, to render judgment on others.
Only one small problem. None of these are Biblical teachings.
The Gospels seem to indicate that God helps those who help others. St. Francis of Assisi’s great prayer, “It is in giving that we receive,” is very much in harmony with the teachings of Jesus and not in harmony with being concerned if people help themselves. I might think it’s great if people work hard and help themselves, but the Gospel commands me to feed and clothe those who are impoverished and whether or not they helped themselves is irrelevant.
Charity, by its very nature, does not begin at home. Charity, by its very nature, is external. It is reaching beyond ourselves, never beginning with ourselves. In the gospels, personal sacrifice is exalted and personal preservation is not. Charity, by definition not only doesn’t begin at home, but cannot.
And, hate the sin, love the sinner is just a way of trying to give permission to ourselves to judge others. Judging others is fun because it makes us feel superior to others we see as less worthy of God than ourselves.
Much skeptical thought comes from the belief that Christianity has become increasingly ignorant.
Christianity has been responsible for fine institutions of learning. We think of some of the great universities in our nation. Harvard. Yale. Princeton. Brown. Fordham. Notre Dame. Georgetown. More locally, Bellarmine, Spalding, and Hanover.
All schools founded by people of faith. All of which, today, provide outstanding education opportunities for students who attend them. Many other institutions across the country, and around the world, indicate that Christianity has a strong belief about a great education.
And now, about 50% of the American population lives with the belief that the universe is less than 10,000 years old. If ignorance is bliss, there are many happy people. The fault of this, however, is not on Christianity, but on some within Christianity who have decided it is better to revise anthropology, history, and science, than to live with conclusions they do not like.
In the 13th century, church theologians wrote and believed that the creation story in Genesis was a theological treatise on a science they could not explain. In the 21st century more people take the story as a scientific treatise in ways that are mind boggling. When attempts are made to demonstrate that parts of early Genesis were reactions to other, earlier, writings, history and anthropology are changed to make Genesis older.
Many Christians are intelligent, well educated people who do know and appreciate anthropology, history, and science and can live, well, in the modern world.
I’m a huge believer that people need to come to their own understandings of God and faith, and grapple with skepticism. We all do. I just hope that faith is not rejected because it is so often mis-represented.