The Great Falling Away
When asked, people just make God up because they have never taken the question seriously. It is not an informed decision and it is not a serious commitment. When you believe something, in lives in you. It seeps out of your pores. It defines you. It liberates you. It restricts you. It demands things of you. God is a banana? Fine. I’m not here to argue with your belief system. I’m just asking you to stop wasting my time with your made-up philosophy. The fact is, most people don’t believe anything, Christians least of all.
The Face of American Christianity
I am nervous and wary of Joel Osteen—who may well be a perfectly decent and sane individual but whose effervescent smile disturbs me greatly. Being a Christian is not about being happy. This misconception is deeply embedded, believers and non-believers alike assuming knowing Christ means you need to be happy all the time, like you’re on Prozac. How many people are suffering, right now, today, in your church, who nonetheless paste on a phony smile and mask their pain because that’s what they think Christianity is? I go into Walmart and there he is—Osteen and his million-dollar smile. If I had a bazillion dollars, I’d be smiling, too. He has so much money that it gets in the way of my receiving what he has to share with me. I can’t identify with him. His wife slapped a black stewardess. I’m not trying to hear what Joel Osteen has to say to me. I don’t smile much. I certainly don’t smile like Osteen. I don’t think many sane, stable people paste on the phony smile, the Osteen smile, that I see everywhere I look in Evangelical Christianity, on every book cover, on every website. For me, the commercialized evangelical smile radiates phoniness. It makes it harder for people to believe, to accept Jesus Christ, because it evokes a kind of Stepford Religion. It is not reasonable, not rational, for people to smile like that all the time. But that's the image projected by most Evangelicals. It is their suit of armor, the phony smile. why couldn't we see a thoughtful Osteen? A contemplative Osteen? A stoic Osteen? Human beings live their lives in a multiplicity of emotional states. Evangelical Christianity presents only one: a creepy disconnect from the human experience with the implicit message that, if you are not happy all the time, then you are not a Christian. Please get this right: I am not saying Joel Osteen is a phony. I am saying Joel Osteen Smiles A Lot, and that far too many people—Christian believers or not—assume that’s what being born again means: neckties, 80’s-era perms and phony smiles. Anyone who does not fit a certain profile, the movie people have playing in their head about what a Christian should look like, is often dismissed or presumed to not know God. How can I know God? I almost never smile.
This is how Protestant Christianity in
America looks to me:
Christianity without Christ. We have, instead, a Christ-figure
or Christ-idol: the pacifist, effeminate white guy in the
flowing robes who comes across as weak and ineffectual. A
source of family warmth as we gather Sundays, but not relevant
in any sense beyond its benign symbolism. Christ becomes an
activist only in the hearts and minds of the Christian fringe,
most of whom distort His meaning and message by committing acts
of heinous intolerance and imposing a fascist, dictatorial
legalism upon anyone not in precise agreement with their
conservative views. Paul said, “If it is possible, as far as it
depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” [Romans 12:18] He
didn’t say “live in peace with those who agree with you,” or
even, “live in peace with all Christians.” There is absolutely
no biblical foundation for the Crusades or the Spanish
Inquisition, so-called “holy” wars waged under the banner of
Jesus Christ. It is utter nonsense. Likewise, there is
absolutely no biblical foundation for what the conservative,
fundamentalist, evangelical “Christian” groups do, either:
brainwash the faithful while imposing Christian values on the
world by force.
Most people badmouthing Christianity don’t know what Christianity is. They know what they’ve seen. They know the Osteen smile, the bigotry and intolerance. They know what they’ve been told. The more informed Christianity detractors usually do know what they are talking about, and we can arm wrestle them on the merits. But I’m talking about the average, clueless teen, the average under-30-year old with their invented philosophy of “spiritual awareness” or what have you. The universal constant: Step One: Deny Jesus. “I don’t believe in Jesus, but I’m a spiritual person.” “I believe God is a banana.” Idiots. Not idiots because they deny Christ but idiots because they are lying. They don’t actually believe God is a banana, because, if they did, their lives would reflect that. I hate, hate, hate spending a half hour listening to this babble only to find these same kids, these same young men and women, betraying the very values they allegedly espouse.
When you believe something, in lives in you. It seeps out of your pores. It defines you. It liberates you. It restricts you. It demands things of you. God is a banana? Fine. I’m not here to argue with your belief system. I’m just asking you to stop wasting my time with your made-up philosophy if you don’t actually live your life according to what you claim you believe. The fact is, most people don’t believe anything, Christians least of all. Nothing infuriates me more than people claiming to believe in Christ but who refuse to follow Him. As annoyed as I am by the phony “I Meditate Therefore I Am” nonsense people spew when asked about who they believe God is, I am doubly if not triply furious at the wingnuts, the diluted pupils, saying, “Jesus Christ is Lord,” who then go out and hate gays and hurl racist rhetoric at the president. Write this down someplace: these people are not Christians.
The Universal Constant: Step One: Deny Jesus.
God Is A Banana
American youth live largely in the opposite extreme, their view of
Christ being almost no view at all. The mainstream of the
protestant church, as a whole, reveals little if anything about
Christ to young persons. Most young persons are far too
self-absorbed and invested in their own belly buttons to have
much of a thought about Who God might be or even if He exists.
Most young people I have ever met have formed their own theology
based on their vast fifteen or seventeen years of walking around
and yawning. Having not turned a single page of text in any
serious study of philosophy or spirituality, most teens and
young adults I know have formed some opinion about God and Jesus
and have carved out their own doctrine based on their life
experience of sleeping through boring sermons.
Stop any teen on the street and ask him, and he’ll likely stumble through cringe-inducing uninformed assertions about God, Jesus Christ, and his own place in eternity, creating some image of God or Not-God the same way a child draws stick figures of her parents with Crayolas—at will. I mean, I actually might even respect the bizarre and frankly stupid “god is a jellybean” doctrines youth and young adults claim to live their lives by if they actually lived their lives by them. The fact is, when asked, people just make God up because they have never taken the question seriously enough to do any investigating at all. It is not an informed decision and it is not a serious commitment. When asked, most of these young people can and will rattle off some existential nonsense and then go right on hating, go right on doing damage to their lives and the lives of others in violation of the very things they claim to believe. Why? Because they don’t actually believe them. They’re just making stuff up, flapping their gums. They are led by no light, they follow no path. They have no code, no set of restrictions and guidelines by which they live their lives. All they know is, this Jesus stuff isn’t for them.