Saturday, April 28, 2007

Fear of Christians -- Especially "Good" Ones

This is a response to a letter to the editor in the 28 April 2007 edition of the Charleston, South Carolina, Post and Courier entitled “Good Humans”.

It puzzles me that anyone would claim offense at people defining themselves or others, as "good Christians” (or “good Muslims”, or “good Jews”, etc.) The author of the letter is quick to note that “There isn't a day we don't read about a good Christian falling from grace, stealing, lying, leading us to war and committing violent acts.” The remainder of the letter indicts Christianity for having beliefs that the author considers exclusive, and implicitly charges Christianity (or, at least, Christians) with not respecting all people.

We should remember several things in this regard.

Firstly, failure to hold to a standard does not mean the standard is deficient. A Christian “falling from grace” is no more an indictment against the values Christianity teaches than a politician taking a bribe to change a vote is an indictment against representative democracy, or an embezzler cheating the company is an indictment against the natural value of work. If the author seriously believes that we should laud “good humans” there is no reason to reject lauding “good Christians”, or “good democrats” or "good republicans” or “good grocery store workers”.

Secondly, the main thrust of the letter that Christianity is to be condemned because it promotes “a belief system that excludes millions” is a gross mischaracterization of Christian teaching. Yes, “outside the Church there is no salvation” (St Augustine); however, Christianity has always kept open the door that those who do not know Christ through no fault of their own may also find salvation. What’s more, the converse statement, “inside the Church there is salvation”, reveals no guarantee that everyone who professes to be Christian will be saved. Hypocrisy is condemned within Christianity with the same vigor as by those outside the Church who condemn it.

Thirdly, to praise someone for being a “good human” implies that there are standards to which one can measure the behavior and attitude of the human in question. From where do these standards come? What is the source of those values that we acclaim as worthy of assent? Do they not all derive from the faith of Jews and Christians throughout history; lives that bear witness to eternal values and immutable truths and that call us to account and inform our consciences?

Fourthly, the charge to be more “inclusive” is a morally relativistic double-speak for silencing the voice of faith in our public discussion of values. Faith, and the realization that there are some values in life bigger than my meager desires, confronts me with immutable truths: “thou shalt not kill”, “thou shalt not steal”, “thou shalt not bear false witness”. Society cannot continue without these and the correlative truths also taught by Faith. The “I’m okay, you’re okay” morality of the nineteen sixties has already been exposed as the irrational hedonistic “you’re okay as long as you please me” mindset that only leads to sorrow and alienation.

Those advocating politically correct pseudo-inclusiveness have lost sight of the fact that the God who is love calls us each to an experience of real love, not some immature infatuation that is ultimately self-centered, sterile and fatal. This divine love requires a mature loving response that is itself sacrificial. The paradox that the irrational relativists do not grasp is that it is only in the context of that sacrificial love that true human freedom can ever be achieved.

Instead of condemning “good Christians” because one does not agree with certain Christian beliefs, one should applaud “good Christians” as well as “good Muslims”, “good Buddhists”, and “good” people in general for contributing to the betterment of society itself. (“Good Christians” help me every day in my own struggle with hypocrisy.)

Not only do the values Christians hold strengthen our culture, they enhance our appreciation of the humanity that we all share. Society has no reason to fear Christianity for “what the soul is in the body, that Christians are in the world.” (Letter to Diognetus, circa 150 a.d.)

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