22.6.08

The religious supermarket: young Christians

In The Woods - 16 July 2005

Does this routine strike you as rather odd? Wake up, go to Church, come home for Sunday lunch, polish the crucifix on the mantelpiece. Squeeze into your short skirt, doll your makeup, go out, get plastered and wake up at two in the afternoon, not remembering who you might have got with. To me, it sounds like the daily schedule of a schizophrenic, dabbling in two separate lives that are extremely at odds.

As a devout atheist (oh, the irony) with an interest in history, Christianity seems something to abhor. Just look at the crusades, the Vatican’s support for the Nazis, via the Inquisition, and you’ve just experienced a ghost ride on the horrors and countless deaths on behalf of the Christian faith over the centuries. Any sort of unfairness, be it poverty, apartheid or the slave trade, was justified by “In the Name of God” or “The Ends Justify the Means”. A very vulnerable and pious society allowed this sort of injustice to occur. Even now, President Bush tries to rally his country behind the war in Iraq and the ‘War on Terror’ by using these mantras, and by stressing that we are fighting an “evil” force.

I remained agnostic until the Boxing Day Tsunami in 2004, when I realised one of three things about God had to be true. God created the disaster himself, God knew the disaster was imminent but was powerless to stop it (thus not omnipotent), or God was unaware of the imminent Tsunami and was powerless to prevent it (not omnipotent nor omniscient).

But it is surprising quite how many people still believe in an omniscient presence. They don’t call themselves Christians, or Muslims, or Sikhs, or Jews, or Hindus or Buddhists, but they do believe that something is out there. By not belonging to any organised establishment, they are exempt from the rules of religion and can live like ordinary people without feeling the urge to confess.

I went to a party last year, where a lot of the ‘Crusader Club’ types were downing WKDs and dancing around like it was the birth of Christ. I seem to recall in my drunken stupor, asking one of them, “Won’t you burn in hell?” I was joking, but she replied, “I don’t care! The only good thing about the bible is God.” I remember dancing with her afterwards and nothing more was said, but in the morning I got to thinking, why do people go to Church and claim they are Christians if they are so willing to break the rules?

An over-simplified explanation would argue that these people have either been brainwashed by their parents and are merely growing up, or simply go to Church to appease their parents. But these people are intelligent. They know they are free to not believe, or free to believe without belonging.

Edward Rickard, the author of the material taught at his ministry, explains how “the fateful decision was made not to classify TV as another form of cinema or theatre, both of which were already condemned by the rules. The rules became very inconsistent. The whole system of rules lost credibility.”

So, Christians were not allowed to drink or smoke, but they could stare at endless commercials for beer, wine, and cigarettes. They were not permitted to dance, but they could look at the dancing featured in variety shows. They were prohibited from playing cards, but they could see game shows in which contestants gambled. They were forbidden to watch a Hollywood movie shown at a theatre, but they could watch the same movie telecast into their homes.

Churches today would not emphasise “the rules” as much as they would advocate positive rules, such as “love thy neighbour” (and the ones they want to be characterised by). Of course, the task facing Christianity today is discovering new sins that the modern world has created. The difficulty lies in the fact that any illegitimate pastimes or pleasures may not have existed in Biblical times.

One of my ex-girlfriends prefers to think of Christianity as “her faith” rather than a “religion” because the latter connotates rules. I remember saying she was in denial. The squabble stopped there, as did the relationship.

But the thrust of my argument still remains; if you believe in God, why go to Church and risk condemnation? It is perfectly reasonable to believe without belonging, if the sort of lifestyle you desire is opposed to the Church norm. Perhaps they’ll work it out at Crusaders.