Saturday, November 13, 2010

Reflection on a funeral - and a perspective-check for militant atheists

This week I went to my aunt's funeral. My uncle lives out of state, so I was glad to see he had a huge group of people who were there for him.

My aunt's health had failed in a long and drawn-out process that so often happens with cancer. At the memorial service I was glad to hear that some of the people there -- people from my aunt and uncle's Bible study group -- had been able to come over and sit with my aunt while my uncle ran errands when she had become too weak to take care of herself. After her death, they had helped to pick the outfit my aunt would wear for the viewing; I was glad my uncle didn't have to do that alone. When all the relatives from out-of-town came for the viewing -- and all the people who loved my aunt came for the viewing -- there was a remarkably large group of people there. At the funeral home on the night of the viewing, their church Bible study group coordinated and brought enough food for everyone to have a meal, which was no small thing given the number of people. The next day after the funeral service, again the church Bible study group coordinated and brought enough food for everyone to have a meal.

The whole time I was impressed by their kindness, their gentleness, their thoughtfulness. They went out of their way to include me and make me feel welcome. They shared one good story after another about my aunt. I never lacked for someone there for me, and neither did my daughter, even though the majority of them had never met us before. And coming back home, I didn't doubt for a minute that they would be there for my uncle -- because they were already there for him, unasked, and had been there for him all along.

And I get back home and the message boards and propaganda publications with the militant atheists are all the same: Christians are dangerous and imbalanced and vicious; raising your children that way is abusive; religious people are a threat to civilization and decency everywhere. And all I could think is, "What the blazes is wrong with you people?" How can you heap that much nastiness and abuse on some of the kindest people on the planet? Or have you seriously never met religious people in real life, and are forming your opinions mainly based on prejudice and propaganda? Make no mistake, the people who behave the way these people did are the real and devoted followers of Jesus Christ. And if someone can look at those good, kind, down-to-earth people who have devoted their lives to going out of their way to help others, and think they're warped and malicious and dangerous, then what the blazes is wrong with this picture?


Martin LaBar said...

I lead a sheltered life, I guess -- I don't see those publications or bulletin boards.

It sounds like I'm better off that way.

Howard said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Howard said...

Hmmm...I'm not sure the problem is just a few hardened atheists. The Mockingbird Blog did a venn diagram last month of some of the most popular searches on Google, and amongst them were 'Why are Christians so stupid/judgmental/ignorant/intolerant/annoying" etc. Listening to my 'new' local Christian community radio station this weekend, I can see why - it exhibits ALL of these traits in abundance, but NONE of what the Gospel is truly all about, revealing the love of God:

People are desperate for the genuine, as so well expressed in this song:

"What you look for in a stranger's eyes
Is if he sees through your disguise
How we long to be revealed
To be known we might be healed

Send it out into the universe
A humble plea, a wish, a broken verse
Be the seed that lands inside the cracks
Seek the sun and it shines back
It shines backs".

What You Look For by Mary Chapin Carpenter.

Anonymous said...
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Weekend Fisher said...

Hi John

There have been some people who claim the name of Christ who do the exact opposite of what he taught and do things that Christ condemned; it's not reasonable to blame Christ for someone doing what he condemned instead of what he said.

For everyone who actually follows Jesus, the only possible effect of following such teaching is good.

The militant atheists with the inflammatory and hateful rhetoric could use some experience of people who follow Jesus' teachings.

As for the rest -- you're welcome to post as you like on your own blog; on this blog I won't be a public forum for hateful content.

Take care & God bless
Anne / WF

Weekend Fisher said...

Hi Howard

I've met Christians who I think have lost sight of Christ, sure, and that I think are doing more harm than good. But compared to most Christians, I think their numbers are relatively small in my experience. Most people can't make the mental leap from "love your neighbor, bless those who curse you" to using the same as an excuse to be nasty.

In my experience, most of us stand up to trolls whenever we find them and try to teach them a better way.

Try this as a two-part thought experiment: of all the Christians you know in person, what percentage are earnestly trying their best? And of all the persons you know who are really wide of the mark, what percentage of them are people you know only in impersonal forums / media / don't know in person / might never have heard of if it weren't for mass communication?

With me, I personally know maybe 2 Christians who are that type of serious discredit to the name of Christ -- out of hundreds that I know. So probably less than 1%, would be my guess.

But the anti-Christian Christians do seem to get a lot of publicity.

Take care & God bless
Anne / WF

Weekend Fisher said...

Hi Martin

Definitely better off that way. Wonder if you read Dear John before I deleted his comment?

Take care & God bless
Anne / WF

Howard said...

My concern (re:the Google info) was not with how we (you or I) see Christians, but how our generation, often rightly, are picking up on the failure of much of contemporary Christianity to station itself where it should. To refer to the Mockingbird blog discussion on this again:

Here's an article that quotes "the executive Director of Alpha USA" (hardly a "liberal," IOW!) as saying that "A whole generation of 16- to 29-year-olds hold a negative view of Christians. Only 16 percent have a positive view of the church. That’s a whole generation being lost unless we do something about it."

Another article, this time quoting an editor at Christianity Today, has some interesting things to say about why young people are leaving the church, via the book Generation Ex-Christian: Why Young Adults Are Leaving the Faith….and How to Bring Them Back.

And other research (Bana) is equally as troubling:
"The most frequent response, however, was the inability to think of a single positive contribution made by Christians in recent years. One out of every four respondents (25%) said they could not recall anything of this nature. Skeptics (34%), unchurched adults (33%), and Independent voters (29%) were more likely than other people to fall into this response category".

This data really begins to touch on the issue - that much which currently defines itself as 'Christianity' is very wide of that mark.

Weekend Fisher said...

Hi Howard

I have to sympathize with those who have a negative view of church. My own church frustrates me fairly often. I think we've got some institutionalized lukewarmness going, and some misdirection away from Jesus' own priorities built into the system. That's why there are so many para-church groups, and why Christian charities are often run outside of Christian churches.

Still, even for my own church -- open to legitimate criticism as it is -- the most appropriate critique of our church would probably be irrelevant not abusive or evil. And it makes itself irrelevant by misdirecting its energies. I think if a church picked up Jesus' mission as its own (really, not just claim to do so), it would have more people coming than it knew what to do with.

If you had to pick one thing that you think most needs changing, what would you pick?

Take care & God bless
Anne / WF

Howard said...

I easily belong to the 'critical' camp, but, I believe, for good reason.

If we're failing to provide 'salt and light' to the world (the relevance of the person and work of Jesus Christ to both believer and sinner), then we have little meaningful value.

Our lives together need to truly be nurtured and sustained from that source, from the treasures of grace, abundantly bestowed through the gospel, but so much 'spirituality' is, in effect, detached from Him that often, we cannot feed the flock or offer a 'savor' of Christ to the world.

Many decades in the church has convinced me that, either due to general neglect or (as I've often witnessed) the leaven of false teaching, the major work of evil is to stem such riches, often at the very place it should be freely and constantly made available, leaving us in our ill-health and thus deprived, unable to either grow or aid others to do so.

What is to be done? What one thing would remedy our poverty? I can only offer a few wise words, penned by another:

"The more genuine and deeper our community becomes, the more will everything else between us recede, the more clearly and purely will Jesus Christ and His work become the one thing that is vital between us. We have one another only through Christ, but through Christ we do have each other, wholly, and through eternity". Bonhoeffer.