I want to quickly revisit the theme of my last post. I argued that most contemporary Christians in the West are practical atheists. I suggested that Christians — at least those under the influence of modernism — don’t really believe in the power of prayer to heal. This is a negative example of the point that I was making. However, I also think there is an upside to the fact that Christians don’t really believe their doctrines. In some cases, they aren’t being hypocritical; they’re just being better than their beliefs. Take for example, the doctrine of Hell conceived as everlasting torment. Many of the Christians I know are too humane to actually believe this in practice, even though they may profess it in the interests of doctrinal correctness.
I want to share a story that had a profound impact on me when I was growing up. I look back on this moment as key to my religious and intellectual development as a young man. A decade ago, my Uncle George passed away. He was an unbeliever, the only one on my mom’s side of the family; all the rest were what we might aptly call ‘fundamentalist’ Christians. I remember, after the funeral, we gathered together to pray as a family, which we often did. My mom (George’s sister) began to pray her usual evening prayer, but part way through she began to cry and said something like this: “Lord, please remember what a good person George was, and please bring him unto yourself, into a place of peace and light.” I still find this sentiment beautiful even though I am now without faith. In this moment, my mom was better than the beliefs she professed. Her humanity was shining through. She knew this was bad theology from a Christian point of view. We don’t get into heaven because we’re ‘good’ people. But, nevertheless, she said those words. And I’ve never forgotten them.
I don’t hate Christians. I don’t think they’re all a bunch of contemptible hypocrites (though some are). For the most part, I think they’re just people. People like me. Most of them are good, better in fact than the beliefs they profess. Sometimes they act in a way inconsistent with those beliefs. But that’s not always their hypocrisy; sometimes, it’s their humanity.