Faith seeking understanding, my personal journey towards a deeper knowledge of and intimacy with God, the cosmos, humanity and myself through thoughts, words and (occasionally) images, is a series of [hopefully] daily reflections I’m writing with the purpose of publishing something on a regular basis for others to read, either here, at joncarllewis.com or among my writings at Medium.com.
I’ve been several types of Christian in my life. Even now I continue to be a certain type of Christian, a particular kind of Christian with a set of beliefs and (more important to me) practices that I intend to keep me firmly centered within the train of the followers of Christ. Therefore, it is with a mixture of amusement and horror that I read about other people’s experiences with this set of phenomena so many people try to understand as one, big, coherent thing called “Christianity.”
I was mostly dismayed tonight as I read the 105 responses to an article published in the NY Times: “‘Everyone Was Taught to Be Accepting.’ Readers Share Stories of Their Christian Educations,” compiled by Dan Levin. The “article,” published online on 29 January 2019, was actually a compilation of quotes from young people about their experiences with Christian education. This was all in response to the viral Twitter hashtag #ExposeChristianSchools which [the introduction to the article states] was created by Chris Stroop to call out the type of Christian school defended by Mike Pence, the type which is bigoted against LGBTQ students and won’t even let them openly attend the school.
There were painfully few quotes in the article, from a very narrow range of ages, but the comments were filled with different perspectives which fell mostly into two categories which I would characterize as “pro Christian” and “anti-religion.” Far fewer were the voices in the middle, although they were there, mostly making the point (which I think is somewhat valid) that there is no such thing as one, monolithic Christianity—or at least not one with a uniformity of belief or a consistent set of practices. In fact, it struck me that the people most likely to argue for a monolithic Christianity, defined by both orthodoxy and orthopraxy, are precisely the narrow range of Christian that anti-religionists like to point to in order to prove their claims. There is a certain irony in the fact that both this narrow band of Christian and anti-religionist are in complete agreement about precisely the type of faith does or does not exist.
But I maintain that this is a severely limited world view on both of their parts. Christianity, like any system of belief or practice, is a human phenomenon—at least to the extent that it is human beings interacting with each other in an attempt to interact with something larger than their individual selves. As such, it has not only the potential, but the certainty that its effects will be an all-too-human mixture of positive and negative. All human institutions fall prey to this condition. Humans are a mixed bag. Each human is a mixed bag of both impulses and actions, and so the institutions and societies we create will each have a tendency to produce good and evil fruit, whether we like it or not.
All that to say, I wish there were more nuance in the ways we understand the beliefs and rituals of others, both as parts of a larger whole and as incredibly idiosyncratic expressions of the same. I wish that sometimes people would ask, for example, not “Is X system of beliefs or rituals good or bad, black or white?” but strive to frame questions in ways that allow for nuance and humanity and diversity of responses beyond an artificial binary that only serves to divide rather than promote understanding. I understand the tendency to think that my experience of a phenomenon is the definitive experience and cannot legitimately be understood any other way. But other people have their experiences, too, and it only enriches my life to hear as many, varied experiences as I can to provide myself a picture of humanity rich enough to bear the weight of the possibility of reconciliation and understanding.
I believe this is possible. I believe this is a way to discuss all of our human institutions and creations.
And one question I would like to see asked in the context of this discussion is not so much “Is Christianity ___,” but “Which Christianity are we talking about?” and even better: “What is your experience and understanding of what we talk about when we talk about Christianity?”
How we frame the question makes all the difference between potentially drawing each other closer and definitely pushing each other away.
Thank you for your time and attention.
I’d love to know your thoughts on what you’ve read.
Please comment, below, or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
May God richly bless you on your journey.