Many people in these troubled times state that Christianity no longer serves a purpose. On the eve of Christmas, I could think of no better time to discuss this.
While I concede it can present all of us, as it has done for me, many conundrums if we embrace it, there is also little doubt that if we all embraced its holy book, especially the second half that describes the life and teaching of a carpenter who walked this earth over 2000 years ago, this world would be in a much better and happier place.
The reality is that if everybody lived by the teaching of Jesus Christ outlined in the new testament, then we could go close to achieving heaven on earth. There would be no killing, no greed, no lust for power, no agendas, no adultery or cheating on a partner and instead, we would enjoy plenty of peace, love, forgiveness and respect for others.
Unlike many of my fellow Christians, I do not want to preach to others from a self-imposed pedestal of piousness, rather I would prefer to share my reflections on what I obtained from reading the new testament in my own time and space and through that coming to my own conclusions. I believe dogma can be more unhelpful than helpful at times and while it certainly believe it has its place, I also believe I am a child of my creator and every one of his children can extract a different message or even conversation with his creator through the courage to simply read the new testament unhindered by Dogma.
I believe for all of us this can be as different as the lives we live, the different talents and potential we all have within us and the choices we make, so at times dogma can be inconvenient unless you seriously serve your faith and church. In our day to day lives, for me, it can actually be a roadblock in living the way Christ wants us to.
While I am a Christian and I believe in that faith, I am in so many ways a failed Christian. I fall short on so many measures of what a good Christian should be. Through Christ, I can be forgiven for these failings and hopefully I can do that by figuring out how I can best serve him through my life.
I could never be a servant of God's church, I am realistic enough to know this. I know I cannot be the type that turns the other check or offers forgiveness easily to those that have caused me offense, in fact, the more I read the new testament in what was my conversation with God, the more I realised my failings and what I was simply not capable of achieving.
At the same time though, it helped me realise my strengths, natural strengths that are god-given to all of us and through those strengths could help me to do what I can to make others aware of God and Christ's message to all of us. The passage that resonated with me the most from the bible, was the beatitudes (Matthew 5:3-12). This passage pretty much to me dictated a roadmap to heaven, so it caught my attention.
Sadly the more I read it, the more I realised that most of it didn't apply to me and at first I have to admit it that it was a little stressful. There are eight beatitudes; one of them had to be right for me and after plenty of reading and research, I concluded that the last of the beatitudes was my only chance.
“Blessed are they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven."
Throughout my adult life, I could rightly claim that through my actions as both a sports coach and sports administrator that for some reason I had been of the receiving end of some unfair persecution. So a little more from spreading the word of Christ surely wasn’t going to hurt me too much, so why not start there?
Also, my conservative views about life and politics have certainly cost me some friendships and ensured attacks on my integrity, which I have always found curious as I certainly treat others with a degree of respect mo matter their politics or their opinions. So, in consideration of all of this, I thought, “if I am going to receive criticism for my political and lifestyle beliefs then why not my religious ones as well?” To me, this would ensure that I meet at least one of the criteria of the beatitudes and in doing so I could at least make up for all my Christian failings. The theory sounded good at least and if that’s where the big fella was guiding me who was I to argue?
So here goes, why is the Bible relevant to today’s world, to today’s generations and these times.
Well, the first and most obvious reason is that we are all going to die and at its very core Christianity deals with the mystery of death and whatever comes afterwards. I always am amused when discussing this with an atheist, invariably I receive the comment that there is nothing after you die, you just die and that’s it, it’s all over. Well unless you have died and come back, my question to them is how would you know? To me even if such a momentous event as coming back from your own death occur wouldn’t that just prove life after death was a thing and the existence of big fella was a reality.
I lean more to the quote from Peter Pan, “To die would be an awfully big adventure” That fate awaits us all and to say we absolutely know what comes next is just conjecture. After reading the new testament though I am promised I will meet my parents once more, my departed friends and pets and that I will want for nothing and be surrounded by love and paradise. The optimistic side of me says that if I have to believe in something I will sign up that than believing in nothing.
When you put that to an atheist they never have an answer for that except something like “I suppose you believe in the tooth fairy as well.” To me if you have a choice in believing in nothing after death or you actually have the choice of believing that there is a better life after death for all of us if we want it, then why would you choose the lesser and more morbid of the two options?
That argument alone is enough reason to justify why our world needs Christianity, but just like some good some television shopping voiceover, “Wait there is more!”.
Just as importantly for me is the concept of justice. No matter how well our justice system works some evil bastards always fall through the cracks and get away with their various heinous crimes and sins. The concept that we all face judgement at our end of days for all our failings and evil acts appeals to me. Any person who gains from another person misery will have nowhere to hide, politicians, greedy corporates, corrupt union bosses, criminal bosses and more will be exposed for their corruption, lawlessness and their sins and all of them will have to face the music. Those cowards that engage in domestic violence will suffer at the hands of the judgement of the eternal, anybody who assaults, rapes or commits murder will receive the eye for an eye attitude and finally, I hope there is a special place in hell for those who abuse children, which considering what Jesus said about those perpetrators who would harm kids, I am very confident there is.
The justice that I believe in most, however, is Christ promise to raise up the poor, the hungry, the downtrodden, the homeless, the persecuted and those lost in spirit. You know those people we collectively fail daily across this planet.
Another reason that Christianity is needed now more than ever is the positive guidance it gives us on how to live our lives. If we all lived according to Christ teachings, there would be plenty of compassion, forgiveness, charity, assistance for the homeless, no hate, no racism, no cheating on partners, we would have politicians and leaders we could admire for their integrity and honesty and everybody would give each other a hand up rather than a foot on the throat.
People around the world would be putting the concept of making a dollar a second priority behind looking after the less well off, our environment and would treasure and respect all of god’s creatures ensuring we didn’t unnecessarily commit violence against innocent and defenseless animals for example. If we all lived according to Christ's teachings there would be no need for armies, nuclear arsenals or the billions upon billions of dollars governments around the globe spend on their defense forces each year.
We could spend all that money that on things such as health care, or research into curing diseases, innovation and invention to make our lives collectively better.
All of this is just the tip of an iceberg of everything good that could happen if every human on the globe embraced Christianity, Christ’s message and teaching and lived accordingly. We would achieve heaven on earth!
We never will achieve it though as God has given us what would be the greatest gift of all.
Despite knowing how fallible we are, despite knowing so many of us, as I have, will fail with our choices and actions through that freedom he has given, he gave it to us anyway. Think about that for a moment, how many humans have taken that gift of freedom to simply use it to deny freedom to others.
Fortunately when we stray from that path of freedom the second most important gift he has given us is that of his forgiveness if we are truly sorrowful. I am humbled by this one as I find it incredibly hard to forgive those who have done wrong by me or those that I care about. In fact, for me, it’s as close to impossible as it gets. Like I said I am a failed Christian.
So if there is so much good to be extracted from the Christian faith then why the controversy surrounding it? That’s the intriguing question and conundrum that is the faith that is Christianity. It should never be controversial.
Those that rail against Christianity always bring out the chestnut of priests and pedophilia and they are correct to condemn it, but any person, let alone priest who engages in this vile act, is ignoring the teaching of Christ as well as the promised retribution that’s coming their way. So to associate the faith with the sinner is an ignorant argument.
It has always been a mystery to me why so many have opposition to Christianity. This is especially so when a number of them bear even hatred to a faith that embraces, love, forgiveness, compassion and empathy for every human who has lived, does live or will live on this globe.
I can only put it down to the dogma that evolved in the various churches that grew out of Christianity and through the centuries of time. The fire and damnation preaching from people who should have known better, the injustices that were handed out by the Church through time, would have played a part. Despite these and other factors, I can’t help but think that people who pour their hatred upon my faith simply find it inconvenient and unhelpful to how they wish to live their lives. Rather than acknowledge that there is a better way of living it’s better to use defamation and to incite hatred against the thing that potentially stands in the way of their desires.
For some, the teachings of the church and many who serve it are things we cannot agree with or condone, but we as individuals should not rely on the opinions and preaching of others. Over seven billion people are living on this planet at the moment, how many more billions have come before us and how many more billions will follow. Despite this mass of humanity, I believe my creator has a different message and conversation for all of us to engage in. I also believe he can have a plan for us if we dare to have the courage to have that conversation.
To me, this is another brilliant mystery of the Christian faith. When I sat down with my biological father when he was alive, I engaged in conversations with him about all manner of things. Some of what he said I accepted, some I didn’t, I have no doubt the conversations he had with me were very different to those he had with my other brothers and sisters. I also have no doubt this is the same for those of us who take the time to have a conversation with our spiritual father. I know many of you think that’s nonsense, but I would argue this happens far more than you would think and through places and situations you would not be aware of.
As an example, every time you feel guilt over something you have done, every time you have an emotion listening to music or watching a film, every time your chest expands in joy and pride at the achievements of your children, or every time you feel gratitude for the unwavering loyalty and love sent your way from your family pet, I would argue you are also having a conversation with God.
For me I can be in bed on the couch, driving the car, on a bus, train or plane or just looking out a window and my brain can wander towards thoughts about life, the opportunities lost and those to come, I can think about my potential to achieve something through those opportunities whether they are to be good or bad achievements. To me, all of those are my conversations with God.
When I see a sunset or a sunrise, when I wade a river, walk in a rainforest, hike across mountain tops, listen to a child’s laughter or witness earth’s wildlife as it’s majestic best, through those magnificent then I believe that God is talking to me.
Throughout my life I have had too many coincidences, too many events, too many good people cross my path just as I needed them, to not believe that God also impacts on my life regularly. I also believe he tests me, not so much by my actions but by those who have negatively impacted against me. Through my life, as I have no doubt has happened with so many others, I have had people defame me, lie about me, steal things that I have built, misrepresented my intentions and use others that I care about to hurt me.
Even through all of that, I believe I am communicating with my spiritual father. He is asking me “What are you going to do? How are you going to react? Do you have it in you not to be vengeful? Not to judge others?” He has asked of me some bloody tough questions and I do not doubt that I have let him down often with my answers.
I may believe in Christianity and believe the world needs, but at the same time I am honest enough to realise that I am not a great Christian myself, I am not very good at forgiveness, I am not very good at letting go of my pride, I am pretty good at maintaining a grudge and these are all emotions and feelings that a good Christian does not harbour. For me, I simply cannot let them go and I have come to terms with it. There are so many better Christians than I could ever be, even if they have faith in Christianity or not. Some of the best Christians I know are in fact atheists. Some people who have no faith live a better Christian life that I am capable for instance.
What’s the point of going to church, observing holy days and ceremonies only to then break every covenant you have had with God in between those times? Think the mafia mob crime films or politicians who proclaim their faith only to jettison it when it is politically convenient to do so.
I learnt long ago being a Christian is far more about how you live your life than the Dogma surrounding the faith and as I was raised a Roman Catholic for me there was plenty of dogma growing up. Unlike others I won’t belittle the dogma of my church as I believe it has an important role, even for a person like me, it’s just not what I believe I was given my faith for.
I learned some time back despite all f my failings that I have just listed I was also given strengths, I was born stubborn, I always attacked anything I believed in with deep conviction, for whatever reason I have a deep well of resilience and despite the many setbacks in my life I will always find a way to bounce back. Finally, unlike so many I know, I have no real issue with criticism being directed at me. People can attack my faith, my beliefs and my actions and it is all water off a duck's back. The way I look at it is if they are attacking me, then they aren’t attacking someone else . It also helps that nobody can be more critical of me than myself, so my attitude is you want to have a go, then get in line, but just know that the line which embodies my critics stretches back a few blocks.
For me coming to terms with all of this was my longest conversation with my spiritual father. With all of my failings, how could I serve him using the strengths he has given me? That question, that conversation probably has been the hardest for me to come to terms with. Through so much of what I read in the bible, so much of what I listened to at church, so many of my conversations with myself, through all of that I came to understand that for me much of what was required of people in the bible I simply couldn’t accomplish.
Yet the beatitudes stayed with me and especially the last one.
“Blessed are they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven."
You see I can handle persecution, throughout my life I have had people persecute me for all sorts of things. On the other hand, many people have complimented me on having “the gift of the gab” which I find strange as I don’t believe that I am that blessed in that area. I do know from my coaching that I can motivate and mentor people, especially those younger than me and I also know I can put together an article or two.
So over a period of contemplation, I knew that compassion wasn’t my thing, nor chastity, forgiveness, turning the other cheek, love for fellow man or any of those soft emotional scenarios that seem attached to a Christian faith. The thing I knew I could do was to mount an argument, campaign for it and cop the persecution that would come my way. After all in some form or another that has happened to me since I was a kid.
The added attraction of securing the kingdom of heaven once my life here was done was pretty appealing as well.
So why I am I telling you this story about my conversations with God?
Why I am I sharing my beliefs in what some would think is a pretty vain attempt to make myself seem more important than I am (trust me I am not)?
Why am I risking ridicule from those who would think having a conversation with somebody you can’t see means I am more than a little unhinged?
The main reason is to encourage others to also have the courage to engage in this journey themselves.
I made this journey of self-discovery towards my spiritual father by myself. I was guided by others, in particular, my mother, a few teachers at schools, but certainly not many priests or religious brothers or sisters that crossed my path at my various catholic schools. In fact, during their sermons I found myself disagreeing with much of what they had to say, I still do.
No, I came to my conclusions through reading the bible (in particular the new testament), in my own time and my own place. That encouraged me to have those conversations with both God and Christ, and come to my own conclusions. I think for the reasons I have listed I have a little harder time with conversing with the Holy Spirit, but two out of three isn’t bad I guess.
No the reason I share my story is to let you know that even a person with as many failings as me, a person who has worried that for whatever reason he may not find his purpose in his faith or his life, a person who questioned whether he could have faith on many occasions. A person like me with his imperfections, weaknesses, sinfulness and lack of courage in self-reflection can find his purpose through Christ.
If I can do it, anybody can, you don’t need a church service, you don’t need the dogma of religion, you just need the courage to pick up Christ’s book and read it with an open heart and then prepare yourself for the conversation. The religious dogma and church attendance can come later as it has for me. You don’t need to be perfect, you just need to be human and to be the best human that you can, even if like me you may not have a good heart at times, at least let it be an open one. Do that and not only will you find your purpose but you will also realise why Christianity is now so more important, so more relevant and so more needed than ever before.
Have the courage to pick up the book, open the pages, open your heart and let the conversation begin.
For me I will continue to publish articles where Christianity is relevant to world events and demonstrates why we need it now more than ever. The rest I leave up to you
Have a Merry Christmas and safe New Year.