Collision

Criticizing another person is not out of the question. It’s just that there are a few conditions to attend to before you start.

The first condition is to make sure this person is your close friend. Those are the only people worth criticizing—not just because they may actually listen, but also since you run a lower risk of making them into your sworn enemies.

If this person you feel an urge to criticize is not yet your close friend, you’ll need to spend some time with him. Find out everything that’s good about him, and go out of your way to help him out. Eventually, a real friendship will develop.

Also, you’ll need to ensure that this person has the same knowledge, understanding and perspective of right and wrong as you do before you can attack his decisions. If he doesn’t, you’ll need to spend some time learning and discussing together until you see each other’s point of view.

Once the two of you are in the same space in Torah and observance of mitzvot, and he’s your good friend to boot, then it’s okay to criticize—if necessary. And if you can remember what there was to criticize.

-Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
from How to Criticize and More on How to Criticize
Based on letters and talks of the Rebbe
Rabbi M. M. Schneerson
Chabad.org

“Any fool can criticize, condemn and complain and most fools do.”

-Benjamin Franklin

I was recently involved in a Facebook conversation started by a fellow who took exception to the King James Version of the Bible and, by inference, all of Christianity. He was very nice about it, but just because someone says “please” and kisses you on the cheek before punching you in the face doesn’t mean it doesn’t hurt.

OK, that’s a little unfair and he did say something about his motivation for “sharing” the photo criticizing the KJV Bible:

…if something can’t stand inquiry at every level, do we have any business basing huge belief systems on it?

I suppose that’s true and there are many people, both atheists and Christians, who spend a great deal of time examining the Bible and offering critical analyses of the text. I don’t mind serious scholars investigating the writings of Judaism and Christianity and providing illuminating and challenging questions, but at one point does the motivation of those who criticize people of faith become less than scholarly?

And then there’s reddit or more specifically, the sub-reddit on atheism. For those of you who don’t know, reddit is a social news website where the registered users submit content, in the form of either a link or a text “self” post. Other users then vote the submission “up” or “down”, which is used to rank the post and determine its position on the site’s pages and front page. (source: Wikipedia) Sub-reddits are pages within the larger whole that address specific topics of interest, such as music, movies, science, and atheism. However, the atheism sub-reddit isn’t defined so much by what atheists believe as by what they’re against which is, for the most part, Christianity (although the atheist sub-reddit page is probably doing it wrong).

I only bring up reddit because I read it daily and because they go out of their way to bash Christians daily. The fact that popular online social venues regularly criticize not only religious beliefs but religious believers shouldn’t exactly come as a shock. After all, atheism is probably the predominant “religion” in the west today (I say that last part somewhat ironically).

Besides, weren’t Christians told to expect this sort of behavior?

Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. –Matthew 5:11 (ESV)

Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. –James 1:2-4 (ESV)

However, I’d be remiss if I didn’t consider the other side of the coin. Just why is there so much criticism being directed at Christianity? There are a few reasons.

You can’t really be an atheist unless you are defining yourself against a theist, someone who believes in a god or gods of some sort. Since belief in a god or gods requires a belief in the supernatural, something you can’t examine objectively using the scientific method, atheists who are scientifically oriented define themselves in opposition to religious people who are considered irrational, superstitious, or just plain stupid.

Atheists who may or may not be scientifically oriented have another, wider motivation for not only refuting religion, but particularly being really angry at Christianity. Christians tend to be viewed (and not unjustly in many cases) as being pushy, self-righteous, opinionated, bigoted, hostile, narrow-minded, and generally “in-your-face” about what they believe.

The basis for some of this is “the great commission,” which we find in Matthew 28:19-20:

Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.

In other words, Christians are commanded to carry the “Good News of Jesus Christ” to everybody who will listen. That’s fine as far as it goes. If someone is curious about me and my faith, I’ll be glad to explain to them why I believe what I believe and to suggest (if they’re still willing to listen) that a life lived in relation with our Creator has many benefits.

But it doesn’t stop there for many believers.

I mentioned before that atheists tend to define themselves in relation to who they’re against. So does Christianity. Christianity defines itself against sin, or so it says. Christians pursue this definition to the degree that they can be very outspoken (depending on the denomination and how conservative they are) against the values and people currently held in high esteem by popular western culture.

The current popular debates between Christianity often are not based on whether God exists or not, but on the so-called “culture wars” between what some consider Christian values and the more popular, progressive viewpoint. These topics tend to center around social issues such as the rights of women, people of color, and particularly (since it’s been in the news a lot lately) gay rights and what is referred to as “marriage equality.”  Each side accuses the other of heavy-handed tactics in promoting their agenda and attempting to manipulate the minds and beliefs of the next generation.

As an example, I’m presenting an interesting photo (no, not the one below, you’ll have to click the link) I found on the atheist sub-reddit page. Although there’s no explanation regarding the photo of this person’s facial bruise and his bumper sticker, since it is posted on the atheist sub-reddit page, I can only assume it’s meant to indicate that a person of faith, possibly a Christian, assaulted this man because the person of faith believed the man in the photo was gay.

This plays into the reputation Christians have in the secular world relative to gays (even though the Bible doesn’t specifically command a Christian to give a gay man a black eye). To say that this particular (assumed) example of “Christian hostility” is unfair and possibly inaccurate is obvious, but to be fair, we have been rather oppressive at times in our treatment not only of gay people, but of any person who doesn’t measure up to the particular standards of the church, however those standards are understood.

In other words, religious people and non-religious people are capable of being unfair and critical. Religious people and non-religious people are easily offended and need to strike back against the person or organization that offered the offense. Religious people and non-religious people believe their particular system of beliefs are right, correct, represent basic reality, and are not only fact but truth.

What do religious people and non-religious people have in common.

They’re all people.

It’s important to remember (curb your dogma for a second) that we all operate inside of systems. Having a particular religious orientation means you are operating within that system and are subject to all of the conditions imposed by that system. Having an orientation toward atheism means you are operating within that system and are subject to all of the conditions imposed by that system. Sure, religion tends to believe that it is a container for truth while atheism tends to believe that it is a container for fact, but both are systems and the people within them will go to great lengths to defend their beliefs including attacking people who hold differing beliefs.

If you’re a Christian and an atheist says or does something that offends you, hurts your feelings, or makes you angry, that happens because you are human. Your faith is important to you and when it’s attacked, it’s like someone has just jabbed you in the eye with a sharp stick. If you’re an atheist and a Christian says or does something that offends you, hurts your feelings, or makes you angry, that happens because you are human. Your beliefs are important to you and when they’re attacked, it’s like someone has just jabbed you in the eye with a sharp stick.

I’m not here to “prove” that Christianity is right or wrong or that atheism is right or wrong. I’m here to say that we are spending a tremendous amount of time defining ourselves by who and what we are against and going out of our way…all of us, to hurt as many people as we can in the process, whether we think that’s our motivation or not.

Since atheism has no formal moral or ethical code attached to it, I can’t hold atheists to any standard of right or wrong. If an atheist wants to go out of his or her way to hurt a Christian, Jew, Muslim, I can’t blame them too much. After all, they are only acting according to human nature.

However, Christianity does come with a formal moral and ethical code (which varies a bit depending on denomination) and I can (and will) hold Christians to a moral and ethical standard. If you’re a Christian and you’re going out of your way to hurt someone just because you can, I’m going call you on it. That’s not “church bashing,” that’s calling believers to return to behaving as we were taught by Jesus and his example.

As I recall, when Jesus became angry, he was usually criticizing the religious authorities around him, not unbelievers and sinners. He used to hang out with sinners, eat with them, talk with them, and provide charity for them. If he defined himself at all, it was in comparison to the standards of the One who sent him, not against the people around him.

So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father does, that the Son does likewise. –John 5:19 (ESV)

No one is born a Christian. Unlike Judaism, we don’t have a biological, genetic, inheritance from our “fathers.” We each come to know God through the example of our Master and teacher at some point in our existence. Then we spend the rest of our lives trying to figure out what that means by acting out of our understanding and Christ’s example. We don’t always do such a great job of it, unfortunately.

But since no one is born a Christian, that means anyone who isn’t a Christian might come to faith one day. If we are obligated to share our “good news” with everyone else, we need to make sure we are really sharing good news and not criticism, judgmentalism, hostility, and bigotry. We must remember that we have been taught to share the good news by feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, and visiting the sick and imprisoned, and there are penalties against us when we fail to do so. (Matthew 25:31-46)

Rabbi Freeman said, The first condition is to make sure this person is your close friend. Those are the only people worth criticizing—not just because they may actually listen, but also since you run a lower risk of making them into your sworn enemies. In other words, all of the time we (believer, atheist, whatever) spend on the web criticizing other people and their beliefs isn’t going to change anything. No one will listen let alone change their minds just because someone they’ve never met thinks they’re either godless or superstitious.

I have no hope of changing anyone as a result of today’s “morning meditation,” either. But who knows? Maybe by advocating that all parties put down their guns, knives, and boxing gloves, maybe we can temporarily arrive at an uneasy truce. In the end, we all want to know the same things.

Who am I and what am I doing here? Is this all there is, or is there something more?

I’m pretty sure bashing people who don’t share our belief system won’t answer those questions.

This is the first part of a series that continues in Repairing Life.

 

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3 thoughts on “Collision”

  1. Thank you James, the criticizing of every aspect of life especially from the Christian community towards the office of the President of the U.S. The constant slander of him and his family is gone way beyond any Biblical standards of how Christians shoud behave in public and in private. From the streets, news and the pulpit. The bigotry and hatred towards people of color, alternative lifestyes or religious beliefs that eminate from our leaders in politics and pastors leading several thousands or just a few perishioners is so far out of line to the teaching of our Lord and Savior its like rebelling against our very creator.

  2. I hadn’t really considered Christian criticism of politicians, but I can see that it would fit. We have Hebrews 13:17 which says, “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.” (ESV) and these words from the Talmud (quoted from sacred-texts.com which says the following:

    Rabbi Hanina the priest says: Pray for peace of the rulers, because if it were not for the fear of them, each would devour the other alive.

    I know it’s difficult for believers to not complain about politics when everyone else does, but we do have examples that we are to support and not deride our leaders.

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