Friday, January 16, 2009

Dubious Witness in a Skeptical World

Unlike most of my friends in America, my evangelical, Bible-believing, pro-life, pro-family Christian friends in India are not fully politically conservative in the American sense. And I applaud their ability to be objective in their thinking, separating the politically expedient promises from real ones, considering their pro-life views to be inclusive of all people, including the aged, the imprisoned, and of course the unborn. But something that struck me as I talked to some of them was that they seemed, as many are apt to do, to exclude from true faith those Christian leaders who failed their ideal.

I've often felt that disowning fallen brethren is a sure way to set oneself up for future embarrassment. Ths is true for all kinds of fallen brethren: Christian leaders who fall prey to sexual immorality, politicians who fight unpopular wars, the ones who were involved in the Crusades in the Middle ages, everyone. Why do I feel this way?

I see the errors into which I have fallen myself and see that by the clear light of God's leading and word that they were milestones to understanding God. The moment we try to appear on the right side of popular opinion we can be sure that we are going off the track. A friend recently signed up into an online community on Facebook that celebrated the departure of President Bush in a gloating manner. While I can understand their desire to celebrate a victory they were hoping for, I'm unable to understand why a Christian would endorse such a childish and disrespectful initiative. Another friend told me, "these people (Mr. Bush and other Christians in his administration) cannot be Christian."

As I think about this, many reasons come to mind as to why we do this: embarrassment in identifying with an unpopular leader or a less-educated Christian, sin in the lives of these fallen idols, ill-informed opinions, a desire to exclude those who misunderstand Scripture and may other such factors.

Given that we could easily have been in their shoes due to ignorance, sin, poor judgment, incompetence or misunderstanding, I strongly believe that we have a responsibility to own up and hold in perspective many things:

1. An unconditional rejection of sin within and outside of ourselves.
2. An unconditional acceptance that Christians could go and have gone wrong even when they believe they are acting in accordance with God's will.

If we accept the above two conditions, we will need to answer a larger question that an unbelieving friend asked me recently. If religion can be so easily misconstrued then it can be easily manipulated. Could not this mean that:

1. The way we do things in any religion today may be not authentic at all?
2. If religion can be so easily misinterpreted is it a worthwhile course to understand religion at all?

Perhaps we are intimidated by such questions. But clearly these are not a believer's questions, nor an honest skeptic's questions at all. I have some common ground with a skeptic in a way- I embrace the Christian worldview because I'm fully convinced of it and because Jesus found me 13 years ago in my sin and demonstrated his forgiveness to me. It is not because I'm credulous that I'm a Christian.

The above two questions are naysayers' questions. These are people who are not actually looking for reason at all. They simply want to deny Christianity a place in their lives or often, others' lives. We should not be troubled by these questions.

Many say that faith is not found by reason. While I disagree that faith is unreasonable there is an element of truth to the statement that faith cannot be found by reason. Simply because logical, scientific, historical, archaeological and other evidences can be found for christianity (as indeed they have been to a reasonable extend), a person cannot embrace christianity.

A skeptic needs to have other questions answered which may not have anything to do with reason at all. for instance, "why did my child die" (as in Arun Shourie's case), or "why does God allow suffering" (a question which may have more personal implications for the questioner than she is willing to confide), or "why did I get fired from my job", or "why did my parents abandon me", or "how can God's word call me sinful when I seem to have no control over my feelings or actions."

Indeed I'm convinced that all of us ask these questions; and fight it as we may, the reason why we are not convinced of any faith-worldview is precisely because these questions are not answered in our minds. Perhaps the answer to these questions may convict us of sin which we are unwilling to admit.

The difference between an honest skeptic and a naysayer is profound. A healthy skepticism as to political leanings (Left or Right) of fellow-Christians and a propensity to stir the pot and encounter mysteries in Christian thinking have stood me in good stead. These mysteries only edify me and leave me to admire God for the immense wisdom that is His and past my finding out. To be humbled in this way is to experience a thrill that God is in control and delights in my asking these questions which I may never find the answers for, either side of eternity. But the naysaying habit destroys the soul and prevents us from coming to God.

These days a naysayer's favourite refuge lies in ad hominem attacks on Christian leaders, politicians and others who have been suddenly found to have contradicted their profesed beliefs. I think an honest skeptic would be careful enough to look beyond these. For this reason alone, I do not think we need to fear questions from naysayers when we adopt an honest approach to serious mistakes Christians have made.

And I think an honest Christian should be careful not to disown these people when they fall. After all naysayers are not just found among the unbelievers. A Christian naysayer can be the most disturbing of all, in that his faith and actions can come across as being insincere. An honest skeptic would call this bluff in a hurry.

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