I Believe in Something Inconvenient

If you’ve spent any amount of time reading or engaging online in debates about religion, especially belief versus non-belief, you have my condolences.

And a cake!

Seriously though, it’s great to challenge our ideas from some outside perspectives and debate can definitely be constructive. Although I tend to prefer discussion because it’s a format that lends itself more readily to achieving understanding, rather than hammering home whatever point you began with by arguing away all opposing viewpoints.

I’ve had numerous interactions with atheists online and offline. I highly respect many of them. However, I have to admit that my offline discussions have almost always been of a far higher quality. There’s more willingness to listen and engage. A distinct lack of insults. I think this is largely just a symptom of the online mentality of anonymity coupled with the occasional desire to vent. Both of which are understandable and both of which can come from either side of the debate. And while it’s true that both sides can occasionally toss out what I call “sound-bite” arguments (pithy, one-sentence statements that seem so profound and yet never hold up to close examination), this is a much rarer occurrence in “real life.”

Ugh, bumper sticker theology. So much easier than actually, you know, talking to a person.

I’d like to engage the thinking behind one of these “sound-bite” arguments in this post. Please keep in mind that I’m engaging with one argument and, as I mentioned, I’m not saying that all atheists use this argument. The argument is that:

Religious people simply believe what they believe because it’s convenient, or it matches what they already believe.

In other words, religious people are not challenged by their belief systems. Such systems are simply built on top of a preexisting belief system and the two fit together like a hand in a glove. And the glove is unnecessary, which the atheist has discovered while the religious person has not.

This is where the title of my post comes from. Contrary to this pithy argument, I do not believe in something which merely fits my preconceived beliefs or notions of morality. I believe in something entirely inconvenient.

Applejack is best pony… But she can’t do magic.

I believe that Christianity offers a fundamental challenge to my inherently narcissistic and selfish worldview. It challenges me to step outside of my own ego and think about others when I’d much prefer to just focus on my self and my own desires. Christianity challenges me to put others before myself, and to consider others better than myself. It challenges me to sacrifice a great deal to help others. This is rather inconvenient to me.

I believe that rather than return evil for evil, we must overcome evil by returning good for evil. If someone hurts me, my natural desire is to hurt them back. Sometimes to an even greater extent than they first hurt me. The Old Testament limits this desire for vengeance by saying “an eye for an eye” with the unspoken stress added of “and no more.” Jesus posits and even more radical interpretation of blessing those who curse you and loving those who hate you. This is rather inconvenient to me.

I believe that we should sacrifice some, or even much, of our material wealth to help feed and clothe those who are hungry and naked. Sure, I’d love to buy that Ferrari and just drive as if the road will never end. This is rather inconvenient to me. Especially since I also believe that we should love, reverence and care for creation. No V8 for me then…

And wouldn’t it just catch fire before I back out of my driveway anyway?

I believe that we should act. Whether the act is one of prayer or service depends on the situation and our abilities. Sure, I’d like to sit around and read, or play video games or something. I can be a lazy person. The belief that I am called to act, and sometimes called to act by being still, is very inconvenient to me.

To get into more specifically Christian dogma:

As some of you may have noticed throughout my comments, I’m being dragged kicking and screaming to the idea that there must be some form of authority for doctrine and not just “the Bible.” (How this authority works is another issue for another day.) Given my charismatic past, my Mennonite ancestry, and my current placement in the Protestant branch of Christianity, this is a highly inconvenient belief for me. I’m not sure how to reconcile it with Protestantism.

But owning one of these might help…

I believe that the individual soul is of infinitely more value than the nation-state and so I stand aloof from patriotic idolatry. I believe that the Church is called to take a stance of skepticism regarding culture and speak prophetically to our culture. Even the so-called “Christian culture” that is all too often, as Paul Tillich said, “Nothing more than the superfluous consecration of some situation or action which was neither judged nor transformed by this consecration.” The Church can be a great witness to the Truth in our culture, but it can also be taken captive by our culture. The relationship is nuanced and challenging. It is never easy. This is an inconvenient belief for me.

My religious beliefs don’t fit over my preconceived beliefs like a glove over a hand. They are a direct challenge and confrontation to my preconceived beliefs. A more proper analogy is that my religious beliefs are like trying to fit a shoe on my hand. It just doesn’t properly work. It challenges the shape of my preconceived beliefs so that I may change them and become more even more the imago Dei. As St. Athanasius so famously explicated: “God became man so that men may become God.” This theosis flies in the face of the “sound bite” argument that I just believe what is convenient for me.


~ by crossingthebosporus on June 30, 2012.

3 Responses to “I Believe in Something Inconvenient”

  1. I have posted a little on ‘theosis’ here http://jessicahof.wordpress.com/2012/06/07/becoming-gods/

    I totally agree, my Christian beliefs are actually very inconvenient for me in many ways, and if I was simply following what I want, I’d be a secularist atheist!

    • Good reading. The idea of theosis was certainly a challenge to my Protestant ideas when I first encountered it. I certainly thought of it as being hubristic like you mentioned. But as I dug into the ideas and theology surrounding it, it became so much more humbling and just made so much more sense.

      • Thank you. It was something I have had to struggle with, but like you, once it clicked, it came to me that this was part of the process of being saved.

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