May 092014

I remember one of the things I was taught at church as a child was this: being a Christian isn’t just about being a nice person. How true! A living Christian faith isn’t about being polite. We aren’t just called to be ‘nice’. We are called to be transformed, new people enlivened with the peace and joy and love of knowing the one who made us and died for us.

There’s more to being a Christian than being nice. But there isn’t less to being a Christian than being nice. If I am transformed by Jesus, surely that would make me nice! Not weak and feeble. Not a pushover. But kind and gracious, surely!

be nice

That’s why seeing someone commend me on Twitter earlier today made me a little sad. Here’s the tweet:

Scott's Tweet

(For the uninitiated, “#FF” stands for ‘Follow Friday’, a custom by which – on Fridays – you give advice to your followers on Twitter about who else they might like to follow. Today, Scott (an atheist who I’ve never met but talk with on Twitter quite a bit) recommended me to his other followers. Thanks Scott.)

What are we known for?

Sure, it’s always pleasant when someone says you’re a good egg. But this made me really sad. I’ve got to know how Scott thinks a little since January when he saw my Ricky Gervais article and starting asking lots of questions. He’s not a fan of religion or faith (and that must shape his views), and he wouldn’t claim to speak for all non-Christians.

The two bits that make me sad are ‘even though’ and ‘despite’. I’ll answer honestly even though I’m a Christian. I’m a nice bloke despite my faith (in his view a delusion).

In his mind, and presumably experience, by default a Christian wouldn’t be open and honest, a person with my faith wouldn’t be a nice person. The default Christian is dishonest, unpleasant and sees themselves as beyond reproach or questioning.

This is sad.

Like I say, this is one person and this view may not be the case everywhere. But having interacted with quite a lot of people like Scott – reasonable, but not Christian – and having seen the way media presentation of Christianity is going, I fear it may be. I fear that society at large doesn’t think Christians are very nice.

This is sad

I find this very sad. Jesus said this:

“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:34-35)

The mark of being a follower of Jesus – the way HE says we will be known as His – is love. This of course includes love of everyone, but first and foremost it means loving ‘one another’.

I want to make something clear: the vast majority of Christians I know are full of love, are beautifully kind and caring people. They are nice! And they should be. They are called to be. It is their responsibility to be.

But it also breaks my heart to see the ways in which Christians treat one another, and the way that in the public eye we have become known as people of exclusion and hate, not welcome and love. I have been so upset by the manner in which conversations recently around same sex marriage have been conducted. There has been such hate and vitriol by Christians on both sides of that discussion. There has of course been dialogue filled with love, compassion and grace from both sides as well, but there should be more of it.

We can do better. We can be nicer!

love not rightThis needn’t be the way things are, though. There is no reason why people should think of a Christian and think ‘bigot’ or ‘hateful’ or ‘unkind’. Jesus was none of those things, and neither should we be.

Sometimes we put such a high premium on being right that we forget the importance of being kind. We would rather win the argument than love our ‘opponent’. Jesus so totally models the opposite of this that he was willing to be killed by His ‘opponents’ in order to extend love.

I end, then, with two messages.

For non-Christians: On behalf of Christians, on behalf of the Church, I am sorry. We have a message of love and inclusion and radical grace, but so often we fail our Saviour and our world by letting that get obscured. We have never claimed to be perfect, but I am sorry for the times we fail.

For Christians: Let’s be better. Let’s rather be loving than right. As we continue to discuss important things, and to do so publicly, let’s remember that the only way to be known as Jesus’ disciples is to demonstrate love. Let’s take back the reputation of our faith and be known for radical love and kindness by people, whether they agree with us or not.

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  • Pommie Atheist

    A genuinely well meant #FF, but look how a poor choice of words and poor punctuation led to hurt feelings! Let me rewrite/explain. First, I used the word ‘because’ simply because that how I started all my FFs. Not really needed, so lets take it away. Second, change a comma to a full stop. What a difference, and what I should have written was:

    #FF @DaveCriddle Even though he is a christian! He will answer your questions honestly. A nice bloke, despite the delusion :)

    Hope that helps, and I’m sorry if you felt sad because of my poor choice of grammar! I’ll respond to other points in the blog later.

  • Pommie Atheist

    As for your blog, you seem to have fallen into the ‘assumptions’ trap that you have accused me of before. I’ll respond to a few important points:

    ** “In (Scott’s) mind….The default Christian is dishonest, unpleasant and sees themselves as beyond reproach or questioning.”

    – Many assumptions you could have just asked me directly.. but as it happens, not far from the truth.

    “Dishonest” – yes perhaps Christians are, to themselves, but more concerning they’re dishonest to the children they present their beliefs as facts (this is in no way limited to Christianity of course). I enjoyed RE at school, as I find most things about ‘people’ interesting. The subject was mostly presented as “this religion, has this holy book, with these core beliefs”, but as I was taught by a Christian there was an inevitable Christian bias. The depiction of a torture scene hanging from his neck was a bit of a giveaway…

    What I have never realised until I started considering my response to your post, is that during my RE classes there was never any mention of the word ‘atheist’. Not presented as an option at all.

    I’m afraid, often, Christians are unapproachable. The exact opposite of what the bible says you must be (1 Peter 3:15). I feel that with the “one true god” claim comes a certain arrogance, an attitude like “my life is better than yours”, which often therefore comes across as “I’m better than you” – and therefore unapproachable. I don’t think you are arrogant Dave, but Christianity is. The one true god. Believe, or go to hell.

    I have just concluded a long distance debate on Facebook with a friend. It started on evolution, but inevitably went down the biblical route. He is attempting to base a science on a set of beliefs written in a book. So it is not longer about the real science, it is about him desperately scraping for ‘evidence’ that may coincide with his beliefs. This is a fundamentally flawed method, and therefore dishonest. After “5 years of ‘critical thinking'” he has decided that evolution is basically false, and dinosaurs roamed the earth with humans. Never mind that scientists spend their whole life on things like this, modifying and updating our understanding as they go. Nope, he’s got it figured in 5 years. His faith has made him ignorant, and therefore in my mind now, beyond reproach. Why mention this story? Because he is far from alone, isn’t he.

    My friend told me he intends to raise his son as Christian but also how to critically think. He intends on telling him God is real (a delusion, and dishonest), and that as a fact Jesus lived and rose from the dead. So I mentioned something I learned only recently – about Barnabas, who seems to have written that it was actually Judas up on the cross, and Jesus didn’t die at all. Jesus, if he existed, was just a bloke. His response to this was “Barnabas wasn’t one of the twelve”. Doesn’t count. That’s not critical thinking, that’s dishonest.

    So I’m afraid that in a certain context, yes I’m afraid I feel Christians can be dishonest.

    ** Writing of yourself: “I (Dave) fear that society at large doesn’t think Christians are very nice.”

    – I can’t respond on behalf of society at large, but you can’t blame the media. Yes, frequently, I don’t think that Christians/theists are very nice. Example: Society is becoming more accepting of issues such as gay marriage – and why shouldn’t it be? There are very large very vocal sections of religion that shout loud about the Bible being God’s word, and therefore if He says homosexuality is a sin, then it is a sin, and the gays are all going to hell. That, Christians, is not very nice, and that makes people think you are not very nice. Don’t blame the media.The blame lies with your Bible.Take responsibility.

    If you’ve decided that equality is fine and to cherry pick that section of ‘God’s word’ out of your belief system, well then that makes you a bit of a hypocrite – and that’s not very nice either.

    ** “I want to make something clear: the vast majority of Christians I know are full of love, are beautifully kind and caring people”.

    – I could not agree more. However:

    ** “They are called to be”

    – ‘Called’ to be nice? You make choices in life, and live your life accordingly. I’m sure I read something along the lines that being nice could just be an evolutionary thing. Organisms that cooperate (i.e. are ‘nice’ to each other) tend to live longer, and thus reproduce more successfully. So the nice gene gets duly propagated. Just be nice, because it is simply nice to be nice, and it is easy to be nice. If you need to be instructed on how to be nice, that makes ME sad – especially if you are trying to find your definition of ‘nice’ in a book inspired by a genocidal maniac…

    Finally, yes I do think you are deluded. You yourself have written “my beliefs are ridiculous”. In fact, in the same blog you wrote “I would be willing to stake my life on the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ almost 2,000 years ago”. Barnabas may be coming to collect on that bet.

    Remember Dave, you are atheistic about all gods, except one. Just one to go. Then we can get on with just being excellent to each other, and partying on. Oh, and don’t forget to wind your watch.


  • Augustus Gustavius Salvatore C

    How do you relate to those who claim to be Christians and ……. support war …. insist everyone bow down to Jesus ….. insist you kiss their ass …. Is it okay to believe that they are not Christians ?? By the way… what does the old testament have to do with Christian faith..?

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