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Tuesday, October 04, 2011

Missing the Point

It's largely our own fault, really. I mean, look at us. We cry out against evils like abortion and sex outside of marriage and on and on, so it's an easy mistake to make. On the other hand, we have the assistance of the natural inclinations of the vast majority of people. The function of religion in almost all religions is to make people be good. Okay, "make" may be the wrong word. "Help." Is that better? Religion in the minds of the vast majority is aimed at making bad people into good people. You want to have a better world. You want people to get along. You turn to religion to help with all that good stuff. And, look, everyone knows you don't get something for nothing. If you want to go to heaven, you're going to have to be good. At least, better than the average rapist or serial killer. And while "good" may vary widely, it's pretty much the standard we all know we have to meet. Thus, religion.

Of course, in response to this, Christians have said for years, "It's not a religion; it's a relationship." And I understand the response (although, um, Christians who say this, it is a religion. Look the word up.). There is a fundamental difference between other religions and Christianity. Missing this fundamental differences means that we have missed the point.

Religion is defined as "The belief in and worship of a superhuman controlling power, esp. a personal God or gods." That's fine, as far as it goes. Religions are aimed at helping people be good. That's fine as far as that goes. Christianity isn't about helping people be good. This, of course, can be confusing. Don't we cry out against evil? Don't we encourage people to be good? And, of course, the answer to both rhetorical questions is "Yes!" So, what's the difference?

The difference, as it happens, is quite large. Saying that Christianity is about helping people be good is like saying that the purpose of automobiles is to burn gasoline. It's just not the point. The point is that we are at odds with God and need to have that problem fixed. "Wait, I'm not at odds with God," some would quickly respond. "I think He's okay." Well, that may be, but I'd suggest that there is more hostility for the real God than you may realize. For instance, the demand of this God is "I will be regarded as holy", and our first act upon interacting with this God is to lower that to a human equivalent. This God commands absolute obedience and we respond with personal preference. "Yeah, if it suits me, I might go along with it. If not, don't count on it." This kind of thing cannot be considered "I think He's okay." It's considered combat. No, having a functioning relationship with God is not natural for humans. We prefer to be our own commanders. The outcome of this combat, according to the Bible, is not "bad things", but death. The Bible attributes death itself to sin -- our refusal to submit to God. Of course, we think first of physical death (and if you're reading this you're not dead), so the first problem is not physical, but spiritual death. That is the problem. That's what we are aiming at overcoming. That's the purpose of Christianity.

Religions are in the business of making bad people into good people. In Christianity, the point is making spiritually dead people into spiritually live people. Religions are about being good enough to get to heaven. Christianity argues that you can't be and need a solution which is found only in Christ. Good works are fine and, with a relationship with God, a natural outcome, like burning gasoline to get from Point A to Point B. But the point is not being good; the point is being alive. The point is being reconciled to God. All that "being good" stuff is good and all, but when you have a functioning relationship with the living God, that's a given, not an aim. And trying to make the world into a nicer place is fine and all that, but a nicer place ends up pointless without that first issue of reconciling with God. That is the point of Christianity.

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