One of the nice perks of teaching high school is getting the two-week break over the holidays. It gives me a chance to catch up on the 238932 books I’ve been meaning to read but had to put off.
One of the books I’ve already devoured is UnChristian: What a New Generation Really Thinks About Christianity by David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons.
The book is aimed at Christians eager to change the perceptions people have about them. Kinnaman is very blunt when he tells Christians exactly how they appear (as a whole) to the outside world.
Having a “must-save-you-or-else” mentality.
The list is long. And true. It’s all backed up by research with young Christians and non-Christians. Of course, you were probably already thinking all these things to begin with.
No, not all Christians fall into the stereotype, but this is the image they have to deal with, whether they like it or not.
And I’ll be the first to admit that atheists (as a whole) have our own image problems.
That said, reading the book was kind of… fun. It’s almost entertaining to see one Christian telling other Christians that they act these ways. And then imploring them to change. The implication is that they’re unaware of how they come across to others when it’s so damn obvious to everyone else. In other words, this book didn’t tell me anything I didn’t already know. But the purpose was to inform Christians who might be ignorant of all this that they do more harm to the faith when they act… well… Christian. (Or unChristian, in the authors’ words.)
Kinnaman isn’t saying that Christians should embrace homosexuality, but he does say they should show compassion to all people, regardless of their sexual preference. He isn’t telling Christians to abandon converting everyone they know, but he does tell them to “cultivate relationships and environments where others can be deeply transformed by God.”
Of course, sugar-coating your true beliefs isn’t going to make it all better. I think most atheists would prefer all this to stop altogether. Being gay isn’t a sin, watching porn isn’t a sin, women should have the right to control their own bodies, and we’d prefer if Christians just accepted the fact that we’re not going to convert even if you’re genuinely nice to us.
Christian beliefs aren’t going to change anytime soon, though. And this is a good start to make Christianity more palatable to the rest of the world. Atheists have to deal with Christians everywhere we go; it’d be nice if we could have positive interactions with them without their religion getting in the way. This book encourages Christians to seek out those positive relationships.
When I read Sam Harris‘ The End of Faith, I remember constantly thinking to myself, “Yes! He gets it! That’s what I’ve been wanting to say for so long; I just couldn’t express it as well!” Ironically, this book had me thinking those same thoughts.
And since it’s written by “one of them,” it has more of a chance of being heard by the Christian audience.
It also raises a dilemma for me.
I’ve spent a lot of the past year talking about how churches that try to reach out to non-believers did just the opposite in so many cases. My book gave churches advice on how to form positive relationships with atheists who will most likely never convert to Christianity.
The question is whether it helps atheists (and non-Christians) when Christians embrace their fundamental, by-the-Book views.
I would love to see churches become a safer, more accepting place for my gay friends. And a place where tolerance was taught. And science education was appreciated.
At the same time, I know as long as churches maintain anti-gay, anti-woman, anti-science, anti-all-things-right views, the more people will see religion for what it is and want nothing to do with it.
That’s a tempting alternative.
What makes me lean toward the first side — that wants churches to reform instead of continually digging themselves into a deeper hole — is that I don’t see them going away anytime soon regardless of what atheists do. Christians will be a force to reckon with for years to come regardless of their beliefs. We might as well help mold them into something more “Christ-like” (to use their own term).
Anyway, that all sets me up for a project I’m hoping to embark on in the next year. It’d have a similar goal to the eBay book, but with a dramatically different methodology. More on that in the coming weeks.
For those who celebrate, Merry Christmas.
For those who don’t, Merry ChriFSMas and have a great Tuesday.