Unintentionally picking up on what I said here (because I hadn't said it yet), Sharl pointed me here. Which has some interesting things to say:
To all my nonbelieving, sort-of-believing, and used-to-be-believing friends: I feel like I should begin with a confession. I am sorry that so often the biggest obstacle to God has been Christians. Christians who have had so much to say with our mouths and so little to show with our lives. I am sorry that so often we have forgotten the Christ of our Christianity.It's a nice sentiment, but I have to say, I don't feel responsible for all the stupid things done in the name of God, or Christ, or Christianity. I'm humble, but I'm not that humble. I won't apologize for my beliefs, but neither to I want to proselytize from them. Not, at least, unless I get to define rather strictly what "proselytize" means. And when I'm through, it might not mean "proselytize" any longer. So maybe I don't want to do it at all.
Forgive us. Forgive us for the embarrassing things we have done in the name of God.
The other night I headed into downtown Philly for a stroll with some friends from out of town. We walked down to Penn’s Landing along the river, where there are street performers, artists, musicians. We passed a great magician who did some pretty sweet tricks like pour change out of his iPhone, and then there was a preacher. He wasn’t quite as captivating as the magician. He stood on a box, yelling into a microphone, and beside him was a coffin with a fake dead body inside. He talked about how we are all going to die and go to hell if we don’t know Jesus.
Some folks snickered. Some told him to shut the hell up. A couple of teenagers tried to steal the dead body in the coffin. All I could do was think to myself, I want to jump up on a box beside him and yell at the top of my lungs, "God is not a monster." Maybe next time I will.
The more I have read the Bible and studied the life of Jesus, the more I have become convinced that Christianity spreads best not through force but through fascination. But over the past few decades our Christianity, at least here in the United States, has become less and less fascinating. We have given the atheists less and less to disbelieve. And the sort of Christianity many of us have seen on TV and heard on the radio looks less and less like Jesus.
The other thing is, I don't feel compelled to give atheists reasons to believe, or fewer and fewer reasons to disbelieve.* That inevitably brings us back to the question of the existence of God, and while that's an interesting chestnut in philosophy of religion circles (mostly for freshman, in fact), it's a red herring I'm quite willing to leave behind.
Is God a monster? No. But the fact that you may believe that is not my fault, and correcting your error is not my responsibility. And I'm tired of people, on either side of the argument, trying to make it my responsibility, or assuming that it should be. You don't believe? Fine. You do believe? Fine. Let there be a commerce between us, either way you come down. This is not a litmus test, this is not an entrance requirement, this is not a position upon which there must be judgment so that we can move on to "Judge not, lest ye be judged." What part about that do we not understand is absolute and, as Dom Crossan said, the sign of an unbrokered basiliea tou theou?
Lent is not a time for guilt and remorse (although it's been that for centuries, thanks to the Church and other misunderstandings). Lent is a time for reflection, self-examination, contrition,humility, and service to others. You know, the usual Christian stuff. If it isn't as joyful as Advent, it's because it ends on a less happy note. But that doesn't mean it's all about hair shirts and mea culpas for not being all that someone else expects us to be. Unless that someone else is God.
*To be fair, this is a valid position and concern for evangelicals, i.e., those of a certain theological persuasion. I am not among them, and never have been. My soteriology does not teach me that my salvation depends on your salvation. So if we are part of a faith community, we can agree on certain fundamentals. If we are not part of a common faith community, we can find other grounds for peace and mutual respect. Let there be a commerce between us, but one without money, one where food and wine are without price.