Christian Credentials

I was pretty active in church as a teenager (that was a long time ago now). We had Lock-Ins (where the youth group would spend all night at the church), retreats, summer camp, conferences. It was pretty good being a teen in the church.

I once attended a youth conference at Texas Christian University that was interesting and fun. There were a lot of teens there – it felt like thousands. We would have speakers in the main auditorium with all of us in attendance, and we also had some smaller groups with speakers.

I was in a smaller group that had a speaker who was traveling across the country to tell his story. This speaker was very eloquent, and the message was one of salvation. He was a young-ish man, perhaps late 20's – who exuded “coolness” from his sunglasses, pony-tail and motorcycle to his ripped physique. I don't recall much of the actual message, but I do recall this gentleman relating his past.

His past was sordid, divorced parents, abusive father, ran away from home when he was 14 and lived on the streets until he was 17. Drugs, alcohol. But he became self-sufficient, and by the time he was 18 he had got his GED and a job and started taking night school at the local community college. That didn't make him happy because he started partying. Oh, and he was an Atheist. And then he found God and started his journey of evangelism.

I wasn't sure, back then, what an Atheist was – but I was sure that I didn't want to be anything that caused me so much sin and unhappiness. Mr. Cool made it very clear that Atheism led to despair, and God led to happiness. He wasn't ordained, he didn't have any religious training, he was still in college at the time so he wasn't even degreed. All of his credibility came from his dramatic salvation.

This has become a cliché.

There are a lot of influential, even powerful Christians in today's evangelical groups whose sole credibility comes from a “dramatic transformation” from evil to good, from Godlessness to Godfullness. And the more “dramatic” the salvation, the more credibility that they have.

Speaking as an Atheist now, I call “B.S.” I smell a rat. Something is not right here.

In “More than a Carpenter” Josh McDowell lays out his “credentials” by stating his past non-belief and sinful life. Ron Luce talks about his broken home and drug and alcohol abuse as a young teen. Ray Comfort (of banana fame) saw church as a sort of joke.

This sort of dramatic salvation leads to a common response when I tell believers that I'm an Atheist. “Oh, I used to be Just Like You.”

This has also become a cliché.

There are two things wrong with gaining credibility through personal transformation – the first is that since the transformation is by definition a personal experience it is difficult, no impossible, for an outsider to know just how dramatic that transformation truly was. How can anyone tell how much of each story is exaggerated, overblown or mis-remembered? If an extra detail that never happened means the difference between credibility and obscurity for the speaker, does it get added on in a moment of hubris which is then recorded for posterity? Do the extra details become an albatross around the speaker's neck, or do they become an unearned “badge of honor”?

The second thing wrong with the belief that Godlessness equates to unhappiness and sin is that too frequently it doesn't! I know a couple of Atheist teens and have read the writings of several more. I know quite a few adult Atheists, and read about Atheist families. Many, most even, are happy, well adjusted, and no more prone to drugs and drinking than any other Southern Baptist.


Sometimes it seems to infuriate a few religious people that a non-religious family can grow together in a happy, loving environment.

And lastly, when someone says to me, “Oh, I used to be Just Like You.” I let them know that I used to be Christian, and am now an Atheist. This only momentarily derails a believer – they quickly shore up their faith by deciding that I was either hurt and became angry at God, or that I was never 'really and truly' a Christian, or that “bad” Christians drove me away from the faith.

Christians seem to rejoice in simple, black and white answers.

And that has also become a cliché.

5 comments:

moviepastor said...

Great post about your "conversion". I hope you dont mind that I referenced your blog the other day on relevantchristian.typepad.com

I think Christians all try to have God figured out and stand in ready defense to prove something and most of the time leave out the faith component. If its provable - by my conversion - or by my apologetics - or archeology - its not faith anyway. (regardless of which side you are on by the way).

Here is the truth for me. I believe that God is confirming my faith in Him with every step I take - and sometimes I cant see very far down the path at all and when things dont make sense - they even cause me some element of doubt.

But even the greatest men and women of faith had doubts. If you believe the accounts in the bible.

JMS Community Blog said...

Dramatic transformations do occur. That is the beauty of life change. Or at least it was for me. I don't feel compelled to force it on anyone, but I am very grateful for it. It's not my job to change a heart, that work belongs to the Holy Spirit.

Our God is into free will. People can choose to believe or not believe. That doesn't make what I believe any less real.

The point of having people share their stories is to provide context for others to see that life change can happen for people who choose to follow Christ.

My husband is one of those people who grew up very happily in a non-religious home. Much better for him than my own conflicted, angry Catholic upbringing which drove me from God (util He called me back.)

So he lives without God and I live with God and yet, we seem to make it work. I get so tired of these "us" vs. "them" interpretations of our spiritual journeys. There are many Christians who understand very well that life is full of shades of gray. But there is one black and white truth; people matter to God.

My point is, we all have our stories. My life is no cliche, it's real and it matters, same as your life and your decisions matter and are important to you. Our difference don't have to divide us.

I enjoy your blog, I think it's interesting.

JMS Community Blog said...

hi I just tried to leave a comment and it goofed up my sign in name

please identify me as "lor" if possible

thanks

Calladus said...

Hi Lor! Welcome to my blog. I'll bet you didn't goof up your sign-in, I think perhaps you didn't realize that comment moderation was on? All comments must be validated by me before I allow them to post.

I agree that life transformations happen. Mine just happened in reverse. Perhaps there's a cliche here too - ex-Christian turned Atheist?

The cliche that I'm most referring to isn't that of being saved in a dramatic fashion, it is of Christians using salvation as their only credentials, and then parlaying those credentials towards the growth of personal power in the Christian community. (And even into the world of politics, like Ron Luce.)

I don't doubt that profound insight comes to Christians, causing extreme personal transformation - what I do doubt is that all of those who claim this transformation have actually experienced it, or experienced it to the degree in which they claim. My doubt increases in proportion to the fame of the particular Christian.

Of course, as an Atheist, I also doubt the origin of transformative feelings of "transcendence". But if a feeling of Nirvana allows people to turn their lives around then I would be all for it - if said transformation didn't carry with it the imperative that everyone else must be transformed too - or at least must follow religious laws.

lor said...

okay, I think I figured this thing out :)

yea, I get what you're saying.

and I have to agree with moviepastor in that it's called "faith", not proof.

By definition it means that there are things we trust in, without seeing or touching. Doesn't mean we're weak or stupid or drinking madly of the opiate of the masses, just means we have this relationship that matters to us, like any other relationship in our life.

And I'm not gonna apologize for that anymore than I'm gonna tell anyone else what they "need" to do.

But I will continue to try to dialogue in a way that is respectful of all our beliefs, as Jesus intended. Love God, love one another. I'm okay with that.