By Dave, the WM
My son was enjoying some time in a small city park near our home recently, when a scruffy middle-aged man, accompanied by a singularly obese 40ish woman, walked up and began to preach – at full volume.
My son, IPOD ear buds embedded deeply in each ear canal, watched as others lounging on benches or in the grass, stirred to their feet to seek out a quieter perch.
“The sins of the youth in this nation are stoking the fires of hell,” shouted the evangelist. “Repent and believe the Gospel before the time of reckoning!”
My son, immune to such things from living over half his life under a strict, fundamentalist father, and the other half under a website building apostate, was entertained by the scene. He turned up his IPOD to filter out the noise, smiled pleasantly, and waited to see if there was more than one act in this show.
The righteous monologue continued for another 30 minutes, the guy barely pausing for air. My son eventually decided to leave the lunatic to his rapt congregation of trees, rocks, and empty benches.
The next morning in the local paper, a nearly full page article exclaimed, “Evangelistic Crusade for Christ in North Park. Crusade continues for a week.”
The article went on to interview the “local evangelist and his lovely wife.” Not surprisingly, no one else was quoted in the article.
Now, I happen to know these self-proclaimed "evangelists." Both are on welfare and live in subsidized housing. He is legally blind and she is unemployed. He doesn't drive, but does manage to navigate around town on a three-wheel bicycle, usually down the center of the street, with the text of Psalm 14:1 boldly emblazoned on his silver mesh basket filled with groceries or random objects.
Perhaps this man is an illustration of one of the things that draw people to Christianity. People with limited resources of mind, body, and/or material, are made to feel significant.
I know that my feeling of significance was elevated by Christianity. I felt I was personally loved by the Lord of Creation, for one thing. Then I sought out and took on all kinds of lay leadership roles: teacher, musician, group leader, mentor, street preacher, event organizer, missionary, prison minister, geriatric center minister,... Oh yeah, I felt significant all right. And I didn't have to go to college, learn how to write, understand science, know much about history, have money or good lucks or develop six-pack abs, or do anything else very difficult. The only thing I had to know was the basic Gospel message. After all, the wisdom of this world is foolishness to God, right? And the end of all things is near, with the Rapture right around the corner, right? It would be foolish of me to invest much time or resources into learning anything remotely “secular" or "of this world." And what could be more important than investing in eternity? Anything less than everlasting has got to be insignificant, right?
The need to feel significant and part of something lasting — a basic human longing — finds quick satisfaction chasing the metaphorical carrot offered by Christianity. And in case the Christian's "inner beast" ever tires of plodding along after the elusive promise, there's always that hell-stick to keep the dumb animal on track. Not that there's anything wrong with wanting to feel significant. As I said, it's a basic human longing. It's just that the significance found in Christianity is illusory. People spend hours sitting, reading the Bible, praying for others, talking, and for the most part, doing nothing. Christians fret and fume about “how much good is done by Christians in the world,” but I never hear average Christians telling stories that detail anything they've personally done outside of supporting their immediate social group and occasionally proselytizing.
“Wait a minute! I'm a Christian and I went to Ghana on a missions trip once! We built a couple of houses!”
OK, but why did you do that? Did you do it because you had a deep driving desire to deliver relief to the poor, or was it because going on a trip organized by your church sounded like fun? Someone who really wants to help people might devote long solitary years to studying medicine, and then freely give his or her talent away to diseased etches in Africa, and then maybe even die from the sacrifice. “Dr. Livingston, I presume.” Just in case someone reading didn't know, Livingston wasn't a real Christian.
“I still say that Christians have done more for the world than anyone!”
Really? Do all Christians do great humanitarian things? Do most Christians do great humanitarian things? Is finding a Christian involved in extraordinary self-sacrifice the norm, or is it the exception? Answer honestly. If you ask me, I'd say that the bulk of Christians hide behind their heroes when it comes to actually doing anything significant. What I mean is, Christians satisfy themselves that some other Christians have done great things. Then these same Christians mystically adopt those “accomplishments” as their own. “So-and-so built an orphanage for the children of lepers with his own hands and money -- money he'd earned while cleaning toilets at the ballpark for 10 years. He is a Christian, and I am a Christian, soooo...”
Do Christians get vicarious credit for good works the same way they get vicarious atonement?
Christians obtain a feeling of significance without actually having to do anything except maybe think a pious thought, pronounce a pithy prayer, or peruse one or two pedantic publications while snuggled in a recliner.
So to the Christians, I say “Repent!” Stop congratulating yourselves for how significant you “feel” after blubbering, blabbering and bitching about unbelievers. Make something of your life and actually be significant.
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Online Reading List
- An Outline of Intellectual Rubbish by Bertrand Russell (1943)
- Bible Teaching and Religious Practice by Mark Twain
- God is Imaginary
- Is there an Artificial God? by Douglas Adams (1998)
- Skeptics Annotated Bible
- The Age of Reason by Thomas Paine (1795)
- Which Way? by Robert Ingersoll (1884).
- Why I Am Not A Christian by Bertrand Russell (1927)