I’m humbled with the response I’ve received from such a wide variety of people regarding this blog and the questions I’m asking. Apparently religious people have doubts too! Tonight I had my first interview in what I hope will be a decent series of interviews regarding faith, religion, and the issues surrounding them.
I met Josh a few years ago through a Blazers fansite called www.blazersedge.com. We’re both irrationally passionate about the team, and spent a lot of time online dialoguing about basketball and other things. Josh is an Evangelical Christian, raised as a pastor’s son. He got married last year, is in his early twenties, and works for a software company.
The approach I took was to ask Josh to tell the story of the beginnings of his faith, and whatever events have happened to bring to what he believes today. As a pastor’s kid, he was raised in the church. He recalls a specific moment while singing the worship song “Here I am to worship” in which the concept of his sin contrasted with the infinite sacrifice of Jesus became personally real to him all at once. He recognized his status as a sinner, and that the consequence for violating the laws of an eternal God was an eternal punishment that could only be pardoned by an infinite sacrifice. He hasn’t had a serious crisis of faith, but one of the first things he told me is that a major reason he’s a Christian is that he was born in America. He recognized that had he been born in India, he’d probably be a Hindu with a dot on his forehead. I didn’t have that kind of insight when I was believer, and his impressed me.
To describe how he views atonement, Josh used the analogy of a speeding ticket. A person can violate a minor law and receive a fine. This happens repeatedly, and the fines add up, and the person can’t afford to pay them. The sacrifice of Jesus’ life is God’s way of putting everyone’s sins on God’s tab, both now and forever.
Something that came up a few times is the difficulty of reconciling the Christian faith with some of the terrible things God is attributed as doing in the Bible. He doesn’t like the idea of his God slaughtering the masses or commanding Abraham to kill his child. But when he struggles with questions like these, he asks himself the question “Where else can I go?” While admitting he hasn’t studied other religions extensively, he doesn’t feel like they have anything better to offer than he already knows and believes. So he’ll accept the difficulty of the old testament God because it’s the best he’s got to work with. He told me a number of times that he doesn’t hold the monopoly on truth. On the other hand, he doesn’t get to decide what sin is. If the Bible says something is sinful, it’s sinful, even if it doesn’t make sense to me.
Josh feels that morals come from God, and that those who do not believe in God, while they can certainly be nice people, can’t live a moral life in the way that a Christian can. He correlates what he perceives to be the decline of America with the matching decline of Christian membership in the U.S. Without Christians, the country would be in much worse shape. I asked him what it is about the way Christians behave that is so different from the way non-Christians behave. His answer surprised me.
For Josh, the Christian nuclear family is a living embodiment of Jesus Christ. The Christian family has a spiritual purpose. They are a reflection of Christ to all the world. Because of this spiritual component, the kind of love that is present within a Christian family is a different and better love than the love of a non-Christian family. I didn’t sense arrogance in this perception, though it sounds that way when written down. When Josh teaches the youth at church, he teaches them about the types of love, phileo, amore, and agape love (forgive me if I got those wrong). A husband is called to be Jesus to his wife. This is a serious calling, and the youth should take it seriously, and make sure they plan their lives in a way that allows them to care for their wives in this way.
A few miscellaneous surprises: I asked Josh if he has ever felt persecuted for his faith. He said he hasn’t. Living in America it’s easy to be a Christian, as it doesn’t require much sacrifice. It took guts to be a Christian when you could be crucified upside down for it. Also surprising was that Josh says he wouldn’t vote to ban gay marriage. While he does believe the Bible lists homosexuality as a sin, he doesn’t think it’s the government’s place to dictate who can and can’t get married. If gay people are banned from marrying, how long until Christians or straights can’t marry?
I think we both walked away with something important to think about. Josh said for him, it’s when I asked why the sin of homosexuality evokes such a strong emotion in him, while other things labeled as sin, and condemned much strongly in the Bible, evoke no emotion at all. He also said he’d ponder how he should feel about a person who, after serious and objective consideration, determined that the Bible really does not condemn loving homosexual relationships. If they truly believe that to be true, and are living accordingly, should they be kept out of leadership positions in his church, as is his current stance?
My take away is the question of “What problems does this faith solve?” As Josh put it, Christianity answers the questions of why I’m here, what am I supposed to do, and what happens to me after I die. Whether the answers to those questions are true or not, I’m not sure any other faith provides definitive answers that are quite as emotionally satisfying as spending eternity with a loving God.