Is Christianity too narrow for our culture?
by Chris Plekenpol
When I was in college I came across a lot of different philosophies and many right sounding religions. It seemed everyone had a solid slice of truth. When I heard this one illustration, I felt so profoundly moved by it that I started to question the absoluteness and relevance of any one religion. You may have heard of the Indian legend of the blind men who are asked to describe an elephant.
The story is told like this. There are six blind men and they are all asked to describe an elephant. The first blind guy grabs hold of the elephant’s trunk and declares the elephant to be like a snake. The second blind man touches the ear and decides that the elephant is like a fan. The next blind man is poked by a tusk and comments that the elephant is like a spear. Another blind man feels a leg and decides that the elephant is like a tree. The fifth blind man feels the side of the elephant and concludes that the elephant is like a wall. Finally the last blind man grasps the tail and declares the elephant to be like a rope.
Then the narrator lets the reader know that this is how religion is. Many people have a grasp of a part of the solution, but they are missing the big picture.
When I read that I was sold. It took away the nasty incongruency of one religion dominating the landscape of truth. I could relax and think that Jesus might be my way to God, but Buddha might have the answer for Buddhists. Doctrine and beliefs don’t really matter, because we are all essentially teaching the same thing.
When I presented this to my college roommate, Heyward Davis, he told me I needed to rethink my position. I figured he was a close-minded Baptist and he needed to pull his head out of the sand. Unable to think outside their own belief system to see the bigger picture.
But then it hit me. The most close minded person of all is the one who declares himself to be open minded when in fact he is close minded. I then went back to the elephant illustration and found that there was one person who could see in the story and he was telling all the blind men they were in fact wrong.
The narrator who told the story was the all-seeing one. He was the one that was telling the narrow minded blind men that their religions were all a part of the same animal. But how did he know? How did he get eyes to see? The narrator trying to be all inclusive is actually just as narrow as those whom he is trying to educate, he just doesn’t know it.
It turns out that anyone who holds to any truth, even the “truth” that there can be no absolute truth declares themselves to be the all-seeing one and the holder of absolute truth. The hypocrisy in that floored me.
The main reason I think that people want to relegate religion to an ancient cultic, backwards system is because it leads to incredible divisiveness. I would agree with that. Religion divides. Religions can lead to wars. From the Christian Crusades of yesteryear to the modern day martyrs of Islam we see how far one will go to fulfill his religious duty.
But what about life without religion? Some neo-atheists advocate doing away with all religion. Once religion is relegated to the private life and not ever brought up in public again then we might heal from our religious wounds. We will be able to live in peace and prosperity. How did that work out in Nazi Germany or Stalinist Russia? The people became just as cutthroat as terrorists in airplanes. Here is another reality we have to face. And again no religion is a religion and secular advocates feel as though they are the only ones with the ability to not separate their private life from their public life.
Most people in the world (by a vast majority) hold deeply to religion. In fact, to say that the view of the few should dominate the view of the many might be seen as arrogant by most and this is clearly the case with religion.
So with all the baggage of bickering between religions and non-religion religions, how is Christianity relevant to our culture?
When Christ came on the scene in Jewish culture amidst a Greco-Roman world, he flipped the world’s systems on its head. He took the most excluded people and included them. Christianity was the first time that economic and social status no longer took precedence in relationship. Gender equality was pushed to a level that no one could imagine. Before Christ, the world operated on only the strong survive. Christians espouse the worth of all people and that all are made in the image of God. Social, economic, or gender status don’t matter when it comes to valuing a person before God. This is why Christianity holds deep relevance in our culture that has so many different ideas, beliefs, and even thoughts on God.
Every Christian realizes the distinct value of every other person. So much so that it is in the Christian’s job description to make sure that Christianity, exclusive as it is in believing that Jesus is the only way, is as inclusive as possible to different cultures, languages, and people. A Christian is called to pray for the peace of the city in which they live that it may prosper. A Christian is to act in love towards others and live in a manner of integrity so that no one has a bad thing to say about them.
Christians are called to put others above themselves. Imagine what would happen if people truly lived as Christ called them to live. This world would be heaven on earth.
The reason why Christians can live a life of such humility is that they understand they brought nothing to the table when they were saved. This makes them ultimately the most humble people on the planet. A Christian’s cause to try to convert other people is driven not by a you-can-do-it attitude of striving to be good, but the overwhelming realization that they aren’t worthy or good in the eyes of God and their salvation is a free gift open to anyone. Any moral turpitude arises from salvation not to attain it and that drives Christians to speak out in the public square to influence others to receive the free gift from God.
One of the reasons that people get so put off by Christians and see them as the backwoods idiots is there is a tendency for Christians to wage a moral war with non-Christians. There is anger stored up for Christians, because of Christians’ tendency to wage a war on morality in the public square based on what they believe the Bible teaches or what God would want. That may seem to be the case, but Christians learn from one of the apostles in the early church not to judge others outside the faith. We should expect people that are outside the faith to live as those who are outside the faith and not put a moral paradigm upon their necks that they don’t have the capacity to carry.
Paul wrote, “I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people” not at all meaning the sexually immoral of this world, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world.
This quote should put those in the secular world at ease they understand that Christians have no right to corral a non-Christians morality. In fact, Paul encourages Christian to be really Christian. To put others ahead of themselves. To treat others properly, not as sex objects, but as those created in the image of God. Paul was worried that those who didn’t put others ahead of themselves would be confused with Christians. He didn’t want that title just going around to anyone.
Imagine a world where there was an internal mandate to put others first. Imagine how that might affect your family, neighborhood, or your city.