This particular subject is going to cover several posts. Hope you follow along.
It has always been my contention that Christianity is, at its core, an invitation to experimental living. Christianity, having originated from a source beyond Man, is a disciplined departure in thinking and action that runs counter to our base inclination to unbridled liberty. Stay with me, I’m going to explain.
First, let me shatter some popular notions about Christianity that are erroneously held by Christians and non-Christians alike. Christianity is not a church in the sense of bricks and mortar, doctrines, creeds and dogma, nor is it any denomination. So, if you were raised in Sunday School and church, lay aside the preconceived notions you’ve probably heard thousands of times for just a moment. Likewise all you “I’m spiritual, not religious,” types.
Christianity is not a ritual or set of rituals to be performed nor is it a set of words to say in prayer, or directives from the clergy. Acts of contrition or charity, prayers, church attendance, and Bible reading do not a Christian make. I am not saying these things have no place in Christian life, I’m telling you that they do not make you a Christian. Neither, a famous radio host may be dismayed to learn, does your ancestry. Christianity is not conferred upon birth…just ask the priests and prophets of Israel.
So, back to my statement about what constitutes Christianity.
Christianity begins wherever you are…it starts with mankind as it exists now. If we are honest in our assessment of mankind, we come to the conclusion that life and people are not as they should be. There is something very wrong with us that has brought war, famine, pestilence, and death upon us. Now, we can blame things on God, or rather the non-existence of God, or we can face the facts of human behavior and the real culprit…the man or woman we see in the mirror. I want to introduce here two very, intelligent thinkers from widely separate times and circumstances.
“These, then, are the two points I wanted to make. First, that human beings, all over the earth, have this curious idea that they ought to behave in a certain way, and cannot really get rid of it. Secondly, they do not, in fact, behave in that way. They know the Law of Nature; they break it. These two facts are the foundation of all clear thinking about ourselves and the universe we live in.” C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity.
“We are right then in saying, that these virtues are formed in a man by his doing the actions…Yet people, in general, do not perform these actions, but taking refuge in talk they flatter themselves they are philosophizing, and that they will so be good men: acting in truth very like those sick people who listen to the doctor with great attention but do nothing that he tells them…” Aristotle, Ethics.
They are both saying something very elemental about us, that we know and for the most part, either ignore or pass off as trivial. They are saying that there is a wide gap between how we behave and how we believe we ought to behave…that we act one way, but believe something else. Furthermore, we even see this gap…this ought to…has enormous personal implications because this type of thinking is something we reserve exclusively for ourselves.
No rational person I know would ever say a rock was acting in any way improperly. Rocks do what rocks do and we have not other expectations of them. In fact, we build houses from them trusting that they will always act as rocks do. The same may be said of animals. I love dogs and believe them intelligent, loving creatures. Many a time when looking at my dog, I have felt ashamed of my poor behavior in comparison to them. But, dogs do what dogs do. In this, we do well to heed the owners of so-called vicious breeds, that aggression lies with the owner/trainer and not with the dog’s inherent nature. Dogs are naturally protective of themselves and their pack (that includes you and me if we are lucky enough to be esteemed worthy to be a member of the pack). They will defend themselves, to expect less is to live in a fantasy world.
The one exception we make to this doing what comes naturally is us. We are natural liars and truth benders, yet we think we ought not to be that way. Feelings of guilt and shame, do not come from society, peers, parents, or family, as some would have us believe…those feelings come from within. Some behaviorists would say we are programmed to think and feel that way by our past. I agree, but not with the past they are talking about. If it were true that guilt is laid on us by people in our past, why was Adam trying to hide from God?
They use their philosophy to sell positive changes in behavior and mental outlook. But, the recognition that there is a positive and a negative to human behavior is in itself an admission of the behavior-belief gap. If we truly believed we could act any way we choose, to say one way is positive and another way negative is absurd. We do not just do what humans do…and feel right about it. That’s why behaviorists only try to steer behavior in one direction…the one that makes us think positive.