The best argument for Christianity is Christians: their joy, their certainty, their completeness. But the strongest argument against Christianity is also Christians–when they are sombre and joyless, when they are self-righteous and smug in complacent consecration, when they are narrow and repressive, then Christianity dies a thousand deaths. But, though it is just to condemn some Christians for these things, perhaps, after all it is not just, though very easy, to condemn Christianity itself for them. Indeed there are impressive indications that the positive quality of joy is in Christianity–and possibly nowhere else. If that were certain, it would be proof of a very high order.
If minds like St. Augustine’s and [John Henry] Newman’s and [C.S.] Lewis’s could wrestle with Christianity and become fortresses of that faith, it had to be taken seriously. I writhed a bit at the thought of my easy know-nothing contempt of other years. Most of the people who reject Christianity know almost nothing of what they are rejecting: those who condemn what they do not understand are, surely, little men. Thank God, if there is a God, we said, that we are a least looking seriously and honestly at this thing [Christianity]. If our Christian friends–nuclear physicists, historians, and able scholars in other fields–can believe in Christ, if C.S. Lewis can believe in Christ, we must, at least, weigh it very seriously.Sheldon Vanauken, A Severe Mercy, 85-86.
It’s tempting to reject Christianity because of bad ‘Christians.’ This is why it’s so important for those who claim to be Christians to act and speak consistently with the teachings of the religion. Hypocrisy kills.
And yet, if one dismisses Christianity on the basis of poor witnesses alone–that’s not enough. For there are countless examples of excellent Christians–wise people who are kind and joyful and sacrificing, and generous.
I had an agnostic friend who was fond of saying that the wars of history were fought by religious people over religion. Religion divides people–violently, he said. I would respectfully point out that the twentieth century was by far the bloodiest century—and its wars were not fought over religion. It was the secular states that were guilty of the most murder.
Granted, throughout history, some wars have exploited religion, and have been fought over religion, but shouldn’t we also, in fairness, consider the hospitals that bear names like “Baptist,” “Methodist,” “Presbyterian,” “Lutheran,” and “Catholic?” Likewise, shouldn’t we consider the countless schools all over the world have been founded and maintained by Christians? How do we weigh this when considering the faith itself? Is it inherently violent? Has it really done more harm than good?
If you’ve only known bad ‘Christians’–I’m very sorry. I’d love to introduce you to some folks who inspire me. Thanks for being my friend–may we all find what we’re searching for.