Christian and UnChristian

In Christianity on April 14, 2009 at 2:46 am

Easter Monday was interesting . . . and difficult.  More than once I’ve thought about Luke 9:37—the day after the Transfiguration, when some of Christ’s disciples were confronted with their powerlessness.  “On the next day.”  Caught up in unimaginable glories just one day before, “on the next day” a man tells Christ that His disciples couldn’t help.  In a space of only 24 hours, we can be off the mount and back in the depths of the valley.

What prompted this reflection and a somber day today was the juxtaposition of two readings.  The first was a book I’ve been working through:  What Happened at Vatican II, by John W. O’Malley.  In his chapter “Big Perspectives on a Big Meeting,” he uses the phrase rhetoric of invitation to describe the tone of the Council (p. 47).

The starkly contrasting reading was a link in an email, pointing to UnChristian: What a New Generation Really Thinks About Christianity and Why It Matters.  Employing research by the Barna Group, the authors of UnChristian claim that words like “judgmental,” “hypocritical,” “old fashioned,” “too political,” and “out of touch with reality” were used by a vast majority of respondents between the ages of 16-29 to describe Christianity.  A YouTube interview with one of the authors describing his reactions to the research appears here.

What’s the point for Christianity Richly readers?  One’s initial reaction, of course, might be skepticism.  Not knowing the religious background of the Barna Group’s sample, one wonders what percentage of respondents have any genuine knowledge of Christianity?  To ask the opinions of people—young or old—who have only distant, second-hand acquaintance with Christianity would be akin to asking people who have never seen a basketball game whether they think the game might be fun to play, or an aid to fitness.

To dismiss this research, however, would be to ignore the reality that the face of evangelical Catholicism and John Paul II’s new evangelization is turned outward.  Whatever the qualifications of Barna’s respondents to make judgments about Christianity, they are souls for whom Christ died and rose again to redeem.

So, how do we reconcile the gap between the the richness of Christianity, contrasted with the perception it is hostile, hypocritical, and out of touch?  The answer is love. What was Pope Benedict XVI’s first encyclical?  Deus Caritas Est (God is Love).  What was in John Paul II’s heart as he wrote about the tens of thousands of young people with whom he had connected around the world?

I saw them swarming through the city, happy as young people should be, but also thoughtful, eager to pray, seeking “meaning” and true friendship . . . Sometimes when we look at the young, with the problems and weaknesses that characterize them in contemporary society, we tend to be pessimistic. The Jubilee of Young People however changed that, telling us that young people, whatever their possible ambiguities, have a profound longing for those genuine values which find their fullness in Christ.

A rhetoric of invitation.  The Church proposes; she imposes nothing.  Forced faith is not faith.  Love.  Most of all, the absolute certainty that God’s love for every person—young or old, who misunderstands the richness of The Faith—is bigger than the obstacles that stand in the way of reaching them.

  1. Worth adding too, perhaps, is that love (even being lovable) can never be at the expense of truth. I’m thankful daily for Pope John Paul II and for Pope Benedict XVI, to whom God gave and has given, respectively, the ability to “speak the truth in love” (Ephesians 4:14-15).

    No suggestion intended here that Patrick’s good comment was to the contrary! My own post could be misunderstood, if “love” was given primacy of place over truth. To do so, would not be genuinely loving or lovable, of course. At best, it would simply be a warm feeling contrary to genuinely caring for others, destined to run aground on the shoals of reality.

  2. Point well taken! My wife once wrote an article called, “Icebergs in the Pews.” Being lovable matters.

  3. “To ask the opinions of young people who have only distant, second-hand acquaintance with Christianity would be akin to asking people who have never seen a basketball game whether they think the game might be fun to play, or an aid to fitness.”

    No it wouldn’t. Lets assume that somehow the Barna research mainly captures a sliver of the population who have never in their lives been to church – then their impressions of Christianity as “judgmental” and “hypocritical” comes from their witness of the Christians in their lives.

    It would be more like asking a group of people who’ve never seen a basketball game if they’d like to play a pick-up vs. a bunch of truculent morbidly-obese people.

    That, essentially, is how un-fun and un-fit Christianity is perceived to be by people who’ve seen us out, doing our thing. They don’t want to come to our house.

    I agree with you that the Church needs to love, but I think we need to work on being lovable, too.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: