Friday, August 29, 2014

Against the Christian sourpuss

Dear Hannah,

I've been having a hard time wanting to be a Christian.  Not because of Christianity, but because of other Christians.  For instance, Victoria Osteen recently made a doofy speech about how Christianity and religion in general are about being happy -- which is false in their sense and real in another.  It isn't to further your business or to heal your diseases and it might get you thrown to lions; but your happiness, despite this, is the end-game.  The "serious" Christians saw the plastic smiles and the saccahrine wealth gospel of the Osteens, and, instead of tempering her statement with a depiction of heaven and the ecstasy of God's presence, responded with a worse proposition: that Christianity isn't about our happiness.

Of course, Joel and Victoria's happiness is a low-rent self-help course with zero good advice and lots of bad pep talk.  But if Joel and Victoria are ridiculous, so are their opponents.  We can laugh at the man who says Jesus died so we could have a private jet and a successful business.  At least Christians will work hard then, or at the very least support the rights of those who do.  But the man who believes Christianity is about suffering is a joke because he honestly believes that a long face and a leaky roof is a greater mark of salvation than a good time and a bright smile. 

Not only does this keep people from coming in, but it ensures that all kinds of smart people are going out. And the reason should be fairly obvious: happiness is the root of all our actions, and misery is the thing we're all trying to avoid.  Happiness, in a sense, is goodness.  Love, in a sense, is the enjoyment of the idea that we can make someone truly happier.  And hope -- which is another one of the essential foundations of Christianity itself -- is the strange idea that wherever we are at present, things will be happier in the future.

So much can be said for hope and love, but what about faith?  If God is good and we're supposed to celebrate Him, then it can only be because He benefits us in some way.  This is called an act of faith; or in other words, the belief that He loves us.  Imagine a king who you were forced to celebrate just because He was great and powerful and moral, but demanded that you simply suffer "for morality's sake."  Everyone knows that the definition of a good friend, the definition of a good parent, the definition of a good king -- the definition of a good God -- depends entirely upon His ability to benefit us.  It sounds selfish but it's right on.  Good religion, like good politics and good policy in general, means we select the best option; and the best option is the one that makes us the happiest.  The best option is Christianity, because whether on earth or in heaven, it provides us with our greatest benefit.  I wouldn't trust a Christian sourpuss.   He has God mixed up with Satan. 

The man who always preaches giving and never preaches enjoying is a spoilsport disguised as a Saint.  There's always another charitable endeavor because there's always someone suffering.  We can bleed ourselves dry and lose all our friends for anything and everything; but building a happy home and keeping good friends takes goodness.  If unhappiness and poverty are signs that we're doing something right, then we should have been helping the Communists and the Nazis who persecuted Christians and made everyone poorer.  If "the blood of martyrs is the seed of the church" as Tertullian is quoted as saying, then we should wonder why Christians aren't helping ISIS instead of stopping them.   

You'll notice that a creed of suffering is preached by many and practiced by almost nobody.  They say suffering is a calling but then want you to relieve suffering.  One hand destroys and the other hand builds.  We make ourselves more unhappy to make others less unhappy.  We say everyone is a child of God except us.  Nobody is smart enough to ask whether, if God is concerned about the happiness of others, He's interested in our happiness as well.

At the very best, this sourfaced Christian will preach virtue --  but a virtue without any real benefits.  He'll tell you that you have to do good things, but then complain when people enjoy the results.  He'll tell you to build a good kingdom, and then complain when everyone is living peaceably.  He tells you to aim for heaven, and then laments that a bit of it has come down to earth.

If we want to turn this all around on the Missional hippie and the sourpuss "reformer," remind them we we must walk as Jesus walked.  After this deliver the knockout punch: that Jesus walked for 30 years before He ever began His ministry, and during those 30 years He was a business-owner.  A carpenter, to be exact.  None of that "I don't even have a place to lay my head" preaching of His later years: He worked and played and bought and sold like the rest of us.  Only three years were spent doing the things that sanctimonious Christians pretend we should all be doing.  I would much prefer it if they'd also tell us to act like His other 30.

The plain and irrefutable fact of these 30 years was that Jesus wasn't a traveling Evangelist, or going on healing crusades, or running orphanages in India.  We have reason to believe, because Mary asked Him to supply wine, that He enjoyed having both a good time and a good solid drink.  We have reason to believe that he attended a local synagogue and had a lot of great friends and conversations.  We have no reason to believe that by doing any of this He was being neglectful of His duties.  He was the duty.  Learning was His duty.  Working was His duty.  Being productive was moral; playing with friends was a good childhood.  Celebrating His religion involved mirth, as commanded in The Law.  In other words, living was legal.  There was a time to rejoice and a time to work and a time to weep -- and He spent most of his time rejoicing and working instead of weeping.

As such suffering happens.  It's incidental, but it isn't the goal.  It may be a means to an end, but it's never the end.  Run far away from everyone who tells you otherwise: misery is the Devil's business.  Living rightly and brightly is ours.  If anyone tells you that you have to suffer, ask them how much suffering you should endure until you're officially Christian.  If they can't give you a straight answer, let them know you've already hit your quota -- by spending too much time in their presence.

Your father,


  1. Jesus did teach in the temple at the age of 12.

    I always think of Jesus saying we can't enter into heaven unless we become as children. That pretty much rules out the suffering part... To me it says we should be more humble and to not be malicious, and to look on the beautiful world that God gave us with wonder! But that is the whole thing about Christianity, once there was a printing press everyone interpreted for themselves what the Bible said. That was the whole reason for the protestors who broke away from the Catholic church and why there are so many different denominations. And the Bible does say that you may eat or drink what you want if you give thanks then it isn't of sin. But if you do anything thinking it is a sin, then it is a sin. So, perhaps the sufferers have to suffer. I have to admit that I've never heard the Olsteens, but to look at his face I have no doubt there is a deep joy in the man.

  2. Man those last three paragraphs hit me hard.

    You are totally right that no one talks about the first 30 years of Jesus. This is supremely important if we truly are to "live like Jesus."

    I also realized that, as far as we know, Jesus was never married and never had sex. These are huge topics in most of our daily lives. So if we are modeling our lives on Jesus, we are out of luck on these topics. Of course there are those who talk about the Church being Jesus's bride and we should love our wives as he loved the church. But this either neglects the sexual side of marriage...or makes it really, really creepy.

    I'm still struggling with processing a lot of this stuff. Your writing helps a lot.