Why We're Still Christians
Behaviorally, but not ideologically.
When you're looking at trying to understand something, there's always two methodologies you can apply: 1. to pay attention to the ideology (words) or 2. to pay attention to the behaviors (actions). The existence of these two focal points creates a third, a synthesis of the two: understanding how "thought informs action" or how "actions inform thought".
Back when I was in college, I liked to present an idea that almost everyone disagreed with: I asked... "Take a person who goes to church: do they go to church because they are religious or are they religious because they go to church?" In other words, did thought follow action or did action create thought? Most people would say the first: we think something first, and then, based on what we think, we act. Ha. The second idea seems counterintuitive, but the basis of existentialism is essentially built upon that idea: we are defined by our actions, and thought only arises after our actions to bring awareness to how we have acted. A synthesis of these two ideas would lead us to considering that perhaps both are true in different ways.
When we take a look at Christianity, the general consensus of our genereation is that there are Christians and everyone else who isn't a Christian and therefore usually either Atheist or Agnostic. Following this idea, if thought follows into actions, then we should find that there are different behaviors across Christians and Non-Christians: in other words, if I'm Agnostic, I probably won't go to church or at least not for the same reasons as a Christian. Fair?
Let's take a look at the types of behavior that the current generation tends to engage in and see if we can spot any similarities between these behaviors and Christian behaviors...
1. Learning from our mistakes
This is a pretty big idea of our generation, and I'm going to make the comparison that it generally fulfills the exact same idea of atoning for our sins (Christianity).
A person who sins has done wrong, and they atone for it by confessing and correcting for their wrong in the future. Technically speaking, Jesus already atoned for all of humanity's sins, so there is a contradiction in how we receive The Bible and what we practice (if we're Christian), but that's a separate topic. By atoning for a sin, we make a promise to the future that we will attempt to be better.
Learning from a mistake follows the exact same narrative in 21st century clothes: a mistake is having done wrong, and learning from it remedies the wrong by making a promise to the future that will learn from what we have done wrong. Fair? Okay, next one.
I've noticed a lot of people relying on social accountability to help motivate their work or whatever they want to get done. I'm sure there's a lot of scientific literature that exists to support this idea, but I don't believe in it. Your actions are governed by yourself and no one else, if accountability works, it can only work in a placebo way —there are no real biological triggers for motivation because biologically speaking, it pays to be lazy at the right times (which happens to be when you're good on food, water, and shelter, which in our current society is generally all the time, maybe).
When I imagine what accountability looks like, I see a person (let's say me), messaging a friend to hold me accountable, and afterwards, when I'm working, I imagine that friend supporting me and telling me to get my work done even though they are not there and don't physically exist in that moment: they help me accomplish what I want to accomplish without doing anything, but only by offering moral support.
The closest comparison in Christianity is, of course, prayer. The message is delivered to God (whom each Christian has a personal and specific relationship with), after the prayer, it's imagined that God is supporting the prayer and irrespective of the results, is overseeing things. The primary benefit of prayer, is, of course, not that it actually changes anything, but only acts to provide moral support.
What difference does it make if the eye in the sky is an omniscent narrator or simply a commonplace friend? Whomever is watching us even when they are not physically present only arrives as a desire for moral support and companionship when it doesn't physically exist. That is, when people are working, they tend to feel lonely, so they bring in accountability to lessen that pain, just as people pray primarily to lessen their own pain, since prayer does not do anything for the people whom are prayed to: thoughts cannot inspire consequences, only actions can.
3. "It wasn't meant to be"
Is just a way for us to console ourselves for not getting what we want. Christians remind themselves often that when things don't go according to their desires it is by "God's will". When things don't go our way, a "it wasn't meant to be" line resolves the tension of actually having to figure out what went wrong —everything is decided by God, so acceptance is the way. "It wasn't meant to be", so acceptance is what one must come to.
4. The Pursuit of Happiness
"The road to heaven" or "salvation". If the pursuit of happiness exists, what it means is that we believe in a destintation of happiness. We arrive at happiness, since we are pursuing it, which means that it must be catachable.
It is not catchable: happiness cannot be pursued, but this is the same problem with heaven then, which is also not obtainable until after death, which makes it unobtainable. We can recognize that when people talk getting to heaven that it's a myth, but we hardly recognize the myth of pursuing happiness, yet both of them follow the same narrative.
A Christian gets to heaven by being a good Christian. A 21st century person gets to happiness by having a good lifestyle: Christian morals obviously dictate what a good Christian is, but what dictates a good lifestyle?
If we took a look at the elements of a good lifestyle that most people can agree on...
- Having a good girlfriend / boyfriend
- Having a lot of money
- Having a lot of free time to be able to travel
- Anything that gets the above 3 (good grades, a good career, a big social circle, etc)
In other words, general consensus dictates what a good lifestyle is (and general consensus is just another word for status quo or society): no one imagines being homeless as being a good thing (nor dropping out of college), yet lifestyle should imply an individual fit for an individual person: which means being homeless or dropping out is essentially a neutral decision until the individual that is homeless or dropped out is factored in the equation: when that happens, it can be considered whether it is good or bad, but not before, yet currently it is obviously labeled bad beforehand —judgment has already been placed, good and bad are still defined by a relatively absolute moral conduct code, which, describes Christianity.
5. Remember to be a child
Whether it's remembering to play, tapping into your creativity, or remembering to love openly, the child is actually an incredibly well referenced symbol in our current 21st century ideology. It's good to be youthful (while still maturing), is the message. Does Christianity supply the same message? The Lamb.
The ultimate symbol for a follower of Christianity that should be immediately recognized is the lamb: every Christian is a lamb with a sheperd called Jesus Christ or God. A lamb is innocent and pure, just as the child is innocent and pure. The idea of innocence itself is the foundation that The Bible is built upon. Adam and Eve are not innocent, which is why mankind is cast away from Eden and sent to figure out their means on planet Earth. In following Christ, by embracing him, the narrative leads us back to innocence, to becoming a lamb again, a follower of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
In becoming a creative, by tapping into our subconscious, by allowing our imagination to run free, by seeing the awe of the Universe, by becoming amateurs, life-long learners, and students of the world, we once again find our reasons for living... purpose, which, is given to all Christians whom need to fulfill their Christian duty, as it is our 21st century generation that has to fulfill their childhood dreams.
From sin (knowledge, adulthood (jadedness)), humanity is cast into squalor and pain, through innocence (lamb, child) they regain their happiness. Both Christianity and our current ideas on children follow this same narrative.
6. The Hollywood Movie
Generally speaking, the good guys beat the bad guys is the primary narrative, and from this baseline, there are alternatives for variety, but the quintessential narrative that holds all movies together is still the idea that good prevails over evil.
Not true, not because evil prevails over good, but because the world is not naturally moral —things are never good or bad, they tend to be good and bad at the same time. Separating phenomena as good or bad is just a lazy way of considering events in the world: it's poor ethics to think in terms of good and bad.
The Bible makes it explicit that the in-group is good and the out-group (everyone not following Jesus Christ) is bad. Christ's disciples are not always good people —one happens to murder people (Paul?), but regardless, through atoning, they find their way: good is defined by being Christian. Cain murders his brother Abel, but God still grants him damage immunity, a very good power-up, despite being forced to wander around the world till he arrives at salvation.
Our current society still creates in-groups and out-groups; it's called culture, and it's defined primarily through values. In-groups are created through shared values and an out-group is everyone that doesn't hold those same values. Good is defined by the specific value system of whatever company or personal individual you tend to be. It doesn't matter what you do, so long as you're following your value system or philosophy: you are good.
Look to langauge for moral justifications for behavior... phrases like, "I was just being honest" (after saying something offensive or upsetting), "You know I love you" (after arguing or having a bad quarrel), "I didn't know (knowledge, wisdom), if I knew I would have...", just look for people who think they are being good while being generally disagreeable or nonexistent.
Hollywood movies propel a specific value system forward to the masses; they define ways of behaving and acting, what is good and what is bad; they create value systems.
We use language to cover up vice. At the same time that Christianity condones moral cleanliness, it also breeds pestilence. This is called hypocrisy, which, by this century, we should be used to: things are not what they appear to be, and that's the ultimate problem with our society: since nothing is straightforward, since everything is wrapped in contradictions and paradoxes, there can be no easy solutions, there is confusion, and there is pain.
"Jesus atoned for our sins."
"He who has a why to live can bear almost any how."
Jesus gave Christians a way (a why) for living. Purpose gives our 21st century populace a way (a why) for living. It's like a "Build-Your-Own-Christianity" Starter-Kit pack, complete with ideology for all your daily living needs.
Ideologically we've largely separated ourselves from Christianity, but behaviorally, all the same motifs have found their place, only in a different surface appearance. We're still Christians; i.e. things haven't really changed at all for 21 centuries.